INTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE Melissa auf der Maur

With an ambitious
new multimedia project just out, “it’s wide open now” for the erstwhile Hole
and Smashing Pumpkins goddess.

 

BY ROXANA
HADADI

 

Once upon a time in 1991, someone Melissa auf der Maur knew
threw a beer bottle at Billy Corgan. Now, almost two decades later, auf der
Maur’s career has been forever affected by that moment.

 

“All very quickly, in like a year’s time, basically I had a
dream about playing music, and in that time I also met Billy Corgan before I
even played music,” auf der Maur says. “When I was 19 and he was playing his
very first tour ever, they were only playing in front of 30 people … it ended
in me apologizing on behalf of my city and becoming a loyal Pumpkins fan.

 

“Fast-forward a year or so later, I pick up a bass and
start a band with a guy I met at a pool table when I was a DJ at this local
bar,” auf der Maur continues. “I had lost touch with Billy – we sort of had been
pen pals – so I wrote a letter to the P.O. Box for the band and I wrote, ‘Dear
Billy, Remember me, Melissa in Montreal, with the beer bottle? I finally have
my own band together and I’m wondering if I can open up for you.’ My
bandmembers and my local friends were like, ‘What are you talking about?’ … But
the day before the show or the day of the show, I get a call from the local
promoter who knows me, and he says, ‘The band’s just arrived, the tour manager
asked where you are, and you’re playing.’ It’s amazing that I believed that
they would – and that we could.”

 

It’s that kind of self-confidence, though, that has shaped
auf der Maur’s career since then. From spending five years in Hole with
Courtney Love, whom auf der Maur calls a “brilliant individual,” to a year
touring with the Smashing Pumpkins and two solo albums under her belt –
including her recent release, Out of Our
Minds
– the Canadian has steadily carved a career that has incorporated her
interest in both music and art. In fact, Out
of Our Minds
, which auf der Maur started working on in 2005 while holed up
in her grandparents’ home, is a perfect example of that dichotomy: The album
came out in late March, but also has a related graphic novel and film that
support its mix of supernatural and fantastical thematic elements.

 

“I decided the theme of the record was travel out of our
minds, into hearts standing by, and the idea was to invite people to leave the
mind and go into the place of intuition, self-conscious emotion,” she says.
“And I wanted to make a fantasy film and comic book version of that, because
they are three tools that are really, really good at the language of fantasy,
and I’ve always believed in things like past lives and time travel. So I
thought, ‘OK, these are the perfect three mediums: rock music, film, comic
book.'”

 

Auf der Maur’s desire to provide the project more directly
to her fans led to her posting the album on her website, www.xmadmx.com, where listeners can stream its
12 tracks for free. People can also choose between downloading the album for a
fee or purchasing a variety of packages – including swag like the comic, film
and various accessories – priced between $35 and $100.

 

“This freedom is here now, and we don’t even need a label –
and that’s when I decided almost a year and a half ago … I’m not going to work
with a record label,” she explains, of her decision regarding how to promote
and sell the album. “This project is so elaborate at this point, I wouldn’t
trust a music company to do anything with it, and I’ve come this far. … It’s
time I grow up and take responsibility for my work, and if I’m going to put my
heart in a fucking box and give it to people, I better take responsibility for
how that box is built and how it is sent to people.”

 

Nevertheless, the project wasn’t without its problems –
mainly because auf der Maur had to switch from a purely artistic point of view
to one more focused on the monetary side of things.

 

“The hardest part of all this is to become an artist and a
businesswoman mixed together,” she admits. “We have the technology and ability
to do this now, but it’s not easy to split the brain in half – and I basically
had been living in fantasy-creative-la-la-land for over a decade. I had never
thought like this.”

 

Auf der Maur can’t be blamed for that heavily right-brain
thinking, really – she grew up in what she describes a “not so much hippie, but
just a progressive” household in Montreal, with most of her early rock
education coming from her mother, the city’s first female rock DJ. Thanks to
her mother’s extensive record collection and affection for the arts, auf der
Maur was always around music (spending her pocket money on albums by The Smiths
and the Cure) and began cultivating an interest in photography, which she
studied at Montreal’s Concordia University – until one dream changed
everything.

 

“I found the voices of my generation in the Pumpkins and
Nirvana, and that’s when I really picked up the bass. I always connected really
strongly with music as a cultural and generational outlet, and I guess I was
sort of waiting to find my own generation. And then literally, I had a dream
when I was 19 about the power of music bringing people together, and I woke up
the next morning and I understood it was always a part of my life. I thought,
‘I will pick up the bass, I will start a band, I will try to connect with
people.'”

 

With Corgan, auf der Maur made a connection that paid off.
Though she and the rest of the her band, Tinker, had practiced barely half a
dozen times before opening for the Smashing Pumpkins in 1993, she left a good
impression on the mighty bald one: A few months later, he recommended her to
Courtney Love, and Kurt Cobain’s widow wooed auf der Maur into a five-year
contract with Hole; during that period, the bassist helped create Celebrity Skin, the band’s most
commercially successful album. And after her time with Hole was done and she
left the band in October 1999, Corgan snagged auf der Maur for himself, taking
her on a tour to support the band’s 2000 release, Machina/The Machines of God. Nearly a
decade later, auf der Maur still considers those two experiences some of the
most definitive in her development as an artist.

 

“There were compromises creatively, of course, but every
step of the way, I understood while I was doing it that I was there to study
under other people’s visions,” she says. “By being a better bass player and by
being in someone’s else’s band, it helped define my character and my vision of
what I want in my life – and what I wasn’t as a person. So it was all like a
beautiful life-lesson situation; that’s why I never regretted it. There was so
much amazing training that happened because of it, because of the challenging
parts and because of the things I left behind.”

 

You won’t get any smack-talk out of auf der Maur about Love
and Corgan, either, even though the two of them have developed fantastically
large egos over the years and publicly sparred on Twitter recently. Her
relationship with the two of them is too history-heavy to sink that low.

 

“I definitely stay out of that,” auf der Maur says of the
pair. “Those two have been at love-and-hate war as long as I’ve known both of
them, so that’s their dynamic, but I definitely stay out of that. Those two are
obviously clearly extreme band leaders compared to some other bands; they’re
outrageously strong personalities and they’re destined to have their fates
completely intertwined. They were boyfriend and girlfriend at the beginning of
their long journey in music, so they have a pretty complicated situation.

 

“But I do take my participation in that particular scene
very seriously,” auf der Maur adds of the years she spent in two of the
nineties’ biggest bands. “I care deeply about both Courtney and Billy; they
basically are my surrogate big brother and sister – they changed my life, and I
love them and I feel incredibly close to them. But not on that sort of
whatever, surface level – it’s more on a deep, emotional, soulful level, so the
day-to-day crap doesn’t really exist because it’s more of a big-picture-love
level.”

 

So auf der Maur instead keeps her rage leveled toward the
music industry – “I did learn … the industry was retarded. … I fucking never
trusted it,” she says of her time in both Hole and the Pumpkins – and her
creativity focused upon her craft. Inspiration comes from people like producer
Chris Goss and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who helped auf der
Maur with both her first solo record, 2004’s Auf der Maur, and her latest (“the two of them really changed my life”),
and a new relationship with multimedia company Phi Montreal, whom she met while
promoting the cinematic element of Out of
Our Minds
at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. In the years to come, auf der
Maur hopes to create a production company to help other musicians and artists –
but until then, it’s all about Out of Our
Minds
. Heads up, creative people: auf der Maur is coming for you.

 

“The whole fucking thing is for you to discover or find your
own interpretations, and it is the language of dreams and the subconscious and
mythology, and it’s not literal and specific – it’s about parallel worlds,” she
stresses about the album. “Everyone can find their own way through it; the
listener and the viewer can make this something for themselves.

 

“The story we started with the film, we made it a half-hour
for a reason: It was supposed to be like an episode of The Twilight Zone, to be continued, and it ends with the ability to
continue traveling through time and there will be a couple more chapters. But
this is a big, long-term thing – it’s wide open now for unknown collaborators.”

 

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