Melissa Auf der Maur was 22 when she became the bassist for Hole in 1994, after Kristen Pfaff died of a heroin overdose. She was with the band for five years before going on to pursue other music collaborations and releasing her debut album, Auf der Maur, in 2004. She released her second full-length album, Out Of Our Minds, in conjunction with a comic book and a short film last year. The album ranges from haunting to pretty, from angry to serene. Auf der Maur’s vocals are at times a tough mistress telling you to “come sit by my fire” and then cool girl cooing, “truth be told, I’ve been bad.” And then there’s the surprise duet, Father’s Grave, with Glenn Danzig who’s voice chills to the bone. Kim Ray went deep with Melissa about these dualities in her music, in life and in the cosmos.
TDOA: I saw on your website that the entire Out Of Our Minds project started with the title song. What is that song about and what inspired you to write it?
MADM: Basically, it was over the course of a year, six to nine months I was writing for the new record, and I had already decided before I had written even a note or a word or a melody that I wanted to find a mission statement. But you know not every album has a mission statement. Sometimes it is only twelve songs but on this one I really wanted to find the center of the message. I had come straight off of a year of touring for my first record after essentially a ten year solid non-stop run of music, back-to-back projects. I learned so much from putting out that first record and playing 180 shows in the center of the stage and what it means to be using words and eye contact and more direct communication with the public verses the bass frequency which is a much more abstract feeling. So when I started writing the new record I knew I had a bigger responsibility than I had been aware of when I was writing my first record because when I was writing my first record I didn’t even have plans really to release it. I was just writing songs over the course of my youth and I didn’t know if I would ever play it. Writing these songs was a very different frame of communication mind. It was just totally a different experience. I felt this pretty big responsibility to go as deep into my heart as possible to offer something really honest and true and true to me to be able to share and be part of myself with people.
It was a breakthrough when Out Of Our Minds was written. That’s how I found the center. First was this wail, this ancient wail that just sort of came over me. And then literally the words just fell out of my mouth. Some songs just come clear, they zap through you like a lighting bolt and some are more labor intensive. This just came flying out of me and the words travel out of our minds into our hearts standing by and our hearts have been standing by for so long. I just realized at that moment that that’s the story. This is the message I want to portray throughout not only the record but I knew I was looking for a theme to build this fantasy film and comic book around. It had a lot to do with the way the song came out — that it was clear, that it was the most clear and truthful.
TDOA: What is that theme or message to you?
MADM: It is a fluid idea. When I describe that things just come through you like a lightening bolt, sometimes your mind comes up with it… I believe that through dreams and through creativity we are channeling other people’s messages and it’s up to me to learn what it means as much as it is anyone who’s getting it from me. I had to discover what that meant over the course of this project. I’ve always been pretty fascinated by the duality of everything: from the Earth to the Cosmos, to the masculine to the feminine, the emotions to the intellect, the dark to the light, the demonic to the angeleic — those are the things I’m always fluctuating between. Basically we are a lopsided world, we’re imprisoned by these things that have been built by the mind and not the heart. It’s the battle between the two.
TDOA: You’re kind-of badass. You’re both feminine and beautiful but you’re also badass. Being a feminine woman but also being into harder music and that duality, tell me a little bit about that.
MADM: I think it’s changing dramatically right now. The new generation of women I think, it’s just going to be a whole… First of all, I think bisexuality is absolutely the norm now. It’s amazing the new kind of breed of strong women who are kind-of androgynous. Really empowered, young women and a lot of them are like “maybe I’ll fall in love with a girl or maybe I’ll fall in love with a guy.” There’s none of this 1950’s fucking like “find your husband!” I sense a new zone of sexual gender crossing.
I have for as long as I can remember been the girl who… first of all, I’ve always related to guys a little more. I have tons of amazing girlfriends but I was always the girlfriend saying “don’t get caught up in needing a boyfriend or being needy in a relationship. Just have fun or make out with someone.” Or “what, you don’t want to listen to Black Sabbath?” I’ve always tried to encourage the women around me to listen to, for lack of a better word, their badass side. Just to eat life. Take that fire. Freak out! Scream! Whatever it is. I am so grateful that my years in Hole… I’m now seeing the results of these young girls who were 13, 14, 15. I’m now meeting them in their 20’s and seeing these women who aren’t afraid to be dark or freaky or whatever it is. And I don’t mean dark in the — obviously me and Courtney are different kinds of dark. There are some who relate to her and some to me. On my first solo album I met a couple of young journalists for high school or college papers and I see them now 5 or 6 years later and they have bands. And they’re totally comfortable in their own skin with guitars. I see a serious rise of young women not afraid to do crazy things.
TDOA: I know you’re also a visual artist, but just musically, who are some of your influences?
MADM: They’re pretty specific to the age of 17 and 21, the sound that changed my life. It was literally The Smiths and The Cure that changed everything. Well, there was Blondie and Cyndi Lauper first. Those were the women when I was pre-pubescent and then it was Morrissey and Robert Smith and just the sounds of both those bands. By the time I found Smashing Pumpkins, that was when I knew what I had to do with my life as far as playing music and the sound of it. Those were fundamentally the biggest influences. Danzig played a big part too.
TDOA: I wanted to talk about that. I love your song, “My Father’s Grave.” Just hearing his voice…you hear his voice and it’s like “oh shit, it’s Danzig.” What was that experience like?
MADM: Phenomenal. One of the best experiences. I’m first a music fan before being a musician. All of those influences that I’ve sited I’ve at one point written a fan letter to and most of my musical journey has been created by these fan moments that I’ve had. For example, Danzig, I just wrote him a song as a fan, an ode to him, a special story I wanted to tell about this story between a healing grave digger and a woman who’s lost her father. So, I just wrote to his PO Box and said I wrote this song for you and it would be an honor to have you as a guest on my record. He doesn’t really have any managers or anything, a little bit like me. But the few people I spoke to said there’s no fucking way. He’s never done that for anyone. He doesn’t sing on other people’s records but low and behold he responded, just instinctively on the song, and he agreed to do it. And he’s also the least disappointing hero I’ve ever met. Robert Smith was pretty fucking impressive too, but he was like humble, no bullshit, not a lawyer or a manager, nothing in between me and him and the song. More punk than any other artist I’ve worked with. He still stays true to his ethics and how hard he works and not a power-chaser, ass-kisser. Most of that take was some of his first take. I was really excited to expose that raw, beautiful part of his voice which I feel is often hidden by guitars and you don’t realize he’s got this phenomenal classic voice.
TDOA: You raised some questions on your website, one of which is “How does a woman in the arts age gracefully and remain relevant to the public?” Is it cheating if I ask you that? Do you really even care about being relevant or do you think you create your own relevance?
MADM: I, approaching 40… how is that going to effect how I see my own relevance? As every woman knows you’re supposed to be thinking about family and then family of course means inner world and home and staying home. I just got off of a two month tour and to me sharing music and sharing music with the outside world is such a huge part of my feeling — useful is the wrong world – my feeling of purpose. I love people so much. I love the magic we all feel when music is shared and I just can’t imagine, I don’t know how that relationship will change as my age changes. That’s why I asked the question. I don’t know.
TDOA: What bands are you listening to right now?
MADM: Still really holding on to the albums I really loved last year. I was listening to pretty nonstop to Mastadon’s “Crack The Sky” and Fever Ray’s debut album, and this underground metal band from Norway called Shining. They’re industrial metal with jazz infusion. They’re one of the most original things I’ve heard. I’m actually going to collaborate with the main guy for some of my future projects this year. Pretty heavy stuff. I love that Fever Ray album. I’m so fucking thrilled that she exists. She’s as good as any woman artist I’ve seen or heard in decades. I gravitate way more to towards heavy, male-fronted bands which is why I’m really excited when I find a woman I really relate to.
TDOA: Do different things inspire you to write music then to take photographs?
MADM: It all comes from the same spark. Like with Out Of Our Minds, I was looking for the feeling and then I get excited to explore those feelings in different forms. There’s a mysterious fire deep inside every one of us and you can feel it, tap it many different ways – through love, through dreams, through letting go and searching for a melody, through reading something that hits you really deep. It’s literally tapping into the deepest fire inside is what inspires me. Searching for things that mean something to me
so that I am able to then relay that in hopes that it sparks the fire in someone else. Not so that they can give it back to me but so they can go on and find it themselves and give it to someone else which is literally the idea of passing on the flame over and over. And this incredible exchange that happens to us through the ages, through art. More specifically, I guess dreams inspire me, dreams create certain songs. Obviously love, and other people’s work, and beautiful paintings, incredible films. I mean there’s so many things that I find inspiration in but ultimately if I had to really think about why am I inspired to create, it’s because of this deep feeling that you feel, that connectedness to being alive, that mystery of that fire, that moment of creation in us all. Big to small.
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03/03/11 New York City Highline Ballroom
Time: 9:00pm. W/ Special Local NYC Guests: The Shining Twins and Leah Siegel
03/11/11 – 03/18/11 Montreal 10e Festival Voix d’Ameriques: La Tulipe
Time: 7:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. MAdM – Guest of Honour. Read more at: www.fva.ca
03/12/11 Hudson, NY Club Helsinki
Time: 9:00pm. “Hunt for the Heart” a unique show of revisited originals & tributes to inspirations
04/08/11 Washington DC National Geographic LIVE!
Time: 7:30pm. National Geographic invites MAdM to discuss and present her photographic work