Melissa Auf der Maur
Silent Uproar: Although you are obviously a seasoned musician, I imagine it would be somewhat harder getting up in front of audiences as the band frontwoman. Was it tough to make this transition?
Melissa: Well thank God I have years and years and years of deconstructing the shy person I was before, so the years of touring I did obviously helped me get used to performing in general. In terms of the creative responsibility and the responsibility of being the mouth piece during the show and being responsible for connecting with the audience…the fact that I really took my time making this record for the past two years and the way I made this record was completely self-sufficient, so I got used to being like the creative captain of this project and it has definitely made it easier to transition into this.
In many ways it is much more natural for me to go up tonight and play the songs that I wrote and I recorded and I organized then maybe it would have been for me to go up and play bass to someone else’s songs that existed before me. So in some ways it’s easier because it is more honest and natural, but in other ways it is a lot more responsibility from the creation of the album to the business element to the interviews or whatever. There is more responsibility, but I’m up for it because I’ve had many years of training.
SU: Right, I would think it would be more rewarding if nothing else because like you said, you are representing something that is totally yours…
Melissa: Absolutely, so it’s worth the challenge. Everything that is intimidating or scary about it is worth the challenge. When I set out to make this record, the first step in deciding to make this record, which I was a little afraid to do, was the day I decided to face all of my fears or insecurities. It was like ‘have no fear and just do it, face the music in you,’ and once I made that commitment to myself, then all of these steps are just natural things that I have to do.
SU: What made you decide to take on this project as opposed to looking for someone else to work with or stepping back into the kind of supporting role?
Melissa: Well basically I had become the best bass player backup singer I think I could have been, and I was very up for that in my years with Hole and then with the Pumpkins. I really saw it as me being a patient person that really wanted to learn my instrument and learn from others. Basically it is sorta like I climaxed my possibilities as being a bass player backup singer essentially and the fact is that I was writing songs the whole time. Before I was in Hole I was in a band in Montreal and we were writing songs and one of the songs on this record is the last song I wrote with my band before I joined Hole. So in many ways when I left my life in Montreal and my band there, I was leaving a lot of my creativity behind. So there was always an inner voice sort of patiently waiting and saying, ‘one day if you get the chance, could you come back here and address this?’
The good thing is that during my five years with Hole, which is pretty much when I wrote the majority of the record, I was writing music without the thought of a solo record, but just writing music because I like music and it was just the natural thing to do. It kinda just got to a point that when I left the Pumpkins I knew that I didn’t want to engage in any committed relationship in music again. I promised myself to at least be independent for a little while to sort of rediscover what music felt like without a structure, just the way I was doing it when I was in an independent band when I was 19 or 20 and there was no record label or no thought of getting a record deal. It wasn’t about that, it was about making music and it was really important for me in making this record to return to more of this open and free space with music. When I was recording this record and the idea behind self-financing the whole thing and all that is that it wasn’t about getting a record contract, it wasn’t about anything other than that I was lucky enough that I had made a few pennies that I could invest in music. To me it felt like the natural thing to do. So it became this natural thing as a musician in that I had all these ideas floating in my head and I had a few dollars in my bank account and I thought oh, I should create a space for this.
SU: Do you think you would have been able to get in that frame of mind if you were still in another band like Hole or the Pumpkins?
Melissa: Oh, no. The way I did this and the spirit behind the record was a complete reaction in the other direction to what I was involved with before.
SU: OK, stepping away from that for a minute, I know there has been talk of a super group of sorts with you, Ryan Adams, James Iha, and Evan Dando. Is that going to happen?
Melissa: Well I will be the ring leader to throw us all in the studio next year when we have some time off definitely, but that talk basically was one weekend with acoustic guitars and Guinness in the Chelsea Hotel about 2 years ago. I found out my friend Ryan had never met my friend Evan, so I was like, ‘What?’ and I invited them to my apartment in the Chelsea Hotel and we just played acoustic guitars and had this idea. My friend James (Iha) had this studio down the street and we said we should just book a week and make a one-off record that we write while we are all in the studio and it was a great idea. Then a week later Ryan Adams’ Gold took off and he disappeared for a year or two. Now, that one creative idea that almost happened has a lot of people asking us about it. I would definitely like to make it happen next year.
SU: Speaking of other musicians, you had quite a few special guests on your album. Were you just bringing in your friends (who happen to be great musicians) to work on songs, or was there a particular reason or need for each individual person?
Melissa: Both, both. They happened to be my talented friends, but it was very very calculated in terms of my musical decisions. I basically had my list of songs and list of musician friends and favorite musicians and I kinda played color by number. I knew exactly what drummer I wanted on what song and I knew what guitar player I wanted for additional guitars on every song and it was kinda like casting a movie or something. I knew all the people on the record, whether it was my old band members from Canada or band members I have played with in the Pumpkins or Hole or musicians who have inspired me like the Queens of the Stone Age guys. I knew all their styles so well because I either played with them or the influenced me, so I knew exactly what they were capable of and what they did. So I picked the right drummer for the right songs and so on.
For example the song on the record, “Head Unbound”, I knew that it would be kinda a more spacious song where I wanted to keep the top layer completely free for James Iha to do this one signature thing he does with an ebo. When I was touring with the Pumpkins and every night James would get out this ebo, which is this magnetic thing that makes the guitar sound like light, I just knew that when I wrote the songs if I created this open space on the top that James could come in for two hours and put this perfect layer of light on the top. That is just how I approached the whole record.
SU: Did it make it easier to work on something entirely your own knowing you had the support of all these musicians?
Melissa: Again, I wasn’t stepping out there, I didn’t even know if I was going to put this record out. For me it was just about really wanting to have the best year of my life and play with all of my friends and play with the people that inspired me. It definitely encouraged me to see my friends believe in me and be there for me, but that is more on a musical and friendship level, not on a level of putting my first record out into the public, that was never what I was thinking about when making the record.
While making the record and sort of the spirit behind inviting all these people is that I am an idealistic, romantic person when it comes to music and I really believe that music, second to love, is the most magical force that we have and is like the blood that runs between humans. My idea of my music community is a pretty romantic notion that we will all be there for each other for our music. In the same way that all these people on the record have been part of my life in some way or another for 10 years, this to me is a way for me to celebrate what my view of my music community is and sort of celebrate this almost painfully gushing feeling of support I have found from musicians that had nothing to do with money. It was like, ‘Do you like music? Do you like me? Wanna come by?’ It was just this mutual support and I would be there for them as they were there for me.
SU: You said that you didn’t record any of this with plans for a record contract or anything like that, but now that you have a label behind you has it taken some of the stress away or has it just added new stress?
Melissa: Yeah, I needed that record company to come in and take it to the next step. I literally spent every penny I had and I didn’t have the money to mix the record so I basically needed a record company to come in and mix it. At that point it became obvious to me, after I had sorta lived in the moment of making the record that I wanted to get it out to the world and I think I was very lucky in finding Capitol. Yes it is a big corporate evil structure of a major label, but the individuals I found at Capitol I consider pretty open minded and pretty unique compared to some of the shitty businessmen I have met in music.
So actually in many way it has added more pressure in that there is more responsibility and more business to be done, but it has also added an incredible opportunity for me to have already at this point gone on tour in Europe 3 times. I have been there for 3 months, and to be able to make 3 videos that I think reflect the music pretty well and to be able to hire my friend musicians that were struggling musicians in Canada or California, and now they have been on tour for the past few months. It has given me an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t have without them (Capitol).
SU: A while back it was said that you were working with Chino Moreno on Team Sleep, helping with a song or two.
Melissa: Yeah, did that ever come out, do you know?
SU: Last I heard, it was still set for later this year, but I don’t know.
Melissa: You know, I wonder if it is totally done, I should reach out and see if it is too late for me to do that song. They were looking for guest vocals and they sent me some songs and I had some ideas, and this was about two years ago before I understood how easy Pro Tools works and that you could just send someone a file and you could go into your friends home studio and do it there. So I literally didn’t do it because I thought I was going to have to be flown out to a studio in CA to do it and for some reason it didn’t work out. So weirdly, now that I realize that I could have recorded this like in a garage somewhere, I wish I had. Yeah, I lost touch with Chino and I don’t know what’s happening, but I would have liked to.
SU: You toured all over Europe in the last couple months before starting the current US tour. What is the main difference in the two audiences?
Melissa: Well it’s not only the audience that makes a difference; it is just the environment of Europe versus North America. From hour to hour, city to city, there is this diverse culture and languages and the fact that it isn’t one mass country makes it where it isn’t as corporately controlled. The US is the ultimate corporation and money and corporations put a real damper on music. So in Europe where it is a lot more independent from country to country, there is a lot more freedom for alternative music or slightly different music to find its way out to the people because it’s not filtered through one limited short-sited outlook of a corporation. So the big difference is that there are more ears open to it I think.
In terms of the actual audience, I can be playing a show in Columbus versus playing in Barcelona…in Europe what’s cool is that every single country is different. The Latin countries are one way, the Scandinavian countries are one way, there is a different mood in every part of Europe. Where touring in the States you maybe get different audiences in New York or LA, but in general they are about the same. It’s just more diversity out there in every way and more different perspectives and to me because it is a little more complex it is a little more satisfying and interesting. I mean no disrespect to North America of course, I am Canadian and American and this is my life and I love it here. But the corporate power here really makes it difficult for music and for music that I like and make.
SU: That is an interesting point. We often talk to bands about success in the UK and then success over here and no one has ever brought up the fact of how the music that becomes popular over here is so filtered that it is hard for bands to have a chance.
Melissa: Oh yeah, I mean I realized that if my video isn’t being pounded on MTV or in Rolling Stone, then nobody knows who I am. Where as over there they have all these different alternative channels, like independent radio stations or TV stations or magazines are so much more common there because it goes from city to city, country to country.
It is an on-going issue of alternative music working better in Europe, it isn’t just now, and it has always been like that.
SU: You have been touring with the Offspring here in the US. The pairing seems kinda odd…
Melissa: Yes… it is. I didn’t realize until 3 songs into the first show in Minneapolis and I looked into the audience and I’m like, ‘I don’t think they understand this…’ So I am making the best of it. It’s great and we are lucky to be here in terms of there being ears and eyes open and listening to us every night. I said yes because I had met the Offspring along the way, and we had played different festivals with them while I was in Hole, and they are just really nice guys. One of the drummers that played on my record, Adam Willard from one of my long time favorite bands, Rocket From the Crypt, he is now the drummer in Offspring. For some reason him being in the band made it even more kinda cozy for me to come on tour with them, but it is definitely an odd musical match up.
The fact is they invited us and it was nice of them to have invited us and their fans seem nice enough. It’s just we are not from the Warped Tour and we are nothing like that. I think it is that we are a little too psychedelic and a little too feminine for the crowd. I am secretly hoping that I am winning the love of their fan’s girlfriends. I feel like a lot of the guys came to the shows and brought their girlfriends, and their girlfriends are like yeah whatever, then we come on and maybe they’ll find something they will like in us? I don’t know.
SU: What other touring plans do you have?
Melissa: We are touring straight through 2004. We go from this tour to some of our own really intimate sweaty club shows, which is what I am really looking forward to because that is where we have the more rewarding and intimate show. So we are going to be doing a lot of those and then in July we are jumping on to that Cure summer tour festival. Then we go back to Europe to do all the European Festivals.
SU: Did the members of the Cure themselves pick the bands for that Curiosa tour, or was it something put together by a promoter?
Melissa: I think they did pick them. I know for example that Mogwai is Robert Smith’s favorite band of all time and so I think the band definitely had a lot to do with the lineup.
SU: Are you looking forward to that tour?
Melissa: I am. I was a big Cure fan in high school and it is about time I relived that part of my musical side. I think what’s also cool is these summer festivals are always fun to tour on and a good way to find new music. I have never seen Interpol or the Rapture or Muse, and I am just excited to be learning about them and seeing that.
SU: Do you think your songs will go over well in that atmosphere?
Melissa: I think it will fit better there than the Offspring. To be quite honest, I don’t necessarily think I fit in anywhere. I just kinda go where I am invited.
SU: I think some of the bands on that Cure tour will fit better. I guess ideally you would always be touring with like…A Perfect Circle.
Melissa: Yeah, that is actually the only band. We toured with them in Europe and it was like perfect, it felt so right. Everything else is a little funny.
SU: I have read that a lot of the lyrics from your albums come from inspirations from your dreams.
Melissa: Yeah, like directly from them with me just sorta recounting the story I saw in my dream
SU: Do you find it more meaningful or powerful to write about these sorts of things than to write about normal every day things?
Melissa: I don’t think it is necessarily more meaningful or more powerful, but to me it is more truthful. I think that the subconscious of every individual…there-in lives the truth and the meaning of what we are and who we are. I think that intellectualizing things is the problem of our world, and that leads to power and money and corporation and plans, plans, plans. Where as the subconscious, which is what I think is beautiful about music, is where music really connects with people and it is all a subconscious emotional step, it is not an intellectual thing. I am definitely a pro-subconscious person and I think that if more people listened to their hearts, their dreams, their gut, and not their brain then they would find themselves…maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, I have really just been following my emotions and my dreams for as long as I can remember and I feel like I am at the right place in time because of it.
SU: You seem to be a very spiritual person, is that true?
Melissa: Sure, I think that everyone is born with that capacity, but maybe not everyone speaks about it or explores it. Definitely, I mean if I didn’t wake up every morning with a sense of belonging and a faith of the big big picture, then I don’t know how I would get through the tedious every day. If you are just focusing on the surface of life, you know do I have a roof over my head, am I married, do I have a car, do I have a job, that is the least satisfying existence I can imagine. I feel like the only way I can make the most of this life is seeing the big big picture and there is much more going on beyond my life and beyond this planet even.
SU: Have you heard Courtney’s new album?
Melissa: It’s funny; someone else just asked me that. Someone at a radio station gave me a copy just yesterday for the first time. I have not heard it, but I obviously heard the single on the radio and it is very Courtney, some of her best elements shine through on that song. I know her so well that I feel that I could just imagine the album in my head without even listening to it.
SU: You’ve described the album as your dream recording. Has it all worked out as you hoped, or is your dream or vision not fully realized yet?
Melissa: No, it is complete. All I wanted to do was make a record that sounded like my dreams literally. The sonic and the thematic and then also just in an earthly way to live out my dream of playing with my favorite musicians, so the actual making of the record and the end result of the record is my dream record. Everything that has come from beyond that is a bonus. So putting the record out there, going out on tour, people putting a smile on their face because of this music, it is all just a bonus in addition to what I already accomplished, which was making a record that was honest to me and a way for me to celebrate music during the best year of my life.
So I have achieved it absolutely. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have other dreams and other hopes for the future musically, but this is going as good and better then I could have ever hoped.