MELISSA AUF DER MAUR
Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts
Illustration by Debbie

THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA AUF DER MAUR WAS CONDUCTED IN JUNE 2004, AND WAS PRINTED IN OUR SUMMER 'O4 ISSUE. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY OF THE MAGAZINE, CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

AFTER A DECADE OF PLAYING WITH TWO OF THE BIGGEST BANDS OF THE 20TH CENTURY, MELISSA AUF DER MAUR TAKES A GIANT STEP BACK TO THE BEGINNING, PUTTING ALL HER EARNINGS INTO A DEBUT SOLO ALBUM THAT ROCKS HARDER AND HEAVIER THAN MOST OF HER COUNTERPARTS. VINNIE BAGGADONUTS LEARNS HOW A WHOLE LOTTA LOVE, HONESTY, AND SOME EDUCATING ALIENS MADE ONE GIRL'S ROCK 'N' ROLL DREAMS COME TRUE.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: First thing Iíve gotta ask you is, did you write your press release?

Melissa Auf Der Maur: The one thatís written in first-person?

VB: Yeah.

MA: Versus someone who wrote it for me in first-person?

Both: (laugh)

VB: Well, you never know....

MA: No, no. I wrote it because Iím obsessively in control of this project. I made this record before any manager or label came into the picture, so Iím quite protective of it, making sure Iím represented properly. Maybe I read a version of what they were thinking, and it made me want to barf. So I was like, "Listen, let me write this myself." And then it was just sort of like writing a diary entry. I tried to make it really basic, like, "This is what itís about. This is who I am." I hated the idea of these powerful words in my ears, like, "She was once in the most fantabulous, crazy band on the planet in the Nineties...."

Both: (laugh)

MA: I donít know what they were gonna say, but it was scaring me.

VB: Yours was beautiful. I get a million of those, and I usually canít stomach them. But I started reading yours, and it was like reading a personal letter.

MA: Heck, yeah!

VB: It really made me pay full attention to the record, too.

MA: Oh, thatís good. Believe me, none of this is an intention to rope people into my personal space. Whether Iím talking to you on the phone, or talking to my mother on the phone, basically, Iím just this honest person. I want to make sure I get myself across loud and clear, and I think the record has that intent, also. Iím just trying to be myself, and tell you how much I love music, or what I think about love or beauty. Every element of this project is all coming from that place.

VB: Are the videos coming from that place, as well?

MA: Hmmm... well, letís see....

Both: (laugh)

MA: The first video-- "Followed The Waves"-- essentially, it was explained to me that videos are like commercials, and that you kind of have to explain yourself in a very basic way. So, yeah, maybe I could have been more creatively in control. But the fact is, for the first video in particular, it was like, "Okay, itís a girl with a bass, and sheís got some friends that play in a band behind her. And she rocks out as hard as she can, and has some secret fantasy about parallel and past lives, which weíll establish in her cameo in the beginning. Then weíll cut to this battleship, and make it look like old footage from the Twenties or Thirties." You know, it should have a little bit of romanticism, but also show that itís a modern rock video for a modern rock record. So, thereís only so much you can do with a rock video.

VB: Well, I asked because I watched all of them on your website. And the one that kind of threw me for a curve was "Taste You". The French one. Do you know French? Or did you just learn it to make that video?

MA: Oh, I totally know French. I grew up in Montreal and went to French school. My mother is an American who fell in love with the French language when she went to university in Montreal. She basically just became a French person. My stepfather, who is her second husband, is a French professor, and he came into the family with two sons. That video was the lowest budget one of all of them. It was made for very little money in this creepy haunted house in Montreal, and it was directed by my French stepbrother. So, it was like a family project, where everybody was kinda working for free.

VB: Right on.

MA: That songís on the album in English. But, simultaneous to my life here in North America, I have this bizarre success in France. A couple years ago, I did a goth/love duet with this French band. I thought it was going to be an underground thing, but it ended up becoming this multi-platinum hit! (laughs) Now, French ears and eyes are all open and excited for my music! So, I ended up doing a translation of "Taste You" specifically for my French audience, and, in turn, when the record comes out in North America, it will be for Quebec, as well. And because the song became a bit of a hit in France, I had to make a video for it quick-- in two days! So, I did it all with my family.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Was the quickness and low budget nature of it similar to the way you made the album, too? Because I read that you paid for most of it--

MA: Oh, yeah.

VB: Seriously, reading your press release and learning all that... anyone whoíd read that and still not want to listen to the album should probably be shot.

MA: (laughs)

VB: Thatís a really fucking noble thing you did! You obviously care about music.

MA: I do. I mean, the way I see it is, every penny Iíve ever made through music is free money. I never grew up thinking I could make a living playing music, you know? Music is my love. You donít buy love, and you donít buy music. Wait, that doesnít make any sense, because you do buy music--

Both: (laugh)

MA: --if you do support the artist. Whatever. You can download it, too, if you like. But you canít download love, thatís for sure.

Both: (laugh)

MA: Iíve made a life and career as a professional musician. And when I got out of the positions of bass player/backup singer in those two big bands [Hole, Smashing Pumpkins], the money I got from that made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I was like, "Oh my God! I have money to put a roof over my head! I can move into the most rundown apartment in The Chelsea Hotel, and make my own record with complete creative freedom, because Iím paying for it!" It just seemed like the honorable thing to do. If I have the freedom to live in that sort of creative utopia, where I can do whatever, wherever, with whomever, then Iím gonna do it. For me, it was the most logical thing. I made money. What am I gonna invest in? Stocks? No. Iím going to invest in music.

VB: It is a damn good record, too.

MA: Thank you very much. Iím glad you like it.

VB: Itís an actual rock record. Usually, when people are like, "Check out this cool rock band," I listen to it, and am like, "Hmmm, alright. Whatever."

MA: (laughs) Itís a little too lo-fi? (laughs) I love big budgeted, epic rock landscapes. Thatís what turns me on. The thing about my record, though, is that I made it on a low budget. Through the magic of Pro Tools, however, I could make a big sounding rock record for cheap! And thatís how Iíll forever do it from here on out.

VB: It seems a lot heavier than stuff you did with your old bands. Because of how different your record sounds, I wondered if it had any influence on your past work?

MA: Well, I never recorded with the Pumpkins. I only came on to help with the touring to support their last record. But with Hole, I joined the band right after Live Through This was made. I came on to tour for that record, and worked my ass off for two and a half years to make Celebrity Skin. That was the first record I ever made. I have songwriting credit on half the record, but the biggest contribution was my role as bass player/backup singer.

VB: Because youíre now making your own record and touring for it, do you feel like a kid living out a rock Ďní roll dream?

MA: Oh, yeah! This is like me starting from scratch. And because I went from playing in a tiny band in Canada that did seven shows ever, to joining Hole, I never experienced that in-between thing; that growing that happens with music. Iíve been playing rock music for ten years of my life, but this is my first album.

VB: So, because you had complete and total freedom on this record, you werenít making it for anyone but yourself, really. Do you think the next record will be a little more difficult?

MA: Well, itíll be different. But again, Iím all up for different. I donít need to do the same thing every time. The most important thing was that the foundation of this project-- Auf Der Maur-- was that spirit of purity. I mean, of course itís a battle. Art and commerce sucks!

Both: (laugh)

MA: I donít want a record company, but I need one, unfortunately. I spent every penny I had on this record, so I needed the support of a label to print up the copies and get it into the hands of people. I needed to put a band together for touring, and I needed a budget for that. I need that system. Of course, itís frustrating. The intentions of record companies are not good, from the musicianís perspective. Itís not about the music for them. Itís about the business. But everything you do in life has a downside. I just feel like, after ten years of education and learning from being in the business, I can use my experience and make the most of this struggle. There will always be compromises. I do feel lucky that I signed with a label that has been nothing but supportive of my creative vision. When I came to the label with my record, there was no option for them to mold me or shape me. These werenít my demo tapes. It was, "Do you like it the way it is? Because if you like it this way, then Iím in."

VB: Yeah.

MA: My label was really supportive and cool. Of course, the people I really like there could lose their jobs tomorrow, and then Iíd really be fucked.

Both: (laugh)

MA: But, right now, I feel really lucky.

VB: Was writing the songs something that happened over the span of the last ten years?

MA: Yes.

VB: Did you try and mold the songs around your collaborators, or vice versa?

MA: Vice versa. I had the songs, and I knew what I wanted them to sound like, so I picked the right drummer for the right song, and the right guitarists for any additional guitar parts. Itíd be like, "Of course! Adam would be great for this song! Josh would play the perfect complimentary part here." All my friends are either people Iíve toured with, been in bands with, or have been huge influences on me. I know their styles inside and out. But instead of mimicking their styles, I would just say, "Hey... you wanna do your thing in exactly this spot that would make the song what itís supposed to be?"

VB: Did any of the collaborators write the songs with you?

MA: I wrote two songs on the record with my first band member, Steve Durand. He was one of the members of Tinker, the Canadian band I left to tour with Hole. The two songs we did-- "Real Lie" and "Skin Receiver"-- are actual Tinker songs. "Real Lie" was one of the first songs I ever wrote. The sonics have been improved, and I made the lyrics and melody a little more sophisticated. But, essentially, the music is exactly as it was in 1993. So, Steve Durand wrote two songs with me, and Josh Homme wrote two with me: "Iíll Be Anything You Want" and "I Need, I Want, I Will". Those two were written during the recording of the record. All the other songs were done pre-record.

VB: Right on.

MA: Oh! Actually, "Overpower Me" was written by Chris Gosse, who produced the record with me, and Josh Homme. They wrote it while they were playing the piano in the studio, and I was in the other room doing guitar tracks. I walked into this piano room, and Chris was playing this melody, and I felt like I was entering a totally different time zone. Then he sang, "I could easily overpower you..." in this jokey voice. Coming from a man, the lyrics are quite silly. But I had this idea of using it as an interlude on the record, to create this completely timeless detour to another world where this woman is singing these lyrics.

VB: Right away, I knew Josh was somehow involved in "I Need, I Want, I Will", because you could hear him--

MA: You can totally hear Josh on that. Iím the biggest Kyuss [Hommeís old band] fan. I had this dream in 1991 about three-dimensional sound. Aliens came down and basically helped us mere humans discover the power of sound. And the sound of Kyuss was in that dream! I woke up from that dream, and committed my life to rock music. I knew that was going to be my way to connect with human beings. I was this slightly alien-fetished Kyuss fan in Canada. I met Josh in 1994, when Hole was playing with Kyuss at some European festival. I saw him across a field, and I yelled across to him, "Josh! Iím Melissa! In 1991, I had a dream about three-dimensional sound, and your music was in it! Iím going to find you again one day!"

Both: (laugh)

MA: So, I continued to try and hunt him down. When Queens Of The Stone Age formed, we brought them on tour with Hole. It was kind of like a return of support when I was making my record. I called him and said, "You know, it would be a dream come true if you would make music with me." (laughs) I said, "Josh, I just want one riff of yours. A drony sort of Kyuss/'Planet Josh' riff." I knew it would be something Iíd build upon, to create the proper atmosphere to tell this dream I had about the science fiction invention of sound, and how it brought the people together. It was the perfect way to end the album. I mean, if there is any message behind this record, it inadvertently winds up being: "Follow your dreams." Because, man, I followed one dream of mine, and it brought me the most exciting adventure of my life.

Both: (laugh)

VB: So then, are your dreams all spent? Are there any more left?

MA: Thatís a good question! Itís weird, you know. Before the record, my dreams were fantastic. A lot of the songs on my album come from my dreams. Now, with my record out, and all my dreams out there on it, my new dreams are about deli trays, tour buses... (laughs) the most boring, earthly realities! I basically made my dreams my real life, and now my dreams are my "boring" life.

Both: (laugh)

VB: At least theyíre not about broken-down vans and unfortunate shit like that.

MA: (laughs) Yes. Iím lucky enough to be able to ask my label for a tour bus, because I work 24 hours a day, and could never drive the van. But, we donít get hotels, so I live in the bus. Itís kind of my traveling home. It isnít the luxury I once had in my Hole/Pumpkins days, but who needs that? I donít.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Okay. My last question is, you talk about dreams on your album, and how they became the record. Did you always appreciate the power of the subconscious?

MA: Yeah. When I was ten or eleven, I used to tell my schoolmatesí fortunes in M&Mís at recess. And I completely believe I had access to psychic powers! I mean, I grew up with pretty down-to-earth, atheist parents, but I was born a Pisces. Weíre all living half in the psychic reality, and half on the planet Earth. (laughs) From a very early age, I would look up at the solar system and have conversations with it, tell fortunes in Smarties, etc. As soon as I became old enough to make my dreams my reality, I became a firm believer that the subconscious and the world outside of our flesh and blood is essentially the truth. You know?

VB: Sure.

MA: This planet Earth, the act of putting a roof over our heads, our flesh and blood existence, itís all very temporary. Thereís much more behind the spirit of creation, and that initial spark is what Iím curious about. What happened before this? What will happen after this? What happens when we go to sleep?

VB: Yeah.

MA: Iíve always been very in tune with those things. And Iím proud to say that Iíve matured enough to at least be able to function on a day-to-day basis. I can maintain an okay diet, I learned how to use a cell phone, I sorta know how to use a computer. Iím pretty good at keeping my friendships. But I had to learn that other stuff before I could learn this day-to-day stuff.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Melissa, thanks so much for doing this.

MA: Awesome. Remind everyone to vote in the 2004 election.