Melissa Auf der Maur, where do I begin. She is this energy that fills our universe with the pure essence of what an artist is in all forms. She is organic, humble, and hauntingly moving.
Most of us know her as the bassist from Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins but she has made her own name. Created a self-made project called MAdM that is filled with magical darkness. Out of Our Minds the title of the album, comic and short film is absolutely grand and visually delicious.
I was thrilled to be able to interview someone with such a musical background and history. Enjoy!
For all things MAdM click here.
Where are you right now?
Melissa: I’m in my home in upstate New York. I got home last night from not being home for most of the last three months. I have my cat on my lap and I’m so excited to be home.
Where are you?
I’m from Washington, DC
MAdM: Oh I thought you were in Virginia because of the 703 numbers. I use to live in Virginia in Alexandria for half a second.
What is your first musical memory? The first time you heard of music in your life?
MAdM: Basically I owe it all to my mother and her record collection. My mother was the first female rock disc jockey in Montreal. She was from Boston but she went to Montreal to study French literature at McGill University. And she got in with the music crowd in the late 60s so she was a disc jockey. And she had all the best records of her generation. So my earliest memories was always having music in the house and then looking at the album covers and then her telling me the stories about the people.
She was way ahead of her time. In terms of the cool ladies not becoming housewives like their mothers did. She was a journalist too so she interviewed a whole bunch of musicians that would come through town.
What was your first tape or record?
MAdM: Well definitely there was so much when I was young. Like everything from the Stones to The Beatles to Zappa, and Leonard Cohen.
The first two albums I bought with my money were The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs. When I was 12 or something. She bought me my first Blondie album. So Parallel Lines was the sort of beginning of me having my own sense of my records and not hers.
You just got off tour from Europe, right?
MAdM: Yes, I was there for the magical Viking volcano explosion. I learned what it was to be humbled by a magic mountain. Honestly for the first few days we didn’t know if we were going to be stuck there for months, if the big guy was going to blow. So we were looking into ships crew ships to get home. We were thinking about walking to morocco and getting to Africa. Driving to Russia. For three days we didn’t know if we were going to get home for months.
I was calling everyone I knew in Europe. I had a house on hold in a tiny town in England these people who play in a band were like you can stay at our house we could make a record.
What made you say ok this is it I’m starting my own band?
MAdM: My end goal always to this day is to grow as a person and to expand as an emotional, creative person. So it was a natural commitment evolution to expand. My first record was just a record. My 2nd record had story telling fantasy, multimedia components. I just don’t like to stay in the same place. I feel it’s a dishonor to your life to not continue to evolve. When I was in a band before I joined hole in Montreal. It was never like do I want to be a front person do I want to have my own band. It was just like I want to learn music.
One of the reasons I said yes to hole and to the pumpkins was an opportunity to grow and see the world. It was a natural path of what’s next. I’ve learned these tools how can I use those things I just learned and apply it to a new experiment.
Definitely, the whole project has been incredibly magical the album, the comic, and the short film.
MAdM: Thanks; I mainly love to push myself and enjoy collaborations.
The reason why I love music is because it’s such a collaborated process not only between oneself and their instruments. But them and the other musicians. Them and the studio with the engineers. Then on stage with the audience. It’s just a continuous exchange. And with this project I thought I took that same spirit and style of exchange and brought in a filmmaker or an illustrator or web guy. How do I continue to do a back and forth with someone. But in the same feeling I do it with music but in these different areas.
Was there a moment during the time you were making Out of Our Minds, where you said I am on the right track?
MAdM: Certain moments in the album. Certain musical heights, like the song Out of Our Minds. The instrumental songs I worked harder as a bass player. Showcased what I’m most comfortable with which is playing bass. As oppose to the other parts, I pushed myself where I tried to learn my vision in words, or use my voice better or write a song better. But the one thing I know, what I’m very comfortable doing is bass. There were moments I could sit back and enjoy my bass on the album, which was really an epiphany. There were moments where I found my voice, like the song Out of Our Minds. Then when I was in the woods with film crew watching these magical witch huts being built in the middle of swamps. Realizing wow I brought the spirit of what I saw in a song in my head and brought in this amazing team of people who can help project that into the real world.
And here I am standing in a witches costume on a floating log. And that was like ok fuck now I’ve arrived somewhere I’ve never been before.
What is it album trying to say, and is there a message behind it?
MAdM: The root of the message is in the song. “If you’re listening come in. if you’re a dreamer”
It’s an invitation for someone to step into a dream essential and by the time you get the chorus it’s asking you to travel out of your mind into your heart. That’s been standing by. Your hearts patiently standing by.
It’s an invitation to let go of the rationale and follow your heart. Follow your feelings; follow the language of symbols and the language of dreams and the subconscious. Through that ritual which is I think that music is anyways. And the reason I listen to music or I play music is to let go like that. To serve this other side of you that is this magic emotion subconscious. It’s not that part of you that’s going to make your schedule or pay your phone bill. All the mental stuff were so bogged down by. Some ways I’m part hippie and in other ways I’m part realist. We’re completely out of whack, we’re so out of balance. We’re never tending to emotion side and to the romantic the part of us that builds these empires.
On my own subtle small level of my record even in the ritual I went it to make it.
To search for a meaning within my songs, it’s a moment asking you to enter that
Other side. In hopes we can get a perspective and maybe make the world a better place little by little.
How has it been doing an all out Do It Yourself project?
MAdM: Haha. You know what I was talking about earlier of the schedule and how do I pay my phone bill. As a joke I made this project to try to invite people into an emotional realm. I had to become more realistic than ever before. Because I also to protect the integrity of my vision. I’d have to become the manager and the label, and the production person, and the finance person. I had to become a complete realist in order to be able to make this project. I mean in the long run it has been amazing because I learned so much stuff that I never wanted to learn, never learned in the past. Living in this la la land of pure emotion, creativity, and spirituality most of my musical career.
I never had to build my small kingdom from ground up. Basically being in a witch’s hut living in the woods to being in Los Angeles in a big band. I never did the in between. I went so fast from A to Z. I feel like this entire project has been me returning to what I never got to do. Which is be an independent artist who develops, who struggles, who works to try to get heard.
Seeing the process come alive and watching that video gives me chills.
MAdM: Wow, thank you.
Just the reality of that, having worked with Tony Stone the director, that was done on a nothing budget. It meant that us and all of friends were living in the pouring rain woods for five nights. And every time I thought oh we can’t do these fireballs its too crazy someone’s going to get hurt, and Tony would say, “No were doing them!” Oh we can’t recreate the car crash, we didn’t have any permits. It was all done completely flying by the seat of our pants. I’m really happy for everyone who struggled in the swamps that week, the video turned out pretty nice.
A lot of the shots on the short film look as if they could be still images, was that done on purpose because you’re a photographer?
MAdM: We used a lot of paintings as references. It my early work as a photographer when I was at University. One of the things I would do quite often I would try to recreate old paintings, Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Yes, it definitely was an influence in the look of it. We wanted to make the film look a bit like how I see the song. Which is a landscape, rolling floating through this landscape, slow motion.
Do you get tired of people who continue to bring up your past connections to other artists that you’ve worked with?
MAdM: On this project, I mean I must say in the past couple months it’s the first time I’ve sort of been bordered annoyed by it. It’s not so much the interviewers fault. It’s a huge part of my life. I mean I talk about it in my personal life; I talk about it to my family and friends. So its not like it’s not relevant it makes me who I am. When I put out my first record I had just left Hole and the Pumpkins a couple years earlier and it was my first stepping out as my own person. So of course I was planning on answering all questions about Hole and the Pumpkins.
This record comes out 10 years after I left Hole and it is ironic that there is way more questions about it now. Because it’s a current news issue, which is that Courtney, started Hole again.
The project is complicated enough let alone the “why aren’t you in Hole or the Pumpkins?” Cause they both have just come back, it’s hilarious. I mean its hilarious and frustrating because it is too complicated
There are so many layers that I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. I’m not the type of person to say no comment. I’m a very transparent and honest. And my opinion changes regularly.
It’s a little confusing and at the same time I understand why. I mean Courtney and Billy and there two bands. They are the foundation of my adventure in music. They’ve defined my direction in life. That’s why I’m always open to addressing it. It’s like a weird version of my parents. (laughs)
I know that you’re an Anais Nin fan, what is your favorite book by her and why?
MAdM: A Spy in the House of Love. I like short books I read a lot of non-fiction and biographies sort of theoretical things because you can go in and out. Where as a fiction book you have to read the whole thing. But mainly what it is is that I just admire any women who in the early part of the last century would of explored being an independent sensual woman. I mean women’s sensuality and sexually has been incredibly under documented by women its been entirely accounted for by men. Because men have written our entire history. She is just a very important woman to step out and discussing those kinds of fantasies through a woman’s perspective.
If you were reincarnated, what would you be?
MAdM: I have come back before, a lot of my work in the music and the film and storytelling. I believe we’ve tapped into many different lives by the time we got to this one. Before this one, there’s a bit of feline in the Egyptian days, witches in the pagan Viking era, there’s a little bit of Victorian. I feel connected to many parts of the past. As far as the future goes, I would normally say an animal but I’m so scared for the sustainability. I would like to come back to another form that I’ve never been before.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
MAdM: This is a crazy time. Its one of the most exciting decades that were about to embark on because of this deconstructed industry that is totally flailing in a good way. Because it means you have to take risks and make it up yourself. And do what I always believed in is follow your instincts. Follow the connections you have with people, people that you inspire, people that inspire you, people that you know, and communities. Mainly taking it in your own hands and having the tools you need to make your project at home if possible. Now we have these amazing freedoms to sell directly to our listeners and to make our homes into art studios and music studios. This is the beginning of the best time ever.
My only advice is to always work your ass off. Honest with yourself, don’t be lazy. Find what it is your love and do that instead as oppose to what you think you should do. Its not an old saying I know Its all about who you know and looking within your communities and your friends, who you can move forward with. I mean just work hard. We have all this endless technology and less and less budget to work with. So that means people have to work much harder and be more creative. But also means that you have less people to answer to and you just have to answer to yourself. Therefore, you can make it what you want.
This is a great time to start music. I encouraged everybody to start music right now. This is a very, very exciting decade.
It was great talking to you, thank you! You were very easy to talk to.
MAdM: Thank you! Have a great day!
Interview by April