Interview from May 10, 2010, reposting it since we moved to a new host and lost everything.
Melissa auf der Maur recently released her second solo album, Out of Our Minds, you can check out xmadmx.com for more information on the unique ways you can buy it. auf der Maur is most well known for being the former bassist for Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins. She was the longest reigning bassist for Hole, playing with the band from 1994 to 1999. After quitting Hole she joined the Smashing Pumpkins from 1999 to 2000 and was part of the Pumpkins during their first farewell tour. In this very revealing interview auf der Maur talks about why she turned down taking part in Hole’s 2010 resurrection, whether she was asked or not to participate in the Smashing Pumpkins’ 2007 reunion, and the truth behind the making of Hole’s Celebrity Skin.
In the mid 2000’s you transitioned from being a bassist in bands like Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins to a solo career. Many instrumentalists like Dave Navarro who have toured solo have said they didn’t really like becoming frontmen. Do you prefer being part of a band or being a frontwoman in the live setting?
In a live setting good question. For me going solo meant freedom to collaborate and do whatever I feel I’m good at doing. For me it was really not ever expanding as an artist, developing everything from my songwriting to my singing to my mission statement to my vision. I’ve been so inspired by all the creative freedom that it brings that I have no complaints. To me to be a solo artist means I can do so many new and exciting things and I feel very strongly that one must evolve and grow. I love being a bass player and I feel really good that I was able to spend a focused chapter defining that role, but I’m not someone that likes being in the same role forever. With that being said in the live capacity, I guess because I was so motivated to grow and expand that’s why I loved it, but were there challenges? Absolutely. Luckily for my first record I toured 180 shows worldwide, so I think I think I learned everything I needed to learn in those 180 shows. In the case of someone like Dave Navarro, I don’t think that he toured for a solid year being a solo person, so I think that ultimately I put myself out there and I learned my weaknesses and my strengths in that year of touring. So by the time I dove in to my second record I really feel like I had crossed that uncomfortable line you have to cross to become a frontperson.
Your new solo album Out of Our Minds took you years to make, do you think your experiences with it will make your next record easier and quicker to make?
Yes, absolutely holy moley. I just want to mention though of course that all of the years that I was making Out of Our Minds was certainly wasn’t laboring over music. There was a year or two where I didn’t even touch the music; it was about the whole concept. It was like a year of the fantasy film, a year of developing this sort of artist production how it’s labeled concept where I decided I wanted to be an independent distributor of my music. So believe me it wasn’t laboring over music for years, it was being patient putting the music on hold to develop these other elements that I wanted to bring around the music.
Basically it wasn’t Chinese Democracy.
Definitely not oh my god, I looked forward to sharing those [songs] with people over the cycle of the project. It was really a great lesson in patience, but what happened with the music that was cool is I would put it aside like in one case it was because everyone in Capital Records was fired in one day. Then there was this amazing detangling of a record contract, so for 6 months I didn’t know if I’d even be able to play the songs I had been writing and recording. So that’s one example of it being put on hold. The other one was diving into the fantasy film which took a whole year to produce, shoot, edit, and all the other elements. What’s great is that those breaks meant when I went back to the record, I had a really refreshed outlook and a new take on the record. I don’t recommend it, because believe me now my fantasy is just to go into a studio and record a record in a month and move on. It would be great, but it definitely made for a more layered experience and record. It was worth the creative experiment.
With Out of Our Minds you adapted to the new musical climate with your innovative concept of releasing an album, film, and comic book revolving around the project. With the record business further deteriorating and many of your musical peers like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor releasing all of their music for free online, where do you see yourself going with your next release when it comes to marketing strategies and selling the album?
I think that this is definitely the way I am doing it right now which is basically like, the majority of it is artist direction and it’s so liberating and so exciting and obviously Trent was the total pioneer and visionary behind this new forum because I think it makes total sense. Really affordable or free digital version, and then if you really want to have and hold something in your hand, I think myself as a music lover I really like something with depth so I still don’t buy on iTunes per say, but I will go to the store to buy the CD or if a book came out with the album I would be excited about actual items, which is why with this project that’s what I’m offering which is more of a tactile world, I think that’s definitely the way of the future for people like me and the types of artists that I like and therefore probably the types of people that follow my work is people who will actually want something special or just the cheap free version. I think that’s the ultimate business model in that it reflects what people want.
This is kind of a two part question. I’ve read you mention that you wouldn’t have taken part in the Hole resurrection because of your commitment to your Out of Our Minds solo project, but did Courtney ever outright ask you to be part of the new Hole lineup? Also what are your thoughts on all of the new Hole members being men?
Well I mean there were a few reasons as to why I was not ready to do anything Hole this year, it was definitely my creative pursuit with my project but it wasn’t only that it was also the way that Courtney was making it basically a new project versus a real reunion or retrospective of the work that didn’t make sense for me to step in. And to answer your question, she did call me last year and was very honest with me about her plans of releasing a new record, which originally started as a solo record and then towards the end she decided to release it as a Hole record. That didn’t make much sense as far as a reunion to me, I basically told her that if she was interested in doing a revision and a best of and review all of this incredible material that mainly Eric is sitting on top of, Eric is the co-owner of the band. He has access to these incredible archives that are phenomenal, we recorded and filmed a lot of our tours we have an incredible amount of outtakes. Basically I just said that if her and Eric were ever ready to do a real revision, I would be there in a heartbeat to support the legacy and putting out the, you know a reflection of the amazing creative journey that Hole was in for 3 albums. Even as a fan I find that really exciting. But she was looking more to the future, she was more about this new record of hers and that just didn’t make sense to me, which is also why I guess I didn’t end up participating on the new record. She invited me, she was also working with Michael Beinhorn, who was the producer of Celebrity Skin who I had a very particular good creative relationship with during the making of Celebrity Skin. So I was really excited about working with him again but that’s when I thought it was a solo record. It’s obviously complicated but she’s going to do what she wants to do, I think it’s very important for her to be releasing records and playing shows, she’s such a force. But she just decided to do it this way which didn’t make sense to me as far as me participating. As far as her lineup of backing musicians, no offense to them but I don’t consider them members of Hole. I just consider them really great players that are supporting her and what she calls her band but I don’t know I mean she doesn’t have to get girls to play with her. But the thing is about Hole which is confusing of course, is the legacy of Hole is a female dominated band in rock music, which is also why I thought it might be confusing if she were to start Hole without the original lineup. She’s going to do what she’s going to do, no one can tell that woman and that’s part of also what I learned from her from being in her band. She plows forward with what she believes in and you’ve got to let her do it.
How was the process of recording Celebrity Skin? I know Billy Corgan helped out on the album. I interviewed Eric Erlandson last month and he said that Billy only helped out on the album for a few weeks. How was the process of making Celebrity Skin with all of those powerful personalities like Eric, Billy, and Courtney?
Billy really was only there for 2 weeks, but Billy can take some credit in co-writing. He did co-write a couple of the big hits and amazing songs on that record but he was not there for the 2 year process which me, Eric, Courtney, and Patty were the only ones there laboring and writing and spending months and months at a time writing. I was there for the creation of every song and I contributed, I feel, a lot. In fact, what’s interesting about Billy is he came in basically to sort of fix up some songs and help Courtney with some final sort of visions of a few songs and he was a great great help, but Michael Beinhorn was ultimately more part of the big packaging and finishing of the songs and the vision of the sonic direction. It was a laborious few years that is for sure, but it was great. Once Michael Beinhorn stepped in that to me is when all the vision came together. Prior to that, including even when Billy was there, it was just a bunch of demos, rough rough sketches, of songs. Once Michael came in that’s when we really got down to what I really think makes that record so great.
Courtney has hinted a couple of times on Facebook and Twitter about possibly doing a summer tour with you as the opening act, were there ever any talks of this?
We definitely did have conversations, not so much about us touring together. At the time when we were talking I don’t think it was Hole it was her solo thing. She had a cool idea which who knows if it will ever happen; she is right in that we did talk about this idea of maybe curating a festival together. So we’ll see what happens with that, but we did have an interesting talk about how fun it would be to create a touring rock circus all together who knows.
Were there any talks in 2007 about you touring with the Smashing Pumpkins on bass? I remember you mentioning that you’d be happy to play some songs on stage with them, but nothing ever happened.
At that time I did go to Chicago to record a song with Billy for my record that ended up being musically not fitting for this record but I do have a really beautiful outtake of a song that we wrote and recorded together. It was right at that time that he was playing with the idea of bringing it back together, we did have a brief conversation in Chicago about him maybe reaching out to James [Iha] and would I be interested and having a very light conversation about it where I said I’d consider it of course. Then I guess he sort of went to a more of a focused him and Jimmy [Chamberlin] direction, which was his decision. But there was a very brief moment while I was in the studio recording my song with him where we did discuss it, but we never talked about it again.
What do you think about Billy firing Jimmy last year and now continuing to use the Pumpkins name without any former members?
Again, similar to Courtney, I mean there’s a reason why people are fascinated by me having worked with these two very dominant personalities. If there were ever bands with real dominant frontpeople, it’s those two people right, there’s no question. A band like Led Zeppelin or even Nirvana for that matter, there’s some bands that are just more bands and then there’s other bands where the frontpeople are so strong and so massive in personality, obviously I guess they seem to have the final say. So in some ways I’m not surprised that Courtney and Billy would go in this direction. I have always been essentially, even though my identity and my love and my journey in music is entirely wrapped around the legacy of Hole and the Pumpkins, but in many ways remember I was an outsider that came in to replace two very said departures. When Kristen died and when D’arcy left, those were very very sad moments for those bands and I came in in such an extreme replacement position that in some ways I think my participation was very emotional because of what it represented. In other ways it was so intense that quite often I felt as if I was an outsider. So in many ways, I feel like I can’t voice an opinion in terms of as a member of the band. I mean I’ve obviously been a sort of honorary visiting member in those bands, so I’m very careful about making vague statements about the bandleader’s decisions. For example with Hole I am the longest standing band member of Hole other than Eric and Courtney, so in that case I do feel a little more involved in its history, but on a legal level Courtney and Eric are the co-founders. In the case of the Pumpkins I was basically a Pumpkins fan that got to live my dream for a moment so I have no right to make any judgment. I will point out though that I think from what I remember legally Billy was the owner of the name. I hope I’m not saying the wrong thing but I think it’s true, so if you’re just looking on a legal standpoint, not that music should be anything about law, believe me I’m not saying that should be the reason, but I believe that Billy is the founder, and ultimately that’s probably why he made his own decisions. I don’t know the details about Jimmy leaving last year, I mean I was curious because Jimmy and Billy are such an intertwined musical force and it did surprise me. I don’t know the details so I don’t know what happened and whether it was a bad thing good thing, I have no idea. But I’m not surprised that Billy would continue with the vision.
What kind of pedals did you use during the recording sessions for Out Of Our Minds? Are those the same you use when you play live shows?
I don’t use many pedals with bass, I actually do not believe in pedals. Basically the number one priority for bass is to sonically hold down the low end, and most pedals filter the low end and even if you just lose a couple of shades of the low end you lose out. I don’t use any pedals live, there’s one Tech 21 flanger chorus pedal that I occasionally use for more instrumental or outro or more isolated parts when there isn’t a full band playing and there is a really great sansamp bass distortion pedal which if I have to use distortion on a moment of a song I would use that. I basically rely on my ampeg bass gain knob to create all of the texture that I need, so ampeg is really what my sound is made of other than my Fender precision. So on the record I used a bunch of pedals for my guitar parts because I do write a lot of the songs on guitar and I do most of the rhythm guitars on the whole record. That’s a lot of chorus flangers and obviously distortion, pretty straightforward, but then it’s always the additional sort of keyboards and additional guitars where we really start tweaking out on pedals.
You’ve mentioned how thrilled you were to collaborate with Danzig, any other dream collaborations?
I mean it’s pretty insane at this point, since I fell in love with music and started my own band in the early 90’s I really have played with all of my heroes with the exception of Morrissey of the Smiths, but that’s the only sort of last standing dream but that one seems so out of this world, and so hard to reach that I might let that one just stay in the in theroial dream escape, but II mean having Danzig on my record really did sort of represent the final frontier of someone that made a lot of impact in my youth that I hoped to collaborate with. I don’t know I’m actually looking to the future now, what I’m really looking for now in collaborations is new people that I’m not as familiar with and that are contemporaries of mine right now, so I’m looking for new blood.
The interview was conducted by AlternativeNation.net owner Brett Buchanan, who can be reached at grungereport @yahoo.com. After the interview Melissa said she had seen part of my interview with Eric Erlandson and thanked me for giving him a place to give his perspective on Hole.
You can read AlternativeNation.net’s exclusive interviews with former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson, Scott Weiland’s ex-wife Mary Weiland, former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, and more in the Interviews section. Also make sure to go to xmadmx.com.