Melissa Auf der Maur is a woman of duality. The lithe, flame-haired bassist can stretch her voice from a velvety whisper to a demonic metal growl. Her debut solo album, Auf der Maur, overflows with sonic sludge and sugar-coated hallucinations. She spent a majority of the '90s playing bass in Hole and Smashing Pumpkins -- and dealt with Courtney Love's and Billy Corgan's train wreck personae. However, she's never overdosed, she's never trashed a hotel room, and she's currently dating party enthusiast Andrew W.K. She's a Pisces who loves horses, Canada, and Black Sabbath.
This powerful duality only adds to Auf der Maur's somewhat surreal life. Growing up in Montreal, the 32-year-old lived out a bohemian fairytale. Her mother was a rock journalist and Montreal's first female DJ; her father was a journalist and left-wing politician. She attended school with singer Rufus Wainright and, at an early age, began developing a love for the melancholy through some very, uh, unique experiences.
"I had very experimental years at a horse-riding camp between the ages of 13 and 16," she explains. You know, experimenting with psychedelics. And there were these big, beautiful creatures -- they terrified me. I've always been obsessed with melancholy melodies -- the Smiths, the Cure, the Velvet Underground. But once 1990 hit, I completely got into the heavy rock music, this wave of original, melodic, romantic bands. I was seeing all these bands in small clubs in Montreal, and that's when I became a follower of rock."
And it was in a small club in Montreal, when she was just 22 years old, that her band Tinker opened for the Smashing Pumpkins on the Siamese Dream tour. A few months later, at the request of Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, she moved to L.A. to replace Hole bassist Kristin Pfaff, who had died of a heroin overdose. During her stint, Auf der Maur was constantly writing songs of her own. "I joined a band that already had songs," she says. "So I was writing songs on my own the five years I was in Hole. 'Real a Lie' [from Auf der Maur] was written back in 1993."
So what was it like to be in a band with Courtney Love? Were there catfights? Drug orgies? Daily temper tantrums? Auf der Maur shrugs it off. "I haven't been in touch with her since I left five years ago," she says. "It was an incredible five years of life. But I'm not in touch with Billy either. People are difficult to coexist with; that's why there are wars all over the country. When you leave, in many ways, it's like leaving a family, it's like a divorce -- and it's hard to re-create some casual friendship with your ex-husband. It's bigger than that."
After she split the Pumpkins in 2001, she took off to New York to focus on photography and participate in less committed endeavors like scoring film soundtracks and playing in a Black Sabbath cover band called Hand of Doom. It wasn't long before she began work on her solo project. "I wanted to move away from the shape my life in music had taken," she says. "And at the end of that year off, I felt comfortable returning to my commitment in music and doing my album, as long as I could do it on my own terms. This record was like a graduation process, after years of education."
And she graduated magna cum LOUD. The album is like a night of partying where you pass out and wake up with mysterious bruises. Under the guidance of Queens of the Stone Age producer Chris Goss, guitars arc and crash into thunderous drums while Auf der Maur suggestively fondles her bass and spits out lines that are both pleading and, well, kinda icky. On "I'll Be Anything You Want" she puts her own twist on Black Sabbath when she sings "Finished with your woman/'Cause she's not me." On "Skin Receiver," she sings about "crawling through your flesh stew."
"I unconsciously created this sonic world that was the perfect balance between the heavy, heavy rock and ethereal vocal melodies," she says. "Heavy, distorted guitars evoke images of galloping horses, and the melodies and vocals evoke images of angels flying in perfect, cloudy skies. It's like trying to create a world where both of those can coexist."
Indeed, she has succeeded in bringing both worlds together, stoking her smoldering sexuality, dropping heavy sonic bombs, and layering her songs with references to lightning, blood, ghosts, and otherworldly Dungeons and Dragons hoo-hah. And this summer, she gets the chance to tour with her formative idols the Cure on the Curiosa Festival. In a hushed voice, she betrays her tough-as-nails demeanor: "I'm so excited to be part of such a mysterious summer festival that's not all about beers and kegs and barbecues!"
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