CD Times Interviews Melissa Auf Der Maur
Melissa Auf Der Maur spent five years as the bassist in nineties rock band Hole and a year-stint as the bassist in The Smashing Pumpkins. She’s picked up a respected rock pedigree and has finally satisfied a long yearning to record her own solo album. Featuring many of her musician friends, the self titled Auf Der Maur album is released beginning of March in the UK, and CD Times’ Raphael Pour-Hashemi was fortunate enough to be granted an interview with Melissa.
RPH: A big part of your life has been serving bands that were fronted by strong rock personalities. How does it feel to be the leader for a change?
MADM: I can understand from an outside perspective that that’s the way my life would be perceived, but for me I don’t see it as simple as being “behind the leader and now I am the leader”. It’s much more elaborate, much more a personal sort of evolution that has happened. It’s as simple as…well, music has always been very important to me, but over the years it’s taken on new shapes, new forms. I’ve grown as a musician; I’ve grown as a person. I once was twenty, now I’m thirty and so I’m different. So, it’s just a nice evolution this album and the making of this album just reflects where I am now musically, personally and all that. So, it’s just a nice evolution…but my years of being in “other people’s bands” as it were are as valid and reflective of who I am, as this is. It’s just a nice evolution; I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not done that. You know, that was good…and this is good too.
RPH: So it’s not more stressful then, to have make all of the decisions for a change?
MADM: Well it’s just there’s more responsibility, but I’m capable of more because I'm a smarter, more educated person now. I have life experience under my belt and have learned through other people and learned just through very lucky opportunities I’ve had to travel the world and be around music all the time for the last ten years of my life, so I like to think that I’m capable of carrying that weight of responsibility because I’m prepared. I have my education and my abilities developed already.
RPH: You spend so much time, effort and money producing your debut album and everyone asks you about Courtney Love. Is that slightly frustrating?
MADM: (laughs) Um...Not really because basically as it’s my first record there’s not much people can ask about my music. My history is obviously quite….full, in terms of the world, and so I’m completely prepared and “un-annoyed” to speak about those parts of my life, because they are big parts to me, whether you and I were sitting at a pub and you said “who are you and where do you come from?” I would tell you the same stories - that they are huge valid points of my life. Courtney is a very significant person, equal to say… the city I come from or the day I was born. It’s just a part of my history and it’s very valid and I’m totally happy with discussing it.
RPH: So have you heard her new album?
MADM: I haven’t, no.
RPH: Do you think you will at some point?
MADM: Sure, if someone…I’ll get a copy at some point. I’m curious.
RPH: You said that being a member of Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins were incredible years – educational, because it was like a bachelors in rock followed by a masters. So is your new album therefore the Doctorate?
MADM: Yes, this is like I’ve graduated from school and I have my own business.
RPH: You’ve passed the School Of Rock?
MADM: (laughs) Yes. Exactly. It’s like I graduated to create my home and structure.
RPH: What’s the feeling now you’ve finished the album. Is it one of relief or being so happy you finally got round to doing it.
MADM: I can honestly say I’m the happiest person I've ever been right now. All the years I’ve spent in ‘education’ and graduating to this album and the making of this album which was a beautiful process and the final product reflecting truly what I hear in my head and what I believe in music. I feel the happiest I’ve ever been because I feel at one with music. Quite literally, I feel like my relationship with music has evolved since the creation of this album in terms of what it means to me and the importance and I feel really, really happy. So it’s not a sense of relief or anything, I’ve always felt like this. I’m in the right place at the right time and this is where I’m supposed to be and I’m really happy about it.
RPH: A lot of your friends from the industry worked on the album. Was there anyone else you wanted onboard but couldn’t because of scheduling reasons or whatever?
MADM: No, everyone involved was just a natural thing. They just happened to be in the neighbourhood literally, or visiting the studio anyhow. Everyone involved was who I wanted involved. The only dream I had that didn’t come true was I tried to contact Morrissey…
RPH: Because you are a big Smiths fan I hear?
RPH: Sorry to interject but favourite Smiths album?
MADM: Believe it or not I think Strangeways Here I Come is my favourite?
MADM: Yeah, it’s not the right one I know but I think it’s the underrated one.
RPH: I totally agree, although personally I prefer Hatful Of Hollow.
MADM: Well that was my first love of The Smiths, but later I grew into Strangeways. So with Morrissey I had a little fantasy of him coming in to sing “I have A Big Mouth, I Want To Taste You” on the song Taste You. Instead though, I got the gracious and great Mark Lanegan to come in and do the vocals because that’s the only other voice on the record, and I wanted a strong voice to sing those lyrics behind me… but basically, nope, no-one else I wanted or needed on that record.
RPH: What I like about your debut album is that it has a very strong, cohesive sound. It doesn’t sound like a smash-and-grab collection of lowest-common-denominator-aimed-for-radio chunks. Was that a conscious musical decision?
MADM: (laughs) It was mostly because I was following my subconscious which is my love of music. I self-financed this record; I self-produced it. I was making it purely for my love of music. I had no record company, no manager, not even band members to respond to. I’ve been in such massive structures in my years in Hole and Pumpkins. I experienced music in such high structures, you know record companies, lawyers, radio stations to such a high extent that my goal for this album was to deconstruct all of that over but with the innocence that I had when I first picked up my bass guitar aged nineteen. So there was no thought in this record other than “I love music” and that’s it. (laughs)
RPH: And that’s the best way to be!
RPH: So, seeing as you do “work” in the music industry, do you see the product that the industry churns out the same way as say…. us low level consumers do. Do you still shop around for records?
MADM: Well I’m not going to dwell to much but it’s interesting the words you use “I 'work' in the music industry”. I don’t.
MADM: The publicist who organised this interview “works” in the music industry. I make music and I’m the furthest from “working” musician. I’m a “lover” of music and I make music, so I just wanted to create that context because it’s not a product. A CD doesn’t mean anything to me. Numbers of CDs sold doesn’t mean anything to me. My love for music is all I think about when I put on a CD. I don’t even understand how publishing works. How I discover music is how I did when fifteen or sixteen…the innocence of when something I hear grabs me in a bar and I go to the person playing it saying “who is this?” or if I’m at a concert and I see an opening band I’ve never heard of…that’s how I discover music. I do have to say that the music industry from my perspective has definitely changed a lot in the last ten-fifteen years. It’s a lot more mass-controlled. Radio stations and record companies are so much more interlinked and have such massive structures. I do find it more difficult than ten-fifteen years ago to find new music, because everything is so pumped through marketing and advertisements and videos and there’s so much more of a strange “McDonald’s / Coca-Cola” approach to music that it is harder for me to find music whereas in Nineteen-ninety-one it was so easy to find incredible, hidden music because the attitude was different. Basically ever since [Nirvana’s] Nevermind, the explosion of alternative rock music tried to control alternative music. In turn, there is no alternative music and maybe right now the online magazines are the closest we have to the freedom of finding things and if I was more of an online person I would discover a lot through that. Unfortunately I’m not a computer person so I have to rely on music finding me.
RPH: So having said that, what music has found you recently?
MADM: The Mars Volta album. Incredible, it’s my favourite album of 2003. I’d read a little about that album and people told me a little about it, but when enough of my musician friends had mentioned it I went out and bought it and it’s a challenging record; it took me ten listens to fall in love with it entirely. The feeling I had once when I fell in love with this album that is so progressive and challenging and alternative to most things is the same as the exciting feeling I used to have about what it’s like to find new music. So I have to say it’s quite rare over the past year or two to find a record that has moved me like that.
RPH: So does mostly older material fill your stereo then?
RPH: Such as?
MADM: Upstairs in my hotel room I’ve been listening to Kyuss, who are pre-Queens Of The Stone Age.
RPH: Who are going through a bit of personnel trouble I hear.
MADM: What’s that?
RPH: Well, rumours are that Mark Lanegan has left and that Nick Oliveri has been asked to leave.
MADM: I heard that yesterday. I thought it was internet rumours, I haven’t heard anything official yet. I have a hard time believing that personally. I think the musical force of these guys will have to stay together in some way. So yes, Kyuss and The Smiths! (laughs) I don’t evolve that much in my tastes. Also the Mars Volta upstairs. I don’t listen to music much. I don’t have time to listen to music much. As I’m playing shows I’m around music all the time and we just toured with A Perfect Circle so I’ve been listening to some of their records.
RPH: So finally, who’s the biggest enemy to the music industry? Is it the file-sharers or the record companies?
MADM: People who love music should get it anyway they want to whether its copying a cassette of a cassette or a CD of a CD. The enemy is the music industry. It tries to control something that is uncontrollable. It’s like trying to control love or spirituality, put it in a box.
RPH: They’ll never win.
MADM: They’ll never kill music but they certainly are making it difficult to let it happen naturally. The rise of technology is definitely helping musicians make albums. The album couldn’t have been made with the budget it was made on without computers. Whatever it takes for people to get my music is how I want them to get it. The music industry has to stop wasting money and stop wasting time trying to control things and…
RPH: Pay too many middle-men?
MADM: Exactly. Too many people doing too many unnecessary things. They should let the musicians do most of the work and just support them. There’s a sick tradition of the music industry being disrespectful to musicians and we are going to have to get our power back somehow. I mean I want my record to get out to as many people as possible and this is the only was I can but I’m the last one who’s going to see a penny off of this. It’s a disgusting situation so somehow in the independent companies and through the internet hopefully musicians will get what they are due as well. I’m not complaining, I’m just happy to be able to make music so that’s probably why things last so long because musicians just want to make music and any way that lets me do it, I’ll do it. The rest of them just have to….(shudders) LEAVE US ALONE!
RPH: Well, if only that would happen. Well, Melissa, it’s been a real pleasure interviewing you and thank you very much.
MADM: Yeah, thank you very much!
Read CD Times’ Review Of The Single Followed The Waves, taken from "Auf Der Maur" here.