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Sunday, August 06, 2000

Smashing swansong

Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur is ready to move on

By JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun

Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur is of two minds about frontman Billy Corgan's decision to split up the Chicago alt-rock band by the end of the year.

 Don't forget she was a fan of the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning group first, before she was ever a member.

 The Montreal-born Auf Der Maur, ex of Hole, only joined the Pumpkins -- formed by Corgan in the late '80s -- last fall after original bass player D'arcy Wretzky left. The group will play their local swansong on Friday at Molson Park in Barrie when they front the Summersault tour with fest founders Our Lady Peace and Foo Fighters.

 "Maybe I am a little too close," says the bass player down the line from a "mini-holiday" in Honolulu earlier this week, where boyfriend-Foo frontman Dave Grohl was playing a gig. "I mean, I know if I had been from afar, not involved, it would have been sad. But at the same time I think that they've survived a lot longer than anyone would have thought. There's been a lot of opposition to not just the band itself, but just music. The climate of music is weird. And I think they've sort of nothing to fret about 'cause they've done so much. It's like a perfect career if you ask me."

 In fact, Corgan's official break-up announcement -- which came in May during an interview on L.A. radio station KROQ -- was just the latest drama in the group's tumultuous history.

 Original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was only just re-instated for the Pumpkins' latest album, the hard-rocking, testosterone-fuelled MACHINA: The Machines Of God, after being fired in 1996 for chronic drug use and involvement in the fatal overdose of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin.

 D'arcy, meanwhile, was arrested in Chicago in January -- after she'd left the band -- on a crack cocaine bust.

 For his part, Corgan told KROQ the Pumpkins were tired of "fighting the good fight against the Britneys of the world," and "at the end of our road emotionally, spiritually, and musically," after MACHINA's disappointing sales and ho-hum critical reaction.

 The album debuted at No. 2 and 3, respectively, on the album charts in Canada and the U.S., but quickly dropped off.

 To make matters worse, MACHINA's commercial and critical failure followed 1998's softer-sounding Adore, which spawned the hit Perfect, was nominated for a best alternative album Grammy and sold three million copies worldwide. It was still widely seen as a disappointment.

 "I think there's probably a lot of reasons," says Auf Der Maur. "It's a pretty complex thing, just like ending a marriage or ending a long-term relationship or pursuit. I mean, in this day and age, bands don't usually last as long as they have. And over a decade, they've accomplished so much and I just see it as like a natural progression. I think that this record (MACHINA) was like a celebration of having Jimmy Chamberlin back and kind of celebrating all the qualities that they've honed in on in the past decade. I know other people are saying that he's made comments about Britney Spears. I assure you, it's much deeper than that, I'm sure. Maybe he's just playing with people's minds with that one. I don't know."

 It wouldn't be the first time.

 Corgan has never been an easy one to pin down.

 And certainly the band has always been his "baby" as the main songwriter, producer and lead singer-guitarist.

 Even as he announced the break-up, Corgan claimed that there would be at least one more Pumpkins record, basically the left-over material that didn't make it onto MACHINA.

 "He's been fine-tuning some of the unfinished songs from this past record, 'cause, as usual, they had 10 extra songs or whatever it was, I don't know the exact number," says Auf Der Maur. "And he's just been like still in the creative process of finishing those up."

 She says there has been a noticeable difference in the fans the Pumpkins have been playing to since Corgan announced he was pulling the plug.

 Diehard fans

 "Oh, God yeah," says Auf Der Maur. "We just toured Japan last month. That's another really, really diehard kind of fanatical Pumpkins place -- and the tears, and the following to the airport, and the girls begging for it not to end, it was pretty intense. Yes, there's definitely an air of like, 'It's coming to an end and goodbye and thank you for being there.' "

 Auf Der Maur also says she knew joining the group that the split was imminent so the news wasn't a surprise.

 "I knew it was their last record, their last tour, so I had known from the beginning," she says. "It wasn't clear -- the exact finishing dates -- and it's still sort of not exactly clear, but I knew coming into it that it was like a short commitment, which was ideal for me 'cause I wasn't ready to jump into a whole other multiple-year contract, musical commitment to anybody."

 In fact, Auf Der Maur -- now a veteran of both Hole and the Pumpkins -- says the thought of joining yet another band at this point is about the last thing she wants to do.

 "No, even though the Pumpkins has been a short commitment, it's still like a full-on load, and history and personalities to take on. It's as if I've been in two marriages at this point and I don't plan on getting married again, no. I will date people maybe but no thank-you. It takes a toll. It's like having two other families or something. It's like, 'Argh! In-laws!' "

 Taking 2001 off

 With the Pumpkins on the road right until the end of this year -- including an extensive European arena tour that will include two Wembley shows -- Auf Der Maur plans on taking 2001 off and figuring out how to make music on her own on an eight-track player in her New York apartment. She also wants to reconnect with her other love -- photography.

 However, she does confide that she plays bass and sings on the much-anticipated new album of friend and fellow Montrealer Rufus Wainwright, due this winter.

 "I've been involved in massive group projects for six years," says Auf Der Maur. "I went straight from university to intense group commitments and I've got to admit, I'm looking forward to freedom and a little bit of my own time and ability to do my projects. I've learned a lot about songwriting, a lot about playing and connecting with other people musically and all that. And I think I just need to turn into myself right now and learn a bit about me."

 And, no, don't expect her to hook up with Grohl in any professional way.

 "No, our higher priority is the relationship," says Auf Der Maur. "I mean we do fun, little things musically, obviously. Like we've been sitting around learning Tears For Fears songs on the acoustic guitar. It's fun."

 Still, she's glad to be touring across Canada -- when Hole headlined Edgefest last year the proud patroit Auf Der Maur put a Canadian flag on her amp -- and with Grohl in particular.

 "That's another bonus part of it," says Auf Der Maur with a giggle. "That was kind of part of the fun plan, too. It's like I can go across my own country, be on tour with my boyfriend, not be apart. Yeah."

The Smashing Pumpkins File

 Formed: 1989, Chicago.

 Current Members: Frontman Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and Montreal-born bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur (replaced original member D'arcy Wretzky.)

 Breakthrough albums: The 1993 major-label debut album Siamese Dream, and the 1995 double opus Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.

 Total Sales: 16.5 million worldwide.

 Upcoming date: Friday as part of Summersault at Molson Park in Barrie. Others on the lineup are Our Lady Peace, Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle, The Catherine Wheel, Treble Charger, Eve 6, Finger Eleven, Sum 41, Hundred Milehouse, Apex Theory, DJ Serious.

 Big news: Corgan announced plans to break up the band by the end of the year.

 QUOTE: Auf Der Maur on the Smashing Pumpkins' musical legacy: "I don't know, other than just great songs and one day they'll be on the oldies station and classic rock, that sounds great to me."

Friday, August 04, 2000

Melissa's Smashing success

Bassist's career completes cycle with Pumpkins

Winnipeg Sun

Melissa auf der Maur's life in music has come full circle.

 Just five-and-a-half years after Billy Corgan recommended that the Montreal bassist replace the deceased Kristen Pfaff in Hole, auf der Maur is returning the favour by helping Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins close out their touring career .

 "Yeah, it's kinda funny," says auf der Maur from Hawaii, where she's vacationing before hooking up with Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in Vancouver for the Summersault tour.

 "It's a perfect way to complete a cycle of life and to start a new one in 2001 -- and I've finally fulfilled a musical dream from a long time ago," she adds, referring to the fact she was initially inspired to form her first band, Tinker, in part by the Pumpkins' 1991 album Gish.

 Though it may have shocked some fans that auf der Maur left Hole last fall, the 28-year-old says it was her plan all along.

 "When I was approached (to join), I said yes thinking that it would be an education like a college education -- a chance to learn about a lifestyle, an opportunity to see the world and to learn more about music -- and I said I would give it five years," she says.

 "Well, the five years were coming up and by the time Edgefest crossed Canada last year (Hole was the headliner on that bill), I knew I would be leaving soon."

 Auf der Maur insists she left Hole without rancour, pointing out that the band's core of Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson still has no real agenda for the group's future.

 She wasn't left wanting for a gig for long. In fact, before her decision to leave Hole had been made public, Corgan had called her -- out of the blue, she says -- to replace D'Arcy Wretzky, who had been having drug problems.

 When the Pumpkins finally sign off late this year, auf der Maur has no definite plans -- only a burning desire to do and create something that is all her own.

 "Musically, I've been writing a lot but I want to keep it pure and minimalist for the moment. I've been working with the notion of 'must have album' and 'must have hit' for so long that I want to keep it fresh," she says.

 Photography is also a passion -- she likes to "document something every day" -- so a photo book is also a possibility, as are gallery shows.

 "To be honest, though, I'm in a touring mode right now, so until I'm actually free of this commitment I'm not exactly sure what direction I'll go in. All I know is I'm looking forward to it."

Melissa auf der Maur helping the Smashing Pumpkins close out their touring career.