When former Hole/Smashing Pumpkins
bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur launched her "art-karaoke"
project Hand Of Doom, she had no way of knowing that pop
culture would overtake her.
musician says she started Hand Of Doom more than a year
ago as a tribute to heavy metal gods Black Sabbath. Auf
Der Maur sings, a quartet of her musical friends crank
out the band's psychedelic heavy rock -- it was all
meant for a laugh.
Then Sabbath's singer Ozzy
Osbourne became a multi-media phenomenon, via the
ratings-grabbing MTV reality show "The Osbournes." And
now, what started as an affectionate tribute to one of
her favourite bands suddenly seems like a shrewd career
"I can't be reactive like that," Auf Der
Maur says via telephone from her photography workspace
in New York.
"Last year, Sabbath was Sabbath to
me. Ozzy was Ozzy from Sabbath. I don't know what is
going on now. But there is definitely some new context,
and I'm not sure how it is going to affect my little
cover band," she says.
"The truth of the matter
is, I love Sabbath no matter what is going on ... I
would assume everyone would know my love for Sabbath
would be bigger than any love for an MTV cashing-in
thing," she says.
"Smart people will know that."
Smart people in Canada will get a chance to
assess Hand Of Doom next month when the group arrives
there for a brace of shows -- June 29 at Montreal's Cafe
Campus, July 1 at the Edgefest Concert at Molson Park in
Barrie, Ont., on a bill with Nickelback, Cake, Finger
Eleven, Sevendust and others, and a second show that
same date at Toronto's Tequila Lounge.
Canadian shows, it is purely because it is Canada Day,"
Auf Der Maur says.
"Celebrating Sabbath and
Canada Day in one shot makes total sense to me. It is
not like I will be going on tour for months at a time.
It is just special occasions: weddings and Canada Day."
So how did Auf Der Maur, who has played the
consummate side-woman to erratic, larger-than-life
figures such as Courtney Love and Billy Corgan, come to
front a just-for-kicks, gender-bending homage to a
pioneering metal band?
It all started when she
gave her friend, Molly R. Stern, a bass, and encouraged
her to learn the instrument.
"Last year, she
called me up and said she wanted to go further with her
bass playing. And I said the best thing you could do is
learn Sabbath. Just play Sabbath all the time and you
will become the best bass player of all time," Auf Der
Stern took up the challenge and
signed on drummer Pedro Yanowitz (Natalie Merchant,
Wallflowers), guitarist Guy Stevens, and noise
manipulator/turntablist Joey Garfield, and gave Auf Der
Maur the nod as lead singer.
"I said I had never
been a lead singer in a band. She said it was about
time. I started making my own album this year, and I
knew I was going to have to get out there sooner or
later, so I better start with Ozzy," she says.
"They are pretty authentic," she says of the
band's covers. "There is nothing you can do to make them
better, and it is not like we are going to make them
worse. We try to do them to a T. I think we do a pretty
It started off as a fun sideline, and
so far, the group has played only a handful of shows:
two in New York and four in Los Angeles. Some of the
west coast shows have been recorded for a live album due
in mid-September from indie label Idaho Music.
"That in itself was this fun, precious novelty,"
she says of the album.
"Cover bands don't make
albums, let alone live albums. Let alone a female
singing Ozzy ... It's kind of an art/Spinal Tap novelty
of a cover band making a live album on the Sunset
Auf Der Maur is mostly associated with
what used to be called "alternative rock," so was she
always a devotee of Sabbath?
"To be honest, I
was definitely a girl who grew up on contemporary music
of the moment. I actually probably discovered early-'90s
and late-'80s hard rock before I discovered Sabbath,"
"As a bass player, rediscovering
Sabbath from that angle, I realize that holds all the
secret keys to all of rock music," she says.
When asked what she admires about the Sabbath
oeuvre, she enthuses: "It is psychedelic -- heavy, but
beautiful and melodic. Original. And to me, it is the
funnest music to play and listen to. It is the most
satisfying. It is a feel thing. Some people might prefer
hip-hop or whatever. I prefer heavy, groove-oriented
She says that even she was taken
aback by how well the music suited a female perspective
"It is emotional. It is men playing
with their feminine side. The irony or non-irony of me
singing it is, Ozzy wrote those perfectly for a woman.
Even his vocal range is perfect for my vocal range. I
didn't have to change one key of any song. I can sing it
all like it was made for me.
"He is a man, but
look at him. He is a unique kind of odd person, not
afraid of his own personality, and definitely not afraid
of his mystical, spiritual side.
thought the best rock music -- Smashing Pumpkins or Led
Zeppelin -- those guys are always kind of exploring
their feminine sides. Look at the way they dress. The
lyrical content. The emotion that goes into it. I love
it. I love all of it."
While Auf Der Maur's
passion for Sabbath predates "The Osbournes" phenomenon,
Smashing Pumpkins fans know that there is a tenuous
association between the two. For a very brief time late
in the band's career, Ozzy's wife and manager Sharon
Osbourne was nominally the manager of the Pumpkins,
before they parted company in a swirl of acrimony.
During that time, Auf Der Maur did have the
occasion to meet Ozzy, Sharon and their children, Jack
and Kelly. And she adds that she would love to have Hand
Of Doom get Ozzy's stamp of approval; during Hand Of
Doom's L.A. run, she came close. Jack Osbourne came
backstage to visit with Auf Der Maur after the group's
show at the Troubadour.
"He is a real
heavy-music lover. He is a good kid who loves heavy
music, who is clever and smart and cool," she says of
"After the show, when Jack wanted
to come talk to me, there were people holding their
breath: Is he going to say bad things?
a moment and said: 'Melissa, I am very impressed. You
give my family a good name.'
"That's all I
needed to hear. As long as Jack thinks it is okay, I am