Having left her wicked stepsister and turned into a Pumpkin, Melissa Auf der Maur continues to write her version of the rock and roll fairy tale. A seemingly contrary mix of the ethereal and the resolutely grounded, Auf der Maur recently jumped from Courtney Love's Hole to play bass in Billy Corgan's revamped rock opera.
During a recent appearance at the Spectrum, a 1,200-capacity club in her hometown of Montreal, Auf der Maur was given an extended ovation. Before the show, she sat down to discuss her situation leaving a band with an emotionally volatile history of drug overdoses, personnel changes, and controversy for one with a history of drug overdoses, personnel changes, and emotional volatility.
No longer Courtney's sane foil, she is the stable "stepchild" to three siblings: the hyperactive attention-getter (Corgan), the imploded shy boy (James Iha), and the prodigal son (drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, back after his '96 exile for relapsing into heroin use and for being present when sideman keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin fatally overdosed).
How did this actually happen? Did Billy call you?
Yup. The Celebrity Skin tour was winding down that Edgefest show in Vancouver [British Columbia] was the last show I ever played in Hole. I went home and knew that I was about to make a change I had no idea where, what I was going to do, I just knew that I had to move on. And within a week, Billy [called] I don't know if it's a psychic situation or what, because he had no idea that I had started to quit. Having been a big fan of Billy, [he] being the one that opened the door [for me] to Hole, it seemed almost too perfect to be true. A perfect transition for me, musically.
Me coming in after the fact doesn't reflect on the album [MACHINA/the machines of God] at all. I came in when it was already made. It was perfectly overlapping I finished the support of the last Hole record and I immediately came in to support this one.
You come into a new band and, strangely enough, musicians are people; you actually have to get to know one another. How does that process work?
I've known James almost as long as I've known Billy, so [we] were like those distant friendships where you feel like you know one another even if you haven't lived out days and weeks and albums with each other. In terms of a band dynamic, which is way different than just personal relationships: it's like family relationships. This is the second time I've joined an already-set family that has gone through a lot of stuff together, and I seem to be good at adapting to difficult, personal, intricate structures. Which I think even reflects why I'm a bass player, because bass players have that role musically. I can slide my way into a complex structure and be sensitive to who's standing there before me. It's like I'm a stepchild all of a sudden. Believe me, I've reviewed my strange destiny in rock music, in terms of "Why do I find myself in this role?" For it to happen twice is a little funny.
Are you enjoying it?
I am. The main reason I left Hole was I needed a new musical project. I needed to be reawakened musically. It's been amazing that way. As a bass player, working with Jimmy Chamberlin is a dream come true. It basically makes me feel like I'm the greatest bass player every night when really it's because if the drummer sucks, everybody sucks, and if the drummer's great, then you can all be great.
Most of these songs are very emotional. Never mind just playing the notes, the personal investment must be considerable as well.
That is very true. Obviously I've been a big fan of the band since before Gish, and I've followed the career and the albums of this band very closely. Being a girl who first fell in love with The Smiths and The Cure and Tears for Fears, I realized I've always liked the melancholy music. The other day, in Albany [N.Y.], we were playing in a mall outside a Sears and a Payless Shoes, a huge mall setting and it's, like, silly and we're like the weird punk rock people at the mall; you see old ladies walking by. As soon as we start playing, the whole cloud of intensity comes across and I realize, "Wow, I'm playing in one of those bands that I used to listen to," where I would dive into my emotional dark side and turn to [the music] for shelter. The last band I was in was a very different emotional experience.
Is this easier than your last band, less rancorous?
Musically, it carries me much quicker and deeper because there's a lot more music going on. [Hole], for me in lots of ways, is something I'm very proud of, simply as a female in music. There was a lot of political charge in it that really appealed to me. Even just on a music level I participated so much more in that band vocally than I did musically harmonizing like the pretty angel behind Courtney's rants. In a good way, I mean.
I noticed that on the cover of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness the girl has red hair. [Auf der Maur has red hair as well.]
That's probably part of the imagery that attracted me to the band in the first place. There's always been that spiritual-hippie-Renaissance [aspect]. I mean, Billy looks like those angelic, weird Renaissance people.
This is a Big Rock band, but it's not a "male" band.
It definitely has some feminine stuff, you're right. There's metal in it, but there's also a lot of spirituality. And I've got to say the three guys in the band are very sensitive. James is like my girlfriend on the road. We go shopping and to the movies.
I think "Everlasting Gaze" was one of the first songs I heard and I was immediately imagining how it would be to play live. I'm a sucker for the rock, and a lot of the other texture-y, dreamy stuff is really cool to play.
In Montreal, there must be a lot of ghosts for you. [Auf der Maur's father, Nick, a legendary newspaper columnist, politician, and unofficial ambassador for the city, died in 1998 after a noble and public battle with cancer.]
Many ghosts. In a lot of ways I get very excited and see it as my homecoming, and feel very proud and sentimental. I don't live here anymore and every time I come back, I say, "When will I live in Montreal and have access to all this wonderful food and culture again?"