The tale of Melissa Auf der Maur begins simply enough, a young, beautiful, musically inclined Canadian girl following a dream — both literally and figuratively. After a vivid dream at the age of nineteen, she picked up a bass and set sail on her journey. The chapters that follow in the story are no-less engaging as her path of musical enlightenment would take her to dizzying heights. Through the years, she would find herself playing roles in such iconic bands as Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, alongside rock royalty such as Courtney Love and Billy Corgan. Even after her departure from those genre-defining bands, her story was far from over. In fact, it had only just begun. The early 21st century would see this seasoned musician spread her wings as a solo artist and go on to receive critical acclaim. Now, she has just unleashed her most ambitious work to date, a multimedia extravaganza known as ‘Out of Our Minds’. The project not only features an amazing new album but is accompanied a beautifully crafted comic book and a short film. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this trailblazing artist to discuss her musical past, the conceptualization and birth of her new project, her work alongside the legendary Glenn Danzig and what the future may hold for her!
How did music first come into your life?
Through my mothers record collection. I was raised in Montreal, Canada. My mother was and still is, the coolest lady that I know. I still ask her to give me her feedback on music. She was the first female rock Disc Jockey in Montreal, Canada. By the time I was born, she had already been listening to the good rock music in the 60s and 70s, so I was raised on her record collection. Then she sent me to a music school from six years old on, so I’ve always had it in my life and I’ve been playing it since grade one.
What was the catalyst for you to pursue a career in music? As opposed to going a different route.
Well, I never thought I would have a professional career in music and still to this day, it is more of an emotional relationship than it is a professional career, so I never actually thought it would make any sense for music to be my professional career. I was studying photography in University and I thought that photography would be my profession and music would be my romantic love on the side, but then I got this crazy opportunity when I was 22 to join Hole. That’s when the professional element came up but in terms of the catalyst as making it a full time passion of mine, it was discovering the music of my generation when I was 19 and 20, discovering bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Kyuss, all of these amazing records of the early 90s that made me fall in love with music, deeper. Then I had a dream when I was 19 about the power of music bringing people together. It was a dream that I actually tell the story of on the last song in my first record. Its called “I Need, I Want, I Will”. In this dream, I was playing this strange post apocalyptic science fiction storyline and then music had the power to bring people together. I woke up the next morning and realized I had to do it, I had to find my instrument and start a band and that’s what I did, I picked up a bass, started my local band in Montreal and everything happened from there.
How did the idea for “Out of Our Minds” originally come about?
It started in January of 2005, It was about 5 years in the making. It was totally crazy. A lot of things happened in that time. At the beginning it was as simple as I had gotten off a 180 show tour from my first record and I spent Christmas with my family and I hibernated for the winter of 2005. I started writing my new soul record, it was sort of a followup from my first solo record. While I was writing, I also was looking for a deeper story or concept, I wanted to make it more of a conceptual record and also be able to bring in visual elements. So from the very get go I was writing a record but with the intention to find a story for a theme that I could then expand into a fantasy film and comic book. So it started with that and throughout the years many things happened like my record contract with capital records came to an end with everyone at Capital being fired in one day. So I took a year off from the record because legally, I had already started recording a bunch of my record and lawyers had to decide who owned it. That is when I took a year off from the record. So, I started making the fantasy film, I spent a year making the fantasy film, and when I went back to the record, I decided that it’s self produced and self finance at this point, I might as well start my own label and my own production company. That’s when I decided to not look for a new label. That took another couple years of my life. [laughs]
What was the biggest challenge in putting this project together?
Patience. Once I saw that it was going to be more than a year or two, after releasing my first record, I then sort of had to take all rational time lines and put them aside. I had to submit to the idea of “when its ready”, and “when there is an opportunity” and “when there is a way to release it” and it all feels right to me, then it will be ready. So I kind of let go and let the project take its own time line. Then also, becoming more of a practical person, I’ve never in my life paid notice to the business or planning on that end. I’ve always lived in the fantasy/creative side of things. So a couple of years into this project when I decided that I should start my own artist run label and production company, that was hard too, but it was worth it.
This project features a lot of collaboration. What can you tell us about that and specifically about your work with Glenn Danzig.
Basically the reason why I went solo as it were and make solo records and a solo project in this case, is because of my love of collaboration. The reason I make music is because it is all collaboration. I am not a Joni Mitchell singer/songwriter type, I’m a rock musician, so everything is about the drummer, the engineer, the guitar tone, the guitar player. It is my love of collaboration that fuels all of this to begin with. My first record was made by reaching out to all of my heroes and all of my mentors such as Josh Homme and Chris Goss, who was the co-producer of my first record. So it’s always been based on collaboration. Obviously, with this project as you see, comes down to the collaboration with the film makers, the illustrators and the players on the record. Glenn Danzig is the guest of honor and the most surprising guest, he has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager. He was sort of a mythological king that I looked to for inspiration and I never really thought that I would work with. It would have been anti-climatic to meet him as a fan and just say “Hi, how ya doing?”. So, for over fifteen years I’ve been a serious and devoted fan. I’ve worn my lucky Danzig sweat band throughout all of my touring and he is like this Viking type of man that I look to, to find the strength in side of myself to get up on stage. It started by me deciding that I was going to reach for the lofty goal to come together with one of my heroes. I wrote him a song, “Father’s Grave”, which is the duet where he plays the grave digger and I play a woman who has lost her father. Through this strange conversation in the song, she finds some healing for her loss. I decided to write him a song and invite him into my world through song instead of just calling and asking if he wanted to meet for coffee. [laughs] I did something that I’ve never done before which is, basically write a song from another person’s perspective. I know his music very well. So I basically closed my eyes and thought, “What would Glenn do?” To tell this story about this grave digger and this woman. The end result was that I wrote my first six minute blues/funeral duet. I sent him a demo with me singing his part and my part and a two page letter explaining the impact that he had made on my life and the story of the song. I sent it to his PO box, he doesn’t have a manager or an agent per-se, he does everything pretty direct. I sent it to what was essentially a fan PO box. Everyone told me that it would never happen because he had never collaborated on anyone else’s record. Six months later my phone rang and it was Glenn. He liked my song and I flew out to L.A. and we went into the studio to record his parts. It was amazing!
Was it a difficult process to bring your vision for “Out Of Our Minds” to life?
No. It was so much fun. It was so satisfying and so exciting. Obviously, I pick collaborators who are up to this sort of abstract challenge. Director Tony Stone and Illustrator Jack Forbes were amazing to work with. I basically had this crazy idea about time travel and I had my visual references along with certain period pieces, like Vikings and Witches. These references created this strange sort of art piece by trying to merge Tony’s language of cinema and story-telling and then my way of seeing and feeling stories within a song and then merging them together. It was really, really fun for everyone involved. I think I chose to work with people who are excited to do an odd ball collaboration.
Is this sort of collaboration something that we can look forward to seeing more of from you in the future?
Definitely. My hope or plan is to basically make this the first project that really embraces all of my inspirations — visual, storytelling and music. I absolutely hope and plan to continue on with this multi-media format.
Can we look forward to you touring later this year in support of the project?
I have been bringing the film to various places, for example, to screenings this spring. I have been bringing the film into other communities, reaching out to film houses, film festivals, science fiction conventions or comic book conventions, basically dabbling in these new ways to share a project and then building up towards a fall tour in North America with like-minded artists and will try to bring in the film and illustration components to the tour.
“Out of Our Minds” seems very ripe for blending those elements. I was curious to see how you might intermingle them.
Yeah. I am still developing it. The music stands on it’s own but I have been touring in Europe and playing some shows in Canada, only a few in the U.S. so far but the U.S. is a big country. Sometimes, I have been using the film as an opening act and then playing a straightforward, raw, rock show right after and that has been working very well. It all depends on the time, place and how to mix the components but it is also important that the music stands on it’s own, of course.
It is hard to mention your name and not bring up your past endeavors with the Smashing Pumpkins and Hole. Billy Corgan and Courtney Love are obviously two very dynamic personalities. What were the greatest lessons you took away from your time working with them?
I always break it down into two chapters. My time with Hole was “Character Building” and an incredible opportunity to define my vision, character and strengths. Working with Courtney Love was an amazing lesson in that. My time with Smashing Pumpkins, I always refer to as “My Greatest Music Lesson”. Billy is one of the most professional and prolific musicians that I have ever worked with. Learning his catalog was the ultimate “fine tuning” of my tools as a bass player and as a songwriter. Those were the real strengths of those two chapters, along with the honor of finding myself in the whirlwind in the midst of an incredible decade of music. Like I said at the beginning of the conversation, I had a dream about music bringing people together and I kept my ears open for the music makers and found my way into that world by believing in the power of music. Those two people are obviously two huge spokespeople for my generation and it was phenomenal to be a part of that.
The project is really amazing and we are excited to spread the word. What is the best place for people to get all the information and discover the latest chapter in your musical journey?
My website www.xmadmx.com has everything that you need from my blog to, most importantly, a free download of the song “Out of Our Minds” which will be up there for free for eternity. It is the ultimate introduction to the project and it gives people the option to give it a go and if they want to go deeper, online exclusively in my shop, is all of the multi-media elements like the film and the comic book. For all those that stop by, it is an invitation to dive into the world of the surrealism, psychedelia and following your heart! It is the invitation to a parallel world… and I will be your host!
Thank you for your time, Melissa!