Melissa Auf der Maur
The Exclaim! Questionnaire
The Montreal-born multi-disciplinary artist spent ten years touring and recording as a member of Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins, but felt like she left part of herself behind. "OOOM was the best thing I could have done for my commitment to expand and explore. During the making of it, everyone at my label was fired in one day, and that was the official breaking point where I thought 'Okay, now I really can start from scratch.'" A dark, beautifully indulgent, Danzig-ified ambition, the self-financed and released project also signifies for Auf der Maur greater change in the industry as a whole. "We've got all the tools we need to make whatever we want, and to share it with whomever we want. I'm so excited to be part of this wave."
What are you up to?
I'm definitely in the midst of SXSW mayhem. And I spend my morning doing European phoners because of the time difference, so the past few days from 10 a.m. till noon I'm talking to Poland or Italy, Portugal, Holland, et cetera, and today, this morning, someone asked me like, "Describe this project in three words." So maybe what I'm up to is psychedelic heart survival. That is what I'm up to. I feel like I'm just about to float to the top of this life-after-death experience. I'm coming up full-winged. Also coming up, I've got a couple little album release parties, which I'm looking forward to. Sort of showing the film, playing the music, and just generally celebrating the release finally. Nothing's set in stone, but I may have just confirmed possibly yesterday, Heavy MTL, a Montreal metal festival. When I heard the bill - which is everything from Slayer to Mastodon to Rob Zombie and Megadeth - and I thought wait, there's not one lady on this? Then they saw me play at CMW and I got an invitation the next day. So I feel an obligation to fill the feminine spot on that bill. Nothing firm yet, some other festivals. Also, what I really want to develop, I'm developing it for the U.S. and for Europe, a package tour of like-minded bands and projects travelling together with maybe some short films and graphic artists, and working with local artists, and developing that for a fall tour plan.
What are your current fixations?
I have an interesting dilemma, which is that - because I still haven't really learned how to discover music by buying online - I still like to go to record stores. But I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so I only get to go to record stores once in a while. So the way that I've been discovering music has just, like everybody else at this point, sort of morphed. So the way that I find a lot of music is through music videos online. And the last year, two of my favourite projects that I've found via amazing videos were Fever Ray, which of course everybody loves. I find her exceptionally exciting, a futuristic female musician. And Late of the Pier, from England, one of my favourites. They should be much more loved than they are. Toronto people I believe would really like them. They're from the woods of Nottingham, where Robin Hood is from. They're like these magical elf boys. Quite exceptional. Film-wise, I haven't had a chance to yet but I really wanted to see the new Lars von Trier film, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist. Fuck, I've been like, dying to see it. I'm predicting I will love it. And books, there's a stack of them next to my bed, most of them are historical or psychological, like a Carl Jung dream analysis book, or a biography of some unknown Russian woman writer. Biographies and real information. I escape in the music and I get real in the reading.
Why do you live where you do?
I'm currently living geographically centred in between Montreal, Canada, and New York City, my two cities. I refuse to choose one or the other so I've chosen to live in between them.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
There's this amazing contemporary artist from Brooklyn, he's a collage painter, very very celebrated, big contemporary artist in the museum world. His name is Fred Tomaselli, and he's one of my favourite modern-day visual artists that is not a photographer or filmmaker. He's a collage worker and it's absolutely mind-altering. I saw him speak at a museum opening of a show and he spoke about just how actually a few acid trips in his life completely changed his visual perspective, so, I would say he is a perfect example of mind-altered art, too.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Of my over a decade of touring, my favourite tour - I'll answer this as a tour question versus individual show - but the Curiousa tour that Robert Smith from the Cure curated in 2004 that I was part of in North America that travelled all over and put on a great show in Toronto, was by far the best rock tour that I've ever been on. The bands that were involved - I mean obviously the Cure were headlining, and plus there was Interpol, Muse, Mogwai, me, the only woman again - but it was unbelievable how good, diverse, and original all the music was, and there was not an ego in the house. I've never been on a huge package tour like that, where, after every show, the entire tour package would hang out. With not one attitude. It was the most beautiful, like, utopia tour, and I wish Robert Smith would do it every year, because I would be there at the very least as a fan every year.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Career high was when Out of Our Minds, the film, was presented at the world Science Fiction Festival in Montreal, and in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts all in the same month. That, to me, was the ultimate achievement of what I've been striving for my whole life, which is just to make fantasy-based art and share it with, like, very polar-opposite communities. A low would be probably the years in which I didn't know if I'd ever have the blood, sweat, tears and guts to reach that high. And that was coming out of my 20s when I was on the wave and drowning in what was an incredible music community of the '90s, but I quite literally didn't know if I would ever get out. I didn't know if I would ever be able to put all the work in to develop into an artist that could discover her own voice after all the years of nurturing other peoples'. That was confusion. But I needed those lows to kick start to this high, so...
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I don't know if I'm completely immune to mean, because believe me, I've been around mean people but I still never perceive it as mean. I think that I have a survival instinct that works all negative things into strong positive opportunities to get better. I think I might be hard-wired to not hear mean.
What should everyone shut up about?
That's a good question, hold on...(long pause) Uh oh, this is part of my being hard-wired to not hear mean. Because I'm thinking, "everything is a symbol of something!" So it's alright that they're talking about it. I don't fucking know! Maybe shut up about what people are wearing? That seems like a useless waste of conversational space? I'm really not prepared to answer because, to each their own in what they choose to blab about.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I'm going to have to be new-agey with this and say that the thing I love the most is the thing I can't bear, which is the super-tuned emotional antenna that makes me do all the things I do and also bogs me the fuck down. It's the sensitivity radar that causes a lot of noise and pollution in my head. Too much! I should probably learn how to turn that off and on at some point.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Well tomorrow my Sunday is going to involve going to the airport at six a.m. to go to Chicago and have a layover until I go to New York. That is the worst Sunday I can imagine! But in my newfound home in the middle of nowhere I have discovered the absolute bliss of feline company. The best is basically to have my cat sleep on my chest and keep me hostage to feline affection for hours and hours because once she plants herself on me, I can't even, I will not get up. So that seems like a perfect Sunday.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Buy real estate in the '90s.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Hmm... I guess extreme heroin abuse is not something I like to keep around me. Whether or not I have the heart... I mean at this point, it hasn't happened. But I would say that would be the one. Because then I'd be in the dilemma of wanting to help, ha ha.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
The Cure, The Head on the Door.
What was your most memorable day job?
There are two I'm totally torn between: working at a frozen yogurt stand in a subway hall, in the Metro in Montreal, or, working as a receptionist and a laundry lady at a squash club in Montreal.
How do you spoil yourself?
Not getting up when the cat is on my chest.
If I wasn't playing music I would be...
I'd most definitely be a visual artist who most likely is teaching, and learning from, young people developing their craft.
What do you fear most?
The limitation of time. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm real sad that I'm never going to have enough hours in a day to do what I want to do with my life.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
On a metaphysical level, Crack the Skye by Mastadon.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I think because it was the early days of me living in Los Angeles and being in Hole, definitely the first, most surreal, was dancing with Danny DeVito at a Hole after party.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Definitely some sort of Asian with seaweed something, and definitely Carl Jung would be the best.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She wants me to be doing exactly what I'm doing.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
All I know is it wouldn't have words. So that might be in the realm of some classical piece that I might have to find throughout my maturing years. Yet to be determined, but definitely no words.
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