Melissa Auf der Maur is perhaps best known as the flame-haired bassist who anchored Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins in the ’90s and early 2000s. After her self-titled solo debut in 2004, Auf der Maur laid low for a while, but she’s back this year with Out of Our Minds—a compelling art project that includes a full-length album, a 30-minute film, and a graphic novel. The OOOM movie, in which she stars, is a surreal fantasy piece involving witches, Vikings, a car crash, animal hearts and more set in the deep woods. And she’s bringing it to town for a free screening, followed by a Q&A (no music performance, however). We caught up with Auf Der Maur over the phone from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley.
How’s it going?
What’s up, Philadelphia, my favorite rockin’ city in the country!
C’mon, you’re just saying that!
I’m not just saying that. I have always loved Philadelphia. To me it’s a perfect American city. It’s not too big, it’s not too full of itself. There’s something just very real about Philadelphia that I connect with and respect. I literally remember every show I’ve ever played in Philly. Do I remember every show I’ve played in Columbus? No. I mean, no offense, but I don’t.
So why make an album, a film and a graphic novel?
It became a matter of poetic justice for my soul. I finished touring my first record in December of 2004, and that was the end of a 10-year cycle. Hole, the Pumpkins and my first solo record was one solid decade. So after that, I made a personal creative commitment to myself to start a new chapter. When I joined Hole I had abruptly left what was going to be my last year of my photography degree. I thought I was going to be a working visual artist. So when that ended, I thought, “OK, back to the beginning.” I basically hibernated for three years and came up with the idea for Out of Our Minds. I started working on songs, and my voice, to me, sounded like a witch or something calling from some far off, eternal place. That’s where the root of the story came from. And I decided I wanted to tell the story in three different mediums.
The woods themselves play a central role, right?
Definitely. When we were creating the idea for this film—which was three parallel worlds in the same woods—the woods were the backdrop. But in the end, after many months of living in them, we realized, no, the woods are the main character. On a personal level, I had never spent months off the grid in a cabin with just a water pump and an outhouse. Let alone doing that while creating this crazy art project. But in connecting with nature you feel ridiculously small and at the same time completely one with existence.
So you became a transparent eyeball?
Ralph Waldo Emerson described that transcendence-in-nature thing as becoming a transparent eyeball—“I am nothing; I see all.”
Wow, I like that.
OK, here comes the question you always get—were there any discussions or temptations about joining the current incarnations of Hole or the Pumpkins?
[Laughs]. Yeah, I’ve been fielding that question a lot lately, but that’s fine. I’m very proud of my past. Billy and Courtney opened the doors and defined a lot of who I am. My entry into this world through my parents is not unlike my entry into the world of music through Billy and Courtney. I love them both very, very dearly, and I’ve had a very complex relationship with both. Was there a brief or extended conversation with them about these new chapters of their bands? Yes. Billy was more brief, but so was my time in his band. Courtney was a longer conversation because I was a bigger part of Hole. I considered both. But at the end of the day it was clear that I needed to make a commitment to myself as an artist and move forward.
Out of Our Minds screens Thurs., Oct. 14, 6pm,
Moore College of Art & Design.
20th and the Parkway.
PW's Music Issue 2014