By Tom Semioli
This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, July 2004
"I don't have big shoes to fill," laughs a relaxed and outwardly confident Melissa Auf Der Maur before her first solo headlining show at the Mercury Lounge in downtown New York City. "I've always done everything backwards anyway."
Imagine a rock goddess that looks forward to paying her dues! After anchoring the two premier alt-rock juggernauts of the 1990s: Courtney Love's ill-fated Hole and the very last incarnation of the Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins, the waif-like Canadian bassist shut down for two years, put up her own money and recorded her dream record with a supporting cast to kill for: Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) Eric Erlandson (Hole), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), John Stainer (Helmet/Tomahawk) and Steve Durand (Tinker). Now, instead of Lear-jets, limos, paparazzi, and arenas, it's back to the bars, vans, hand-held video cams, and AAA stops.
For fans of Melissa's now defunct former bands, her self titled debut wipes the slate clean. "It was made on a very low budget and on a spontaneous schedule. Later on, I was given the resources to mix it on a very high level, so we captured a raw energy and that organic feel and slick veneer that I love about big rock music."
Thanks to Melissa's sky high profile for the past ten years, girls gone bass are a chic, necessary limb of alternative rock ensembles. "I feel very comfortable in the bottom end position. Perhaps there's a flash of temptation in everyone to be out front, not just bass players. I never pined for a solo career. I just had so many songs in my head that if I didn't make an album, I'd go crazy!"
Melissa's command of the stage rivals her former bosses' bravura from the moment she straps on her vintage Fender Jazz and rips into a harrowing solo laden with distortion and ear-shattering feedback. Sexy and loud as hell, the Auf Der Maur Band echoes their leader's Led Zeppelin - Black Sabbath - Jimi Hendrix Experience fixation. Adorned in a skin tight black leather mini-skirt, high-heeled boots, and a sleeveless white top wrapped to the neck in lace, Melissa's dominatrix-like delivery of "Lightening Is My Girl," "Head Unbound," "Taste You" writhes with sly autobiographical references atop lumbering motifs and sinewy melodies.
The Auf Der Mar Band shines and no one is more proud of it than the person signing the paychecks. Melissa's ultimate goal of representing her record in a live forum has come to fruition. "Kim is a great girl from San Francisco who plays guitar. Julian is a fantastic French Canadian drummer. Josh is a boy from Wisconsin whom I originally met at a Pumpkins in-store. He was wearing a shirt of a band I love. A few years later he came in and auditioned and we bonded over that moment and he was in. Steve is an old friend from my very first band Tinker. Since I returned to my roots in making the record, I went back to him. These are basically all brand new musicians that have never had the opportunity to tour. Every musician dreams of seeing the world through music, and since I was given the opportunity, I feel it's my responsibility to give it back. They're not jaded and they don't take it for granted that you can just pick up a guitar and make a living. We all see it as the special thing it is."
Samples of galloping horses precluded the driving, syncopated beats of "Skin Receiver" as shards of guitar noise filter through Melissa's long, pained phrases. "I Need I Want I Will" incorporated surrealistic images of seduction and desire abetted by multi-layered vocal effects. In cabaret diva mode "Overpower Thee" was rendered with just Melissa accompanied by piano and the thud-thud-thud of the microphone knocking on her forehead between each verse.
"I'm a pretty in the moment person," she reveals. "I never got to do the in-between stuff, like feel music. I was in a small band in Montreal for less than a year and the next thing I knew I was with a bunch of strangers in Hole playing to 65,000 screaming fans at the Reading Festival. I'm a musician that just wants to make music, so whether I'm in somebody else's band or in my own band or playing trumpet in my high-school orchestra, it's all music and I like to do it in which ever shape it comes in."