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Dream big. Then turn it into reality.
That’s exactly what Melissa Auf der Maur (former bassist of Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins) did when conceptualizing her latest solo project, Out Of Our Minds. From an album came a short film, and from that film came a comic book, which – all in all – took about five years to complete. The film portion has been received with critical acclaim in festivals across the country (including Sundance last year).
We sat down with Auf der Maur at the screening of her film at the Chicago Art Department and the re-launch of Venus Zine, as Melissa is the issue’s cover girl, to talk about the making of this project, the freedom of being a solo artist, and how a volcano can change your week.
Cheeky: How do you compare music to graphic art and film as an art form?
Melissa Auf der Maur: At the origins of the project, Out of Our Minds, it was always gonna be the three. Music is my center but visual arts are my background – I started more in photography. What I think is the common thread between rock music, film, and comic books is it’s the perfect language for fantasy. So you can explore fantastical themes such as time travel, witches, and Vikings, bleeding forests. The three of them are very nurturing for fantasy, but in terms of the process of making them? So radically different. The making of this project – which was over the course of four or five years – each one required a different skill set as well as a collaboration cast. Each one sort of transformed the way that I saw the other.
I spent a year in a completely different environment making the film. I had been recording my record and I took a break. I went into the woods, lived in a cabin with no running water, and shot a fantasy film running through swamps, learning, watching special effects guys make car crashes and fireballs and trees bleed. I was a very different person by the time I went back to my record. The way I try to tell an atmosphere story in a song – I tried to bring to the language of cinema. Working with Tony [Stone] (the film’s director), I was trying to explain that feeling, the way that a song evolves, the arrangements – projecting that onto cinema. But then when I went back to my record, I realized I ended up putting more visuals into the record.
They’re all very complementary to each other but they’re all radically different in the making of it, and at the end of the day if I had to pick one over the other, I’d still pick music. Because actually doing all this complicated stuff with the film and coordinating this multimedia self-financed, self-produced project, I realized that me and my bass have a much more simple relationship and everything else is very difficult [laughs]. So it might have been a trick for me to fall in love with music all over again.
Cheeky: Did taking a break from making the record and then going back to it after making the film change the direction of the album significantly?
MAdM: Yeah. 100%. It totally changed my record. Parts of it had existed, but I saw the parts that were missing when I went back to what was my tentative record. The way that I edited the record, essentially, I allowed for more atmospheric and instrumental songs, whereas had I not made the film and worked in an atmosphere… The film has no words, it’s just music and visuals, so I know that it changed [the record]. Like I said, when you’re in the swamps making trees bleed, you and your bass seem so easy and so sweet and it was sort of a refreshing thing to go back to the record.
Cheeky: How did the inspiration for the film come about?
MAdM: The song “Out of Our Minds” came first and then it became the title track for the whole project. Essentially the lyrics of the song dictated quite a bit of the film. The chorus is, “Travel out of our minds into our hearts standing by,” which is a very broad and ancient concept of the battle between the heart and the mind, or the feminine and the masculine, or the witch and the Viking. I knew it was sort of a broad topic to discuss this eternal battle we have between our mind and our hearts. I was trying to figure out ways I would tell that story, such as a woman who can travel through time, but everywhere she goes, she’s on the hunt for the heart. That was essentially the synopsis of the film, but it really is an invitation – the film, the music, the comic book, or even the website – to go to that more subconscious emotional spot and leave your mind behind if you can.
Cheeky: As someone who’s worked with high profile bands, do you find it easier as a musician to work with a group or to work as a solo artist?
MAdM: The freedom of the solo artist is more my style. It means endless potential for collaboration. The reason why I make music is to collaborate. In the bands that I played in, I actually was quite often the outsider who came in afterwards, which was a roll I honored. But my solo project was really the only place I could collaborate with anybody I wanted, anytime, whether it’s a filmmaker or five drummers. So my solo project is a lot more liberating.
Cheeky: What was the cheekiest thing you did this week?
MAdM: I walked from Finland to England and I thanked a volcano for fucking up my tour, ‘cause I accepted it as Mother Earth and the underworld telling me what I should do, and she changed my whole week. I spent a week in Europe letting a volcano decide what I was gonna do.
The album, Out of Our Minds, is out now. Check it out, plus other news about the film and her tour, on her website.