Nearly six years after releasing her then long-awaited self-titled debut album, Montreal bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur is returning from an even lengthier absence with three-pronged multimedia project Out Of Our Minds. It's part album, part graphic novel and part film.
The Montreal icon found herself returning to a music universe that was vastly different from the one she left, and ironically enough, she discovered adapting to her new environment a simple matter of returning to her visual arts roots.
Aside from an intense bout of swine flu — a horrendous experience she so eloquently described for The Mark — Out Of Our Minds is the culmination of three years of intense work and personal exploration.
Auf Der Maur, now residing somewhere in upstate New York in-between Montreal and New York City, discussed her new project and a great many other things just before the new year:
Auf Der Maur: Yup, Out Of Our Minds, OOOM. Melissa Auf Der Maur, or MADM. I went to F.A.C.E. School, Fine Arts Core Education. I then went to M.I.N.D. high school, Moving In New Directions. Someone recently pointed out I really like those acronyms.
They work, in this case.
Fast and to the point. It's the language and symbolism used the same way I love Vikings for what they are; they are a symbol of pagan warriors and not necessarily the specific.
I like that OOOM invokes a concept without it being too literal, but then behind OOOM is Out Of Our Minds, which effectively means "don't be so literal." It's helpful to be able to break things down to more symbolic terms.
What did OOOM start as?
It started as just a song. I was in the early stages of writing the new record and when "Out Of Our Minds" was written it was a similar feeling to when I wrote "Followed The Waves" for my previous record. It was the song that gave the heart and gave me the focus of the record.
"Out Of Our Minds" was the first song of the writing process of the new record that clearly became the centrepiece, and while I was making this record the music industry began to unravel.
Out Of Our Minds became the film, the comic, the concept online, the future role-playing game... became everything because this album was literally put on hold due to Capitol Records and legal things. It just sort of sat on a shelf and I thought, "OK, if I can't release the album then I better start making other things around this album," and "Out Of Our Minds" was the heart of the record in terms of the message and sound.
The OOOM film [directed by Tony Stone] was recently screened alongside an exhibit of J.W. Waterhouse works at the Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts. What's the connection there?
This whole project, OOOM, becoming this multimedia experience has a lot to do with me as a musician returning to my visual arts roots, and it's a natural extension of where I was at at 19 in my art history class understanding the Pre-Raphaelites movement; understanding the language and the aesthetic they were using to explore magic, women, archetypes, knights, there's an aesthetic similarity and the theme of the new woman.
Waterhouse was obsessed with the idea of what was the new woman in magic and in real life at the turn of the century, and he was fascinated with the power of women. And OOOM, the root of it, the film and the storyline, is about an eternal female force on the hunt for the heart — meaning the hunt for magic, the hunt for love, the hunt for whatever you think the heart is.
The theme of the film is about one woman who travels through time to all these different places, and Waterhouse's stories always feature a woman as the centrepiece.
How did the idea for a graphic novel come about?
Fantasy is a big part of my life, so all media that dives into fantasy like film or even music or comic books, the ultimate fantasy genre. It was a natural extension to want to explore that mode of storytelling.
I found an extraordinary illustrator through his fanzine (Jack Forbes a.k.a. The Hebrew God) who basically paralleled the story of the film but in a very childlike, simple comic book version.
You were also present at the 2009 WorldCon sci-fi convention in Montreal?
Not just the comic book, but the film is about time travel and pure fantasy and, in fact, especially after my experience with WorldCon and being on the panel with Neil Gaiman, I found I have a lot more in common with those people than with people in film and music in terms of our interests.
The reason I play music is because of a post-apocalyptic dream I had about pyramids and aliens, so it's a little more rooted in fantasy than "I'm a folk singer that likes the songs of the people." I like aliens and magic.
I didn't know that about you. What was this dream?
Some people who know me and my history better definitely do. It's the last song on my first record, "I Need I Want I Will," and it's about a dream that told me to play music when I was a teenager living in Montreal across from the Bifteck. It was a horrible, beautiful vision that told me "pick up that bass, make that be your path."
Playing a showcase event like M For Montreal (last November) or anything that celebrates Montreal's recent international fame, do you feel like the elder stateswoman in those types of situations?
I think part of it is my father's life as well [Nick Auf Der Maur was a beloved Montreal politician/journalist]. I wouldn't call it an obligation, but an outrageous connection just based on my father.
He was a spokesman for that city. He was married to that city. He was married briefly to my mother, but his real muse and love was the city. That was his life, so in many ways, whether I play music or not, I feel out of respect for my father's legacy the need to represent Montreal to outsiders or the locals.
So when M For Montreal started a few years and [founder] Sebastien Nasra asked me to be their spokesperson — and he explained it as trying to showcase Montreal to international delegates — I at the time wasn't playing because I was going through issues with the record company, so I accepted being the host. I was the one welcoming the delegates to Montreal on behalf of the city.
Maybe another thing you don't know is that similar to that dream, the other thing that changed my life about music was I went to go introduce myself to Billy Corgan after the Foufounes Electriques show [in 1991] where he had a bottle thrown at him by a member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor [her then roommate Bruce Cawdron].
I wasn't even playing bass at the time, I was just my father's daughter who had fallen in love with this band and he was totally pissed that someone threw this bottle at him, I said "I'm Melissa, I want to apologize on behalf of Montreal, Canada, and I am your devoted fan and I will always be there for you." So it might just be the way I am.
Was it difficult to balance the different elements of OOOM?
Had I not had the last three years to do it, probably. But I had so much time to tie every loose end together down to literally the business structure to the higher ethereal perspective of what OOOM is, I have worked harder in defining this at every level than I've worked on anything.
Had I just come up with it last year and scrambled to release it, it would not have been very cohesive, but I've had so much time to develop really just my own style of making music and art.
In many ways, I'm a developing artist. I did 10 solid years assisting others and learning from others. It was like I was in school. This is only my second project. In that development I feel very strongly I've managed to really hone in, I can catch any ball anyone can throw at me regarding what the project is.
Will the live show then be its own artistic component?
It's in the process of being made. All the other elements: film, comic, album, have all had time to be made. Now I'm developing the live show, the long term goal definitely is to incorporate a lot of the visuals and the ambiance into the live show. It will bring another dimension to the project.
Is OOOM the type of project that will continue to grow even after everything is released?
My goal was to create a never-ending world of possibilities, whether it means the comic book continues, we make a part two of the film or whatever. I mean, there are a lot of aspects that can evolve and I chose a theme which is quite broad, but very specific to what I live by, which is get the hell out of these evil brains of ours and find a heart. So there's a theme that can be revised again and again, the media components can develop in their own way.
We could talk all day about people you've met, but I have to ask about Glenn Danzig in particular.
The least disappointing hero I have ever met. I cannot stress enough how generous, intelligent, sensitive and kick-ass that individual is. I have worshipped him like he was the hero of some Viking sci-fi film since I was 16, and he is as much and more human than I could ever imagine him being.
I met him at San Diego ComicCon; I went to the convention to find him and approach him about the song I wrote for him to sing ["Father's Grave" on OOOM]. He's never done a duet with anyone else, so it's an absolute honour.
He and his team knew I had been wearing my lucky Danzig sweatbands for every show since I started playing music. But beyond the honour I was blown away by the humanity and the integrity.
He's more punk than anyone out there; there's a reason the Misfits logo is on every skater kids' shit. This guy is more real than anybody, and I hate hearing the criticism. It's absurd, especially now that I've met him.
And I'm very proud of the song. In the song he's the gravedigger that dug my father's grave.