Hole/Pumpkins Bassist Gets Her Rocks Off While Working On Solo LP

Melissa Auf Der Maur juggling Sabbath cover band project, soundtrack work, more.

Sex means nothing to Melissa Auf Der Maur. The svelte, stylish former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist can rock the titanic heavy metal with the big boys just as easily as provide gentle accompaniment to her friend and fellow Canadian Rufus Wainwright on his latest album, Poses. She said her forthcoming solo debut, which she’s presently working on in Los Angeles, will blur traditionally held gender roles with tough-as-nails songs that also have a sensitive side.

“It’s very, very heavy and very beautiful at the same time,” she said of the undertaking. “The muscle of heavy masculine smothered with very, very ethereal femininity.”

“I definitely relate more to a particular genre of heavy, male music, but it happens to be a heavy male music that is very feminine from my perspective, such as Queens of the Stone Age and Smashing Pumpkins. Those are two heavy bands that have very feminine sides. All of us are half men and half women — we have just as much masculine as feminine, so I would definitely describe the new project as me wrestling with those two sides.”

Auf Der Maur began work on the LP in October and has written 12 songs — among them “Appetite Running,” “Beastfest” and “Real, a Lie” — and recorded some of the album piecemeal in New York, Montreal and Los Angeles, with plans to continue to hammer away in Chicago. The album will be credited to “Auf Der Maur,” a name, she said, “in the spirit of such legendary acts as Danzig and Van Halen.” Musicians who round out her interchangeable backing band include Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist Josh Homme and former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork. Additional guests are expected to be on the end result — she plans to ask Wainwright to return the favor by appearing on her album — which has neither a label nor release date attached to it yet.

The leisurely pace at which she’s working isn’t because of laziness —  in fact, quite the opposite can be blamed for the sluggish progression. Auf Der Maur and friends Peter Yanowitz, who drummed for the Wallflowers and Natalie Merchant; guitarist Guy Stevens; DJ Joey Garfield and clothing designer/bassist Molly R. Stern recently formed Hand of Doom, a Black Sabbath cover band in which Auf Der Maur sings lead. It’s an ambitious endeavor and one that could backfire in embarrassing shtick, especially considering Auf Der Maur is completely exposed onstage.

“I’m Ozzy,” she proudly proclaimed, “with no other instrument. Nothing, just me — which is a challenge since I’ve never done that before, and it’s really a new world of moves and such.”
 
The pals, all devoted Sabbath fans, started the tribute band as a fun, no-pressure outlet to play music and hone their skills, like “amplified karaoke,” Auf Der Maur said. One of Hand of Doom’s first shows was at L.A.’s Viper Room, opening for Monday night regulars Metal Shop, an ’80s hair metal cover band. While the group’s performance didn’t go over too well with the serious retro-rock lovers, a subsequent show months later at the Whisky was met with a hipper audience who “got it.”

That Whisky show, as well as recent gigs at Spaceland and the Troubadour, were recorded as fodder for a live album to be released by L.A. indie label Idahomusic/Retrophonic in the fall. Songs expected to appear on the LP include “Paranoid,” “Black Sabbath” and the group’s namesake, “Hand of Doom,” the first song they learned together.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there’s probably never been a cover band album made,” she said of the desire to release the album, “let alone a live cover band album made, let alone a live Black Sabbath cover band album made with a girl lead singer.”

And that’s not all that’s on the busy lady’s plate. Two other projects — the Chelsea, with drummer Samantha Maloney (Hole, Mötley Crüe), bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) and guitarist Radio Sloan (The Need); and the Virgins, with Ryan Adams, Evan Dando and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha — are on the back burner.

A stream of soundtrack work was also completed in short order. Auf Der Maur’s version of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” will appear in the upcoming flick “Run Ronnie Run!” from “Mr. Show” alums Bob Odenkirk and David Cross; and her take on Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” should surface in a new teen thriller.

Not only does she perform the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” for Oliver Stone’s “Beyond Borders,” but she has a cameo in the film, too. Donning a big platinum-blond wig (the film is set in 1985), Auf Der Maur and some of her old bandmates from Canada are seen playing during a makeout scene featuring star Angelina Jolie.

After reviewing her laundry list of works for hire, Auf Der Maur was a bit embarrassed by the retro thread connecting the songs — “Oh my god, am I sounding like a weirdo?” — but was quick to justify her prolificacy.

“I was in full-time bands for six years and never had any time do anything but that. The second I got out, I wanted to do everything, because I have a lot of energy and a lot of musical love that I must fill in every possible way.”