When she was younger, former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur dreamed of being a musician — literally.
"When I was 19, I dreamed aliens came down and told me to make music my life," she said, without a trace of kidding around. "These random individuals had been put into a pyramid to experience three-dimensional sound and then were put on a mission of passing it on. And in this dream, they said to me, 'Music has this power, and you'd better go and be a dutiful soldier to it.' "
A couple of years later, Auf Der Maur was playing bass in her first professional band, Tinker. She relates the dreamy experience in "I Need I Want I Will," the final track from her debut solo album, Auf Der Maur, due June 1. Actually, most of the songs on the album were inspired by dreams and the subconscious. The music is layered and surreal, and the lyrics are composed of snippets from Auf Der Maur's dream diaries.
"I believe the subconscious holds this deeper truth, and that people get too wrapped up and lost in the superficial intellectual zone," she said. "On this record, I completely wanted to explore the abstract and the subconscious, and it's far from a political or intellectual stance."
The disc combines trippy, chugging rock riffs, pop melodies and ethereal, gauzy vocals, often sounding like a cross between Fleetwood Mac and Queens of the Stone Age. The blending of raw and delicate was a musical epiphany for Auf Der Maur.
"I love heavy, heavy rock music, but I sang in a choir as a young girl, and up until this record I thought the only function that my voice could have in a heavy rock band was singing backup," she said. "So I wanted to embrace my duality by having three-part harmonies and balancing that with the heaviest, most distorted bass or guitar."
For Auf Der Maur, who is both spirited and spiritual, being simultaneously atmospheric and bonecrushing was essential. She couldn't have the yin without the yang, and she wanted the seemingly contradictory elements to inspire her audience.
"I felt the need to create a vast, huge record," Auf Der Maur said. "I wanted to embrace everything feminine and everything masculine inside of me or in the world as I know it, and make things both beautiful and ugly. Trying to accept both of those elements in one record and in one person is really important."
Auf Der Maur was produced by Masters of Reality frontman Chris Goss and recorded in Los Angeles on the cheap, with Auf Der Maur hitting the studio during off-peak hours and when bands who had booked it had downtime. She would record the basic tracks with Goss and then invite friends in to add textures. Two of the songs were co-written with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who also played on numerous tracks. Also helping out were ex-Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson, A Perfect Circle guitarist James Iha, A Perfect Circle bassist Jeordie White, ex-Tinker guitarist Steve Durand, ex-Tinker drummer Jordon Zadorozny, ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, Offspring drummer Adam Willard and ex-Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork. Durand and Zadorozny are now part of Auf Der Maur's touring band.
"It warmed my heart to see how each one of the people who played with me on the record showed full support because they knew how much it meant to me," she said. "These are some of my favorite musicians and they've played a big part of my life in the past decade. There was this real brother-sister kind of bond."
First single "Followed the Waves" uses cryptic, poetic snippets to address unrequited love. Many other songs on the disc, including "Overpower Thee" and "I'll Be Anything You Want," also address love, but little on the record stems from Melissa's experiences in the waking world.
"It's all from that same subconscious place," she explained. "Next to music and religion, love is the thing that gives us spiritual depth and meaning to live. So the love song for me is the common theme, and it represents the pursuit to become one with something bigger than ourselves."
Auf Der Maur will be on the road with the Offspring through June 1. Starting July 27, she'll appear as part of the Curiosa Festival, which also features the Cure, Thursday, the Rapture, Muse, Mogwai, Interpol, Head Automatica, Cursive and Cooper Temple Clause (see "Cure Announce Festival Tour With Interpol, Rapture, Mogwai").