Melissa Auf der Maur shares a happy existence nowadays with her husband and young daughter, residing in the small town of Hudson, New York. Although she doesn’t ferociously strum those bass strings so much anymore, juggling motherhood, her love for art and acting keeps her busy enough. But there was a time when Melissa, for want of a better word, was a badass bassist for two of the nineties biggest rock bands, Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, before launching into a successful solo career.
It wasn’t always like that though, in the beginning Auf der Maur had her sights set on becoming a photographer, and playing guitar was little more than a hobby during her college days. But after seeing a Smashing Pumpkins show in 1991, and having to apologies to Billy Corgan on behalf of her friend for throwing a bottle at the stage, she was won over by the ferocious excitement Pumpkin’s punk rock. In short, she abandoned her college class and concentrated on playing bass in the hope of living out her dream as a rock star.
Rock n’ roll fairy tales seldomly come true, but it was a few years later, after finally getting together a band of her own, that she wrote Corgan a letter, asking if her band could open up for the Pumpkins in Montreal. Sure enough, it happened and in the process Auf der Maur’s bass playing caught the attention of Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan, who eventually recommended Aur Der Maur to Courtney Love’s band, as Hole’s replacement bass player after Kristen Pfaff’s fatal drug overdose.
For five incredible years Auf der Maur was part of one of the most successful female fronted rock bands (excluding lead guitarist Eric Erlandson). Beginning in 1994, she was thrust into a troubled world of grief, drug abuse and stadium rock. Through it all, Melissa held her own, playing her pulsating bass the world over. In fact, it probably fair to say her incredible bass lines helped carry Hole’s music forward. Notably, she was also a breath of fresh air in what could have been a truly toxic environment. Erlandson once described her as a shining light, while drummer Patty Schemel described Melissa as her rock or anchor.
Melissa would share writing credits on five of the twelve song’s of Hole’s melodic 1998 masterpiece Celebrity Skin before leaving Hole in 1999. She then toured with the Smashing Pumpkins for a year between 1999 and 2000, and after that, she took a brief break that included taking charge of lead vocal duties for a Black Sabbath cover band, before eventually venturing out on her own.
I love everything about Melissa as a solo artist, even more than her days towing the line as a bassist for Love and Corgan. Sure her bass lines rumble and roll especially on Celebrity Skin, but it is as an artist standing out front on her own where her distorted bass shines the most. But not only that, and if you already haven’t discovered, Melissa is also an amazing vocal talent. Her two albums Auf der Maur (2004) and Out of Our Minds (2010) are alternative rock treats worth listening to. Even as I write, I have Isis Speaks pulsating through my stereo speakers as a fine example of the amazing command Auf der Maur has of her bass. She is even more impressive on stage where her fondness for improvisation makes her one of the most unique bass-fronted singer songwriters around. That said, I hope one day she eventually returns from ‘semi-retirement’ to thrill us with her bass lines all over again.