Melissa Auf der Maur: How Money Killed Rock Music

Melissa Auf der Maur:
Rocker, shutterbug, mother.
(Photo credit: Damien Lachas.)

The music business is certainly a numbers game, and for many artists that can be a frustrating experience that interferes with their creative process. Luckily many musicians have outside passions, both artistic and personal, to cleanse their palette, so to speak. Take former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, who has been focusing on raising her seven month-old girl. (While we chatted by phone recently, she was taking her baby out for a stroll.) She also has at least one photography book project on her mind. The bassist/songwriter still has plenty of musical fire left — she released her last solo album Out Of Our Minds, linked with multimedia offshoots, in 2010 — but what lies outside of that has nourished her more spiritually as of late. I spoke with Auf der Maur for the feature “Musicians’ Extracurricular Activities” with relation to her photography work — including self-portraits and live candid shots — which she says has been for purely artistic rather than any monetary considerations.

“I’ve always seen it as the one art form that wasn’t sacrificed by any industry,” she stated for the Grammy piece. “I have never been exposed to managers or big publishing deals that can really disappoint you in how the artist most often comes last in those kind of situations. I see that I sacrificed music a long time ago — I still love music, and I work to reclaim it in many ways — but my photography has remained pure and will continue to. I can do it until I’m 100, whereas I won’t be playing a metal festival when I am 98. It’s a timeless art form, and it will not be sacrificed by the corruption of strange money deals.”

“Three years ago, Interscope and every other major label decided to drop every rock act…when they decided that rock is dead and over.”

Auf der Maur came into musical prominence performing with Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins during the 1990s, a time when rock music became stripped down, less interesting and when there were less rock stars around. While rock music came back in the ’00s through exciting bands like Muse and My Chemical Romance, it generally did not have quite the same fire as before, particularly for those of us who grew up on it during the Eighties. One could argue that there really hasn’t been anything truly edgy in mainstream rock ‘n’ roll since the mid-’90s.

Auf der Maur gracing the cover of VenusZine in 2010.

“I think it’s because we all got so confused by the amount of money that was being plowed into music — the musicians, the listeners, everybody,” mused Auf der Maur to A.D.D. “I got confused as a music fan. I just kind of stopped finding music. I’m not a huge Internet prowler, but I think there’s a lot of weird shit going on in the digital underground that will make its way out in the next few years. They’re already doing it, but I feel like it was just a really bad decade — from ’95 to about 2005 — with too much money that ruined music. In the last three or four years in the mainstream, whether it’s Mastodon or Fever Ray, I’m kind of pleasantly surprised by some really amazing, original music [coming out].”

Rock seems to be going underground again, and it is partially being forced back there by the dominance of prefabricated TV pop machines like American Idol. “But that wasn’t even anyone’s choice,” the bassist clarified. “That just goes to show you how much of it is dictated by money. Three years ago, Interscope and every other major label decided to drop every rock act — Rob Zombie, Queens of the Stone Age, every single rock act, all in one fell swoop — when they decided that rock is dead and over. Thank God it did [go back underground] — because of that it’s going to come back — but I can’t believe that that’s what decides it. That’s what I was saying about my photography — I’ll never sacrifice it to some corrupt deal makings. Rock music is supposed to be alternative. It’s not supposed to be mainstream. It’s not supposed to be on the Grammys. Lady Gaga and all that is supposed to be on the Grammys. You’re not supposed to have alternative rock music in the mainstream, unless it’s is easy listening light like Arcade Fire. That’s fine, I can see how that sort of intermingles…”

But it’s not interesting. “No,” she concurred. “I’m happy that everyday people like it, and it’s got a little bit more soul than John Mayer. I do think those people are talented and original, but I think they’re making easy, classic-ish pop music with a little bit of an alternative twist. But rock music, heavy music wasn’t ever really supposed to go there. It was a fluke that started with the corruption of too much money and Nirvana and all, and it spent 10 years being destroyed by the worst rock music ever. Now it’s going to be back to the roots. Those metal fans and heavy rock fans are never going to go away. They don’t want or need their people to be in any magazine, and that’s great. There are a couple of cool rock magazines like Decibel that cover it, and that’s all we need.”

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