With its misguided setlists and passive-aggressive outbursts, the Smashing Pumpkins’ 20th anniversary tour has left even hard core fans hurt and confused. It’s hard to believe that Billy Corgan is surprised by the negative fan reaction, as he suggested at a hometown gig a few weeks back. The band capped off its “reunion” back in Chicago earier this week, and the Tribune’s Greg Kot caught up with Billy for a postmortem. Among other revelations, James Iha “literally drove me insane.” That explains some things.
Corgan: We’re done with the record business, so we’re free to do whatever I want.
Tribune: So “Zeitgeist” was the last album?
Corgan: We’re done with that. There is no point. People don’t even listen to it all. They put it on their iPod, they drag over the two singles, and skip over the rest. The listening patterns have changed, so why are we killing ourselves to do albums, to create balance, and do the arty track to set up the single? It’s done.
Tribune: So how will you release music?
Corgan: Our primary function now is to be a singles band, that drives Pumpkins Inc. through singles. We’ll still be creative, but in a different form. We won’t do shows like this anymore, where we try to draw a good crowd and balance the past with the present. We’ll go small and do exactly what we want to do and stop playing catalogue. We’ll be like a new band that can’t rely on old gimmicks. I’m not stupid. I want people to feel good about what we do. What we weren’t getting [from playing a more balanced show with older songs] was excitement. We’re in the polarizing business. We don’t want a pat on the back: Good to have you back. We want a reaction, even if it’s a negative reaction.
Tribune: People are still talking about that show you did a few weeks ago at the Chicago Theatre.
Corgan: Energy we can do something with. Apathy we can’t work with. Who’s above us? Who’s lighting the culture on fire? Nobody. We don’t have to live in that world. We have the biggest manager [Irving Azoff] in the world. He tells us we can get there, we will get there. We will crack the egg like we did in ’92, without doing something embarrassing like working with Timbaland. We will find how to do our thing and make it work. I can write songs. We’re big boys. We’ll do it. Last time I talked with you, I said we’re going to come back and make a better album. The album we made surprised us. We kept going back to this primitive thing. We wanted to do “Siamese Dream II.” Elaborate, orchestrated, but it wasn’t coming from me. It put us back in this organic process, and in this position of fighting back to why we do what we do. Now I understand it. It’s the difference between intellectual process and emotional process. We’re sober, healthy, we understand the business we’re in, and the pragmatic reality of what it takes. We have the skill set, we always have, and we belong in the conversation, and we will kick down the door to get back in the conversation. You take a milquetoast middle-of-the-road fake-tattoo band, we can out-write them. If you come up with the songs, the fans will show up. We found with “Zeitgeist” that the alternative audience isn’t alternative anymore. They’re a pop audience that listens to Nickelback. So doing a 10-minute song, nobody will listen to it. We have to come up with singles like “1979,” and come up with songs that sound good on the radio. We have to write those kinds of songs.
Tribune: Why’d you break up the Pumpkins in 2000?
Corgan: The real story was Iha was driving me out of my mind. He was so negative. The guy literally drove me insane. When I walked out of that band, I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t have a direction, a central focus. I wandered through different things, but I couldn’t find that central thing. As soon as I got back in the band my brain started working again. I was engaged again.
That’s just a taste. There’s a more at chicagotribune.com. At the Auditorium Theatre show on Monday, the band brought a black coffin filled with Christmas gifts onstage and passed out candy canes to the crowd. It’s a start.
[Pic by Jeff Loder/Pumpkins Media Militia]
UPDATE: Billy Corgan offers clarification on the interview at smashingpumpkins.com.