Progress Report: Billy Corgan

Name: The Smashing Pumpkins
Progress Report: Billy Corgan opens up about the recent Smashing Pumpkins reissues, the forthcoming Pumpkins album, and his own rather complicated musical legacy.

Say what you will about Billy Corgan (and there is certainly plenty to say), the dude knows how to write great songs. It might be easy to question some of his choices in recent years — whether it be his side-projects, his solo record, his recent dalliance with pro wrestling, or the reconstituted Smashing Pumpkins band line-up — but the recent (excellent) reissues of the iconic Smashing Pumpkins records Gish and Siamese Dream are a potent testament/reminder of just how excellent Billy Corgan can be when he feels like it. In 2009 Corgan began releasing songs as a part of Teargarden By Kaleidyscope — a proposed 44-song Smashing Pumpkins concept album to be released in increments over the band’s official website. In addition to the Teargarden material (which deserves a listen, if you haven’t downloaded any of it), Corgan and the current version of the Pumpkins recently finished up Oceania, a full-length album to be released in the spring of 2012. According to Corgan, the new album is a kind of spiritual/ideological return to form, though it remains to be seen if old school fans of the band will ever be willing to accept anything other than the classic lineup as far as the Smashing Pumpkins are concerned. Regardless of how the record is received, Corgan himself seems to have turned a corner. For someone so often regarded as one of rock music’s thornier personalities, the Corgan I spoke to was friendly, funny, and surprisingly forthcoming regarding his own ambitions — and occasional missteps — as far as his career and musical legacy are concerned.

CORGAN: Hi, it’s Billy.

STEREOGUM: Hey, how are you?

CORGAN: I have to apologize, I’m eating lunch. Just woke up from a nap so I have to eat right now. I apologize for chewing but …

STEREOGUM: That’s OK. Where are you right now? Where in the world are you?

CORGAN: Zurich.

STEREOGUM: Wow.

CORGAN: Yes.

STEREOGUM: How is it there?

CORGAN: Oh it’s so beautiful. Have you ever been here?

STEREOGUM: I haven’t actually. I’ve been to that part of the world, but never Zurich.

CORGAN: It’s very Disney-like. Picturesque. Very beautiful.

STEREOGUM: You’re in the middle of a tour right now. How are the shows? How is it going?

CORGAN: Really good. It’s a little bit tough — like what we faced in America last year — it’s kinda like “who’s the band, what’s the point of all this.” In America this year now we’ve found that we turned a corner, people are really starting to get excited about the band. Here, it’s still kinda like “What is this?” But the tour’s gotten stronger as we’ve gone along.

STEREOGUM: I saw you guys play the last time you were here in NYC and I thought it was great. I’ve seen you play many many times in various places and it felt really good to me, that show. It seemed like you were having fun, too, which is good to see.

CORGAN: You know, you can’t manufacture whatever that is, when you have a band that’s sort of clicking internally. You know, you can’t sustain that, I’ve found. Something will break down. When you can actually be in a spot where everybody’s on the same page, the music’s good, the focus is there, people are excited, and then it starts translating out to the audience. It’s been a long time since I felt it, for sure.

STEREOGUM: Historically, are you a person that typically enjoys playing live and touring?

CORGAN: Honestly, that’s a very difficult question for me to answer because I have very specific ideas about what a live concert is for and unfortunately over the last decade my reasons and rationales have become less and less relevant. I don’t think that’s as simple as me getting older or a generational gap. I think there are changes in what technology has done to the way the audience perceives the concert and has changed even our conception of time where, you know, “I can’t go five minutes without looking at my phone.” Y’know, those types of things. That’s really changed the very nature of a concert experience … people have a different connection with time and also the expectation levels are different because of the access of live materials on things like YouTube and stuff. My idea of a concert is very much like you go in and it should be a kind of journey, the band takes you on a journey, and if the band is good, the band can typically play whatever it wants and get away with it and that’s thrilling for the band and it’s thrilling for the audience. That’s been kind of subverted by what I call the “greatest hits mentality.” And I see that across the board, I don’t care what band it is. So I think I used to enjoy it more because for me it was much more of a trade of experience, like I’m going in tonight, I’m going to move these songs around this way and we’re gonna reinterpret this song this way and so from inside the band it was very much a challenging thing and we had just as many bad shows as we had good shows but when they worked we had a transcendent moment. So I kinda had to rewire my brain now to maybe a more modern mentality, where it’s more about being consistent. And if you’re gonna play a challenging set like what you probably saw us play, you know you got to be really on point and you gotta know why you’re doing what you’re doing. You can’t just claim artistic provenance like, “Oh I just felt like this tonight” you know? So I don’t know if I can really answer that question.

STEREOGUM: No, that makes sense. I can understand that from both sides as a fan of music and as someone who talks to a lot of people who make music. It’s a hard balance to strike. I guess, first of all, I wanted to ask you about the reissues. How was the experience of putting them together? How difficult was it to put them together and then how did it feel going back and closely reexamining so much of that old material?

CORGAN: Technical-wise it was difficult to ascertain what the right takes were and find the right original mixes and stuff like that because in some cases things were missing and boxes were mislabeled. For Siamese Dream, there were no mix notes at all that had survived, so it was basically like you have to listen to seven mixes and then figure out which was the master take. Stuff like that. Also, having a fresh perspective, like ‘Oh maybe this take’s better than the one we ended up using’ in one case on “Space Boy” I think we ended up using a different mix than the original album. Not a big deal but a chance to have a fresh look at it. Emotionally, honestly, it felt pretty good, because I’m far enough away from the material that I can see it pretty clearly. I’m not so … I think when those albums came out –- I was talking with the band about it, you know, like, we were kind of laughing because now, Siamese Dream generally speaking is considered a classic but at the time it didn’t get great reviews, and I of course being myself I ran around the world trying to tell everyone I’d done something really significant and kept getting told that it wasn’t that significant. So you get this kind of reputation of being a bit full of yourself. And now, of course, 18 years later, now everyone’s patting me on the back for being full of myself. So it’s a bit of a weird experience. The one advantage I have over everybody else, except for Butch Vig or somebody, is that I know I actually have a fairly honest opinion of the album’s strengths and weaknesses because I had to assess them at the time. So it’s interesting to look at it eighteen years later and say “OK that’s not as strong as I thought at the time but I can remember why I thought it was stronger.” And then I can look at something else … “Geek USA” is an example of a song that at the time I thought it was kind of dumb. Kind of fun but kind of dumb, too. Now I look back and I think it’s actually kind of clever in its nihilism or something. Do you know what I mean? I can kind of appreciate that I was being clever in being dumb. It wasn’t just dumb to be dumb. But most of all it was a pleasant experience. It certainly brings up a lot of memories.

“Geek USA”

STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by anything you uncovered?

CORGAN: No, not particularly, my memory’s pretty good because those were such visceral experiences, making those records. Your emotional memory –- at least mine is pretty intact. I couldn’t remember every overdub kind of thing but I remember what it felt like. I guess it’s kind of like a painful family memory or something where you can look at a picture of grandma and not wince because of what happened eighteen years ago. “OK, well that happened. At least this beautiful thing came out of this very traumatic period.” Yeah, I mean, it was traumatic and of course it’s happening so fast and you don’t have the depth of character even to understand what’s happening. I’ve said a few times now, that really was the beginning of the end of the band. It sowed the seeds for everything that happened later but of course at the time you didn’t know that. You just thought you were just doing what you needed to do in that particular moment.

STEREOGUM: You never have struck me as someone who traded much in being nostalgic about things. Everything has always been about looking forward to the next thing or trying something different. But these obviously -– like, examining these reissues as objects, for the fans of the records it’s a very nostalgic experience. I also really like looking at the record club things you post and listening to the things you have on the website, particularly the videos where you’re explaining where this particular song came from or what have you. You seem to be having fun doing them.

CORGAN: Yeah, I don’t mind that. To me, it’s the thin line between recontextualizing a moment in time with the modern media, like, so I can take a fucked-up instrumental that was never meant to be heard and I can recontextualize it either through explaining it or offering it in a certain way and then it becomes valuable again. I like that. That’s really what art is meant to be. I love when you go to a museum show and they give you Picasso’s sketches and you see the painting and you see the sketches and you think “Oh that’s interesting, how he arrived at this decision.” I find that all endlessly fascinating and I as an artist enjoy that process. When it turns into an expectation that I’m supposed to serve somebody else’s sentimental memory, particularly in the live realm, that’s where I kind of go “That’s the death of the artist.”

STEREOGUM: I don’t think most people can ever understand — unless you actually are a musician and have had a certain amount of success — what the experience can feel like, to make something that is so popular and culturally ubiquitous that for the rest of your career, no matter what you do and no matter how awesome it is, people are like, “That’s cool, but just play “Today” again, please.” They still want you to play this thing over and over. It becomes like a weird albatross around your neck in both good and bad ways, I guess. I don’t know – does it feel like being able to put those reissues out and sort of like … is there some sense of being able to put a final stamp on it and say “It is what it is” and then move on from it?

CORGAN: Yeah, yeah, it feels … this is a really hard way to put it but it feels now like my version is closer to everybody else’s version. That’s the best way I can describe it. I always felt it was a really strong album in certain ways that’s taken the general public fifteen plus years to figure out. That doesn’t mean I thought people were stupid. It means that they just didn’t understand the depth of the work the way that I did, because I was the architect of the depth, if that makes any sense. It’s like if you’ve ever had a relationship with somebody that’s really nice and fun and you think “Oh they’re not that deep a person” -– you don’t realize how deep they are until you really need them and then you can see inside them. Siamese Dream is one of those albums that’s cleverly designed to look a lot more friendly on the surface than it really is and a lot of times it’s described as the brighter side of the Pumpkins but it’s actually a very dark album, if you actually listen to the lyrics and what’s being said, it’s very, very blunt about indie rock, about child abuse. It’s got a weird, shiny fuzz, which sort of belies its almost Dickensian message. Which is basically “my life is rotting out from within, including my band.” So it’s interesting now that with time, a lot of the pretenders of my generation have fallen away, the posers are now identified, that the message of the Pumpkins — and this is where I do have to credit my band with being willing to go into this really raw space with me — no matter how we got there, and really understand that the Pumpkins really were willing to kind of play dumb. We let people project all these ideas on us about who we were –- y’know, even D’arcy as a woman, James as an Asian-American –- we let people kind of project all these ideas on us about who we were, who we weren’t, and we just kind of nodded our heads and went “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” And now it’s interesting to see that people are finally seeing that there’s a lot more depth in that unit than even what had been ascribed in success. That’s satisfying because that’s really the measure of the work. Does that make sense? When you make that transition from an indie band in people’s minds to a major label success, there’s a lot of people who just go “Oh you’ve sold out” or “it’s all too shiny now.” And we didn’t, like –- what, our first single was “Cherub Rock” and it’s five minutes long? I don’t know how that’s a sell-out but in indie world and around MTV with this strange video in the forest – we were scratching our heads like “how is this a sell-out?” But that’s something that gets put on you, and you have to just shrug your shoulders. Eventually all that goes away and what’s left is, “Is it really, really good?” And being a student of rock history I was aware that that day of reckoning comes. I know that what we made is the deep album that people now see. Not “Oh that’s the one when they had a bunch of singles.” It feels now like it’s locked up and that’s the part that’s satisfying. That’s the part that people always scratch their heads and go “I don’t get the Pumpkins” or “I don’t like his voice.” People who don’t like the band have always sort of scratched their heads and been like “I don’t get it. Why do people go around to 20 gigs?” Well, maybe there’s something there that can only be found there and it’s a little bit more than a catchy song. I’ve started to ramble on about it but it’s the best way I can try to answer what you’re asking.

STEREOGUM: I think it’s always interesting to go back and try to re-examine where your head was at ten years ago, fifteen years ago, in both good ways and also sometimes horrifying ways. Thinking back about that period of time, and where you were at creatively and professionally and in your personal life, do you feel like a mellower person now? Happier person? Do you look back at that person and think “Oh, God”?

CORGAN: No, I actually have a lot of respect for that version of myself. It was utterly self-destructive to the extent of thinking that the only way forward was to sort of light myself on fire, so I have compassion for what was ultimately a self-destructive path but at the same time I have to appreciate that I had the courage to go there. When people describe me as sort of mellower or happier, which is somewhat coded for “a little less edgy” and I’m not saying that condescendingly to you, it kind of makes me laugh because that person is still completely intact. The person who would split you in half should you get on my stage is still there. He hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just – it’s been about me having to make a decision about whether it’s even worth going there anymore, because, again, to try to answer your other question in a different way, when you make something that you know in your gut is important and you’re told continually over and over again “No, it’s really not that important –- this is important or this is important,” and you just know that’s not true because you understand rock-and-roll value –- it’s like when we came in and I would talk about how important Black Sabbath was, and people would laugh at me, and I thought “No, fuck you, Black Sabbath is an important band.” Now, that’s a completely understood thing. The guy from Pitchfork is not gonna laugh when you talk about Black Sabbath. Well, in 1988 they did laugh. So we knew our value and we knew what we really meant, but at the same time we had to deal constantly with the perception that we weren’t that and we didn’t mean that, and we saw lesser bands being given the mantle of depth knowing full well that the depth wasn’t real, right? OK, so, … how can I say this … It’s like, so once you go there, and in that case we went all the way there … We basically bled onto the fucking record, right? It about destroyed the band internally. You make it happen. You have this break with the indie world. Now you’re out there on your own. You’re making it. And at the same time you’ve got people coming out of weird corners like to rip you in half and call you all sorts of names and give you archetypes that you don’t even want – you do that, and then you do it again on Mellon Collie and again you’re even more kind of cartoonized -– there’s a part of you that just says “That’s not worth it anymore.” So you just kind of put that guy away because you say “well if this doesn’t get it done, what will?” and then you go on a different journey and try to find a more somber voice or a more mature voice. The raw spirit is still in there, but you’re not willing to roll him out for laughs anymore. Because that’s what I’d try to say to journalists, particularly after the band broke up, in maybe the first four or five years after the band broke up, and I was obviously searching for a new identity, I would say to journalists, ”I fucking went there. I went there. Don’t try to take that away from me like I didn’t go there.” Does that make sense? It’s like one of those Greek myths where you’ve gone down to hell and you’ve seen the devil and you come back and you’ve got the gold coin that proves it and people look at it and say “No, that’s not real.” “Wait a second. I’ve seen people die, I lost my marriage, I lost my family, I lost my mom… What the fuck are you talking about?” “Oh yeah you had your moment but step aside for the kid with the beard and the laptop.” And you kind of laugh –- there’s this little grizzled rock veteran thing you get to do -– “OK, have your little party. You’ll figure it out. One day.” And in rock and roll now we’ve had what, thirteen, fourteen years of laptop rock and you’ve seen what it’s gotten us. So they will, in the hind perspective look back and say “Wow, something like Siamese Dream is actually much more visceral, much more real than even we thought it was back then, because if it was so easy, why haven’t we had twelve more of these since then and why isn’t there more of that out there?” And then you go, “Oh,” and you can see people going “OK, I get it now.” And that’s the satisfaction. Not like “Nyaa, nyaa ha ha I was right.” It’s like “Finally, my reality and your reality are in the same ballpark.” I’m not walking around thinking that I created something really valuable that about fucking killed me, and you’re telling me I made this nice little Monkees record. And don’t forget at that time, Bob Mould, who I was a big fan of and respected, called the Pumpkins “the grunge Monkees.”

STEREOGUM: Yeah, that’s hard to take. That would be hard to take.

CORGAN: Yeah, why is one of your idols attacking you for being you? In the world I grew up in, why was Siamese Dream any less real than the world that Bob Mould grew up in? When I listen to Hüsker Dü, I hear Minneapolis in the ‘80s. I was up there in the ‘80s, I know what it felt like – it was a certain feeling and they captured it. Well, I captured Chicago suburbs, 1991. See, I can talk. You only have to ask one question.

STEREOGUM: That’s a blessing sometimes when you’re a journalist. I can just shut up and point the tape recorder in your direction. To be honest, I could talk about Siamese Dream forever because it was such an iconic, totemic part of my life, but I do want to talk about the new record that’s coming out next year. I guess I was just curious how the record — Oceania — came together and were the songs that are ultimately on that record also songs that were part of Teargarden or are they separate songs?

CORGAN: Almost all new. There were a few songs that were from the original demos that had been sort of overlooked, that I went back and kind of re — the basic story was that we’d gone to Sedona at the beginning of this year to quote unquote “write the record,” and it kind of wasn’t going where we wanted it to go, but we were really confused because everybody in the band is very capable and we get along and we like working together, so we were trying to come up with the record and we could feel it there but we couldn’t locate it, it wasn’t clicking. So I had this moment where I really needed to think about this, so I say let’s take a break. And everybody went home. We’re in Sedona, Arizona, and about a week after that, everybody went home, and I was still there, working on my book. Mark Tulin, our friend and bassist from the Electric Prunes, died suddenly of a heart attack on Catalina –- he was doing a beach cleanup and just collapsed at 62 and just died -– so a week after we had parted as a band we were all back together for Mark’s funeral. It really, really shook me up and I can’t explain why. I mean he was a close friend, but it shook me up in a way I just couldn’t explain and something about it just led to this weird journey of like “OK I’m gonna go back and listen to all the work I did with Mark at the beginning of this process with Teargarden and then reexamine all this stuff that we’ve done recently.” And it took me on this weird journey of “What am I doing?” and “Why am I even bothering anymore?” and I had this kind of weird epiphany where I realized that some part of me was disengaged. And in a weird kind of way to honor Mark I thought, “I’m not gonna run away from that part of myself anymore. I’m actually gonna go there.” And that opened me up and a lot of the songs were figured out in the next six weeks. And we started convening in Chicago in April. And then worked about five and a half months straight, and the band would come and go at various times depending on who needed to do what. And that’s it.

STEREOGUM: I haven’t heard the songs yet, but now that the record’s done and you’ve had a minute to consider it as a whole thing, what is the feeling you have from it?

CORGAN: You know what’s really weird? I’m not a big fan of what other people say, obviously because I’ve had so many weird experiences on that, but there’s one consistent thing. Only about fifty people have heard Oceania. Mostly people in the music business which in a weird kind of way isn’t a bad thing because they’re the harshest people, you know what I mean? They’re not like a family, like “I love it!” They’re thinking “Does this make any money?” So we started playing it for people to figure out what the hell we were gonna do with it because there’s no label, and we wanted to release it as an album. And over and over again we heard the exact same thing –- I mean it was weird, it was like the same words would come out of people’s mouths, unrelated, which is a bizarre thing … over and over again we heard the same thing … “It reminds me of what I loved” –- “loved,” past tense -– “about the Pumpkins but it doesn’t sound like the old Pumpkins.” So something in the emotional value is there that hasn’t been there for a very long time. But it sounds fresh to where they say, “Ah, there’s a future.” And so that’s why we’re feeling very confident ‘cause we feel like, OK now there’s this whole new chapter of the Pumpkins that can be written in the … in today.

STEREOGUM: Well it’s interesting – you mentioned earlier – so much of the touring in the States last year was sort of about getting people to re-embrace the band or just accept that this is the band now, and why is that such a hard…well, I mean, I know why that’s such a hard thing for people to wrap their brain around because people are so attached to what the band was…

CORGAN: Right. Here’s the thing … well, go ahead, please ask your question.

STEREOGUM: Do you feel like this record is a way of finally getting over that hump? If it even was a hump, necessarily …

CORGAN: No, it was a hump…but here’s the thing, here’s the beauty in it. We didn’t run from the challenge. And I don’t mean that in some like Bon Jovi way like “we hit the streets and found our song.” What I’m saying is, when it came time to … OK, Jimmy leaves the band, do I continue … I’ve been in this game long enough to know, OK, you’re gonna get plenty of shit about it. But I looked and I thought no, let’s just go right at this. Like, OK, what does it mean to have a band if the band doesn’t want to be there? What does it mean to have a band with an old name if that band wants to be there? Like, let’s just go right at it. Let’s just go right at it. The whole Teargarden project was designed to put me on the hot seat of “can you produce again at the highest level?” And you’re just gonna –- this is me talking to myself –- you’re just gonna bury your wires. You’re gonna rise and fall whether or not you can pull this off. So it was like, let’s ask the big question, let’s go out under the name and let’s just confront that question head on. What does it mean to be a band? What does it mean to play music? What does it mean to play the old music, the new music? Does it matter? Is it so critical that it can never be overcome? I wanted to know could this, to use your word, “hump” be overcome, or was I forever condemned to live in the shadow of something that was no longer even mine to possess? So I’ll say to fans, y’know, ‘cause of course not everybody understands, I’ll say, “Wait a second, if I was under my name playing the exact same songs, that’s OK, y’know? But somehow if it’s the Pumpkins it’s not right because it’s the same songs but you’re calling it the Pumpkins which is false advertising” –- we’re like, well, there’s no false advertising, ‘cause we’re out there saying “it’s the band” … So, the only way I can explain it in an alchemical way was by actually confronting the real question and taking on the perceptional issue and not running from it and getting caught in a quasi-intellectual argument which is like, well this isn’t fair, but actually accepting it, like, this is an argument, it’s going to be there, we’re going to take it head on. It actually brought something out in us collectively, the four of us. It forged us in a way, it made us stronger. It made us look at each other and say, “What is the real value of this anyway?” It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. Like why are we even here? What’s the fucking point? And somehow in that, it drove up a new music that is very much our music, but it’s completely in the tradition of what the band stands for, and that’s why I’m so proud, because it shows that the real spirit of the band was always bigger than any individual, including me. That what the Pumpkins represent is such a weird … and of course it comes a lot from my own pathos … but the Pumpkins represents something that’s very, very unique. It can really only be found in a very few bands –- Black Sabbath being an example –- where a band is so idiosyncratic that the thing that one person likes about it is the thing that the other person can’t stand about it. And yet it endures because there’s something beautiful about its weird individuality. It’s not meant to be … you know, there are bands that are meant to be likeable. There are bands that are meant to be cool, and everybody slaps themselves on the back and talks about how amazing they are for listening to them. We were never meant to be that. We never tried to be that. And some could argue that we could have never been that even if we wanted to.

STEREOGUM: It’s funny –- I guess I encounter that idea a lot when I talk to people about music. But the things that really resonated with me about the Pumpkins in particular are things like … it is very different for everybody. Some people really love the visceral nature of the rock songs, some people love the spaced-out prettier stuff …

CORGAN: Yeah, they’ll play “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” on the rock –- metal stations but they won’t play “Cherub Rock,” and what’s the difference? Guitar production?

STEREOGUM: So what will 2012 be like for you? This record will come out and will you guys tour a ton? Do you want to tour a lot? What do you anticipate doing?

CORGAN: The general plan is to … we kind of want to go out and do the concept thing of we’ll play the record, hopefully with some kind of visual accompaniment. And do kind of like because the record’s exactly one hour so it’ll be like the concert will start with one hour of Oceania, this kind of journey of the album and the songs, and after that play whatever makes sense after that. That’s the general plan. Obviously, much of it will have to do with whether the general public perceives the record the way that everybody who’s heard the record so far seems to be … I mean it’s been a long time since I made a record where you play it for fifty people and fifty people say “this is a great record.” I haven’t had that since Mellon Collie where fifty people go “OK, that’s a great record.” That’s a long time. That’s fifteen, sixteen years between that feeling of “OK, now you’ve got one here.” So we’re kind of making plans based on that reaction. But again, I mean, look the economy’s melting down. There may not even be a place to play next year. Anywhere. It’s a very serious political and economic climate, which I follow and I take seriously. And I’m not playing that willy-nilly. People have a lot more on their minds than my record. I hope, though, that in a weird kind of way because the record is imbued with the spirit of the times, that people will find something in this record that relates to their lives in a way that other records related to other times in their lives. I’m hopeful that they’ll see it as a comfort or as a guide or something healing about it because there’s a lot of healing in this record. It is the first time where you actually hear me escape the old band. I’m not reacting against it or for it or in the shadow of it. And some people who’ve known me a long time, people like 20+ years, people in the music business, people who’ve been around during the making of other albums, they’ve basically patted me on the back and said “You’ve actually done it. You got off Planet Pumpkin onto something else.” What’s so funny about it — I haven’t told anybody this, you seem like a nice person so I’ll tell you — the reaction to the record is so strong that people have said “OK now’s the time to change the name.”

STEREOGUM: Really?

CORGAN: Yep. “Now’s the time to change the name ‘cause now you can be the victor of the whole thing. You can stand away from the Pumpkin and you have the record to prove it and you have the band to prove it and you guys can create your own legacy.” And everybody in the band says “No, fuck that. We’re the Smashing Pumpkins.” It’s hard to explain that mentality but there’s a real pride. There’s a real pride. There’s a real pride there to say, “No. We’re willing to take this on. We’re not afraid of it. We’re not gonna run from it.”

STEREOGUM: Perhaps that’s the best way to be about it. I know the name thing is a loaded issue but how many years have you devoted to being in this band? I mean, claim the name. You’ve put enough years in at this point.

CORGAN: But don’t you see, it’s an artistic device. It’s like, if you’re a comedian and the first thing you do is you walk out on stage, you know, and you grab your balls and you go “fuck you all.” I mean the name just does that to people. It has a way of kind of … The beard crowd just kind of rankles when they hear the name. I love it. It’s a fucking tommy gun right against their temple. Because they can’t — All the theories in the world about what makes cool cool, you can’t explain away bands like Pumpkins or Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. You can’t –- those theories don’t apply to certain bands. You just can’t lay that fucking trip on us. You just can’t. We’re the antidote to all that. And I feel bad because I see a lot of younger musicians get drawn into that because it’s working for them. We were watching … Jeff’s a big fan of Jesus and the Mary Chain and so he bought these reissues that just came out, he’s got the videos and everything and we’re thinking like “Wow, what a great band.” I saw the Mary Chain back in ’86 in Metro, for the first US tour and they were amazing, but over time they’ve been a little bit marginalized by the indie world but there was a time there when they were celebrated by the world. And I think of all these bands that get that ass-kiss treatment now and then they get bored with them and they chuck them aside. The path I’ve chosen is a lot harder a path, but I’m still here. You know what I mean? Nobody can tell me “go away” because you can’t. You know? I just won’t go away. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the thing that people outside whatever our weird bubble, no matter how big or small it is, at any given moment, the people outside that don’t really understand, there needs to be bands like us. We’re the anti-anti-anti. We’re not the fake rebellion. And we’re not the manufactured rebellion. We’re actually the real rebellion. ‘Cause there’s nothing more rebellious than being yourself. And believe me, when you’re somebody like me, being yourself is not always pretty. Sometimes I look at the whole musical landscape of what I’ve done and I think “Wow what a fucking weirdo.” Like “that electronic record wasn’t enough –- what’s wrong with me?”

STEREOGUM: That’s what’s so great though. The luxury of being able to follow your own path, even when it leads you to places maybe it shouldn’t … not that it has, but …

CORGAN: Oh no, absolutely, it has, but that’s the beauty of the journey in life, is the experience. I’ve had an incredible musical life. There’s very few people certainly from my generation that can say they’ve had as varied an experience. Lots of triumphs and lots of tragedies and hopefully 2012 will be one of those positive years.

STEREOGUM: It makes me really curious to hear the record.

CORGAN: I really wish I could play it for everybody. I mean – we’re still trying to figure out what label to put it out on.

STEREOGUM: So you get the sense it will be early, sometime in the spring?

CORGAN: March. Yeah, March is the due date.

STEREOGUM: Cool. That’s excellent. Well I don’t want to keep you too long. I know you probably have other stuff to do today, like go play a rock show for some Swiss people.

CORGAN: Yeah, I’m gonna go beat up some beardy kids outside the hotel. Hit with them with their iPads upside their temples.

STEREOGUM: Well, enjoy. Go slap the iPads out of their hands. And thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

CORGAN: Thank you, I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

The Gish and Siamese Dream deluxe edition reissues are out now on EMI and available at eMusic.

Comments (27)
  1. What are those white streaks behind him?
    ARE THOSE CHEMTRAILS!!??

  2. Very lengthy read, and good on ‘Gum for getting Billy to carry on with so much info. What really peaked my interest was his detailing of what Oceania sounds like. I’m a sucker for the Pumpkins, so I’ll likely give it a good listen when it arrives.

    Also, I want a progress report on this “T. Rachel Cole” character. All year, this person has given us Progress Reports, but he / she remains mysterious and elusive. At least with the other four, you have an idea of what they’re all about:

    Scott – The dad of Stereogum. Kind of dad-rock-ish at times. Short with words when you’ve done something bad, kind of like my dad.
    Amrit – If Iceland and My Bloody Valentine had a baby
    Tom – Knows everybody. Knows everything about every type of music. Along with cohort, Corban, gives Stereogum a rascally humorous touch.
    Corban – Resident hip-hop connoisseur. Along with cohort, Tom, gives Stereogum gives Stereogum a rascally humorous touch.

  3. Who would actually question his pro wrestling organization (which teaches about concussion awareness and prevention) and not like the current Pumpkins because of “the line-up” unless they are as ignorant as ignorant can be?

    This isn’t Guns ‘N’ Roses, where obviously not having Slash there now means a hell of a lot more than not having D’arcy or James back in the fold for the Pumpkins. At least Jimmy could play and record his instrumental parts to Billy’s songs.

    Pumpkins 2.0 is playing as well as they’ve ever have. Shame on anyone who still says “oh it’s not the same without the original members.” Bullshit. Smashing Pumpkins is and has ALWAYS been Billy Corgan’s band just like The Cure has always been Robert Smith’s band, no matter who comes and goes. You either like the new music they make when it comes out or you don’t. Period.

  4. Excellent interview, great work. Moving and informative. Great, great work!

  5. After reading this, Oceania jumps to the top of my most anticipated list. So geeked

  6. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Dec 15th, 2011 +3

    uh….cut those first 10 lines. “have you ever been to zurich” “oh it’s beautiful” “im eating a sandwich” come on the thing’s long enough as is

    • Yeah, but since when are Smashing Pumpkins’ fans looking for brevity?

      Siamese Dream – 62 minutes
      Mellon Collie – 121 minutes
      Adore – 73 minutes
      Machina – 73 minutes

      We want every last sprawling piece of it!

      • Alright, I tried to resist this in my initial post, but the tangent needed to come out.

        M83′s double-album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which I do love, is the same length as Smashing Pumpkins’ single-disc albums, Adore and Machina. (If you count that downloadable bonus track, M83 is five minutes longer.)

        Billy fills discs, whereas M83 used the double-album as a marketing tool. Those four albums I listed above are equal to 8.23 indie rock albums (scale: indie rock album = 40 mins). The quantity of stuff he released is insane and almost every second of those four albums is of excellent quality. You could probably shed 10 minutes off Adore and maybe 15 off of Machina, but everything else is essential.

  7. since these reissues hit i’ve really been getting back into the Pumpkins. whilst Zeitgeist never really gelled with me (i’ve always been a fan of the more spaced our prettier stuff) Teargarden was pretty fantastic. Oceania is now officially on my list for next year.

  8. Wow…really great interview. I’m with you guys…I’m really excited for this album now. It could all be Corgan hype, but he seemed pretty genuine about it. He nailed it on the head, too, their work since the band reformed has lost the emotional depth that made the old stuff so great. Without that connection, it’s really just a nasally guy noodling around on his guitar. If this album can recapture any of the old stuffs’ vibes, then I’d say it’s a win.

  9. cool hat bill

  10. Now that is an interview – excellent job. I’ve been on a huge Smashing Pumpkins kick recently as I’m sure many others are after the re-releases of Gish / Siamese Dream.

    I was really into them as a teenager, but Mellon Collie was the last album that I had listened to until my recent obsession. Adore and Machina are much better albums than I expected them to be. There is some classic material on both.

    I sincerely think that if some new band were to come on the scene tomorrow and release Adore as their debut, Pitchfork would slobber all over them and give it a 9. The dark-tone and electronic elements would fit right in with a lot of the modern “laptop rock” bands, as Billy calls them in the interview.

  11. that was a GREAT interview.

  12. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again . I love Corgan and his interviews. I think he is really smart and insightful. I saw them in concert two years ago and he killed it with some new songs. Then he went off and came out with some of that Teargarden stuff that wasn’t that great. I hope he returns to his routes and Oceania blows everyone away.

  13. Oh my god! This was fascinating. There’s a lot to what he’s saying. Smashing Pumpkins are far from my favorite band, but there’s always been something really compelling about their music.

  14. Thanks a ton for this interview. I’ve loved Corgan’s music since I heard the opening notes of “Today” back in ’93. He is one of the most high quality prolific songwriters of our generation (yes I did like Zeitgeist, but just not the first 3 songs. Everything else on it was just as solid as anything he’s done. Jimmy on “United States” was terrific!). Admittedly I haven’t been too keen on the Teargarden songs so far, but Oceania can’t come soon enough.

  15. Refreshing seeing an interview where Corgan is treated like an actual human being.

  16. Corgan rules.

  17. Corgan is a homophobic, transphobic asshole that hasn’t put out anything really worthwhile since “Mellon Collie…”, yet still thinks he’s relevant. he’s not the “tortured artist” that he’d like everything to think he is…he’s just a self-centered prick who pisses off pretty much every musician that works with him.

    he really should stick to his new-found interest in “professional” wrestling.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2