Interview

Inside Baseball With Billy Corgan: The Smashing Pumpkins Head On Adore, MACHINA, And The End Of Teargarden

STEREOGUM: Did that make you feel a little more liberated going into the upcoming albums?

CORGAN: I’ll tell you what, when you hear the new one, you’ll hear that I am way past that point. We are full guns throttled.

STEREOGUM: So there’s the other one, Day For Night. Was the pairing of the two just because you had two records you wanted to make, or are they at all related thematically or sonically?

CORGAN: If I was in another era, I probably would’ve done a double album to say everything I wanted to say, but there’s no way that’s working today. There’s no way. Plus, the speed at which everyone digests information, which is what, 24 hours? Or less? Imagine working for two years on a double album and having 42% of the universe go, “Nah, not interested,” overnight. And then wait fifteen years to have a conversation with someone like you, you know what I mean? To talk about what might’ve been. So, being a little more street smart these days, I thought: right, we’ll separate out the work, we’ll give it some breathing space, we’ll work hard to make sure that there’s no filler, and we’ll take advantage of — at the time, it would’ve been 2015 — having two spotlight moments on the Pumpkins.

STEREOGUM: Do you think Day For Night is still going to come out within twelve months?

CORGAN: I think the second one will come out within nine months of the first one. I have a show at Ravinia on August 30th here in Chicago, so we’re all over that at the moment because it’s more acoustic stuff. And then I think we’re going to take one week off, because Jeff and I have had no vacation, and then we’ll start on Day For Night. The second week of September.

STEREOGUM: Do you consider them sister projects?

CORGAN: Oh, absolutely. The hope would be that, if someone was to listen to them in a row, you’ll hear a particular journey.

STEREOGUM: Are these at all related to Teargarden By Kaleidyscope or is that project on hold now?

CORGAN: To me, Day For Night is the end of the Teargarden project.

STEREOGUM: So it’s the EPs, Oceania, and these two will conclude it?

CORGAN: Yeah, but there’s also like 60 demos or something that are unreleased songs. I mean, there’s a lot of songs where I went in for an hour and I did a quick demo and I don’t like the song. But there’s some really quality stuff in there, maybe not as finished as I’d like. When I do what we’ll call the Teargarden box set someday, the hope is to put all that stuff together. Because, as I said at the beginning of the Teargarden project, I looked at it like, OK, I’m going to take this journey, and when this journey is over — which it now will be with Day For Night — it will be the beginning a new era of what the Smashing Pumpkins could be in the 21st century, or it will be the end. In big capital letters. Goodbye, I’m done. And it’s pretty much worked out that way, so I feel like it was a good thing to do, because when I started Teargarden I was not motivated at all. Jimmy had left the band. There was this whole thing about “Why would you continue with the name?” and all that rigamarole, so it was like: OK, I’m going to take this on. I’m an artist, I want to face my fear here, which is: OK, what does it mean if I’m the only one left? What does it mean to continue? What does it mean if they throw rocks at you if you play “Tonight, Tonight” and call it the Smashing Pumpkins as opposed to Billy Corgan? All this bullshit that we have to deal with in modern life. Fake opinion as opposed to reality. Which, of course, reality is now basically fake opinion. So I’ve taken that on. Teargarden was really about facing all of that in a very real way and not shying from it.

STEREOGUM: So now that you’re approaching that conclusion, do you think it is going to be the big end in capital letters, or do you think it’s going to be a new phase?

CORGAN: I honestly think it has a lot to do with how the records go down. When I say that, people get really cranky. Because the way they take that is: you’re going to let other people dictate to you what you’re going to do. And the answer is: that’s not it, I just don’t feel like running uphill anymore. Obviously I’ve got lots going on, there’s lots I could do. I played a big solo show here, I’m doing synthesizer work that I’m starting to release. I constantly talk to people about projects that may never happen or are in and out. I could busy myself for the rest of my life with things other than the Smashing Pumpkins. I want Smashing Pumpkins to really be what Smashing Pumpkins was designed to do, which is to be in the moment. Now, if that is naïve, i.e., if you have a legacy like the band had in the ’90s or whatever, and you ultimately cannot find the balance on that and basically the public says, “Look, that’s the way we see it, it ain’t gonna change, yeah, we’ll make exceptions for these other artists, but as far as you go, you have not proven to us that you can do blah blah blah.” Whatever those qualifiers are. I’m cool with that. I want the Pumpkins to be joyous and an artistic vehicle to break down whatever. The fake wall. I don’t see being a raconteur in the way I used to be. I don’t think that’s what the band is meant to be. The band should be a happy, joyous thing that’s about creativity, art, and in the case of Tommy Lee, friendship, kinship, creating new relationships. Which is what the original band was about. So, that’s it. Basically, it’s going to go down the road one way or the other and at the end of the process, it will be, “Wow, he’s done it and I’m really curious what he’s going to do with the Pumpkins in the future now that he’s in a more collaborative mind,” or “Is he going to make that new album with a pop singer” or whatever crazy thing I dream up. Or, is the Pumpkins basically relegated to being the band you want to see at the festival because they’re going to play those songs that you grew up with. It’s literally that simple. Anybody who thinks otherwise, is naïve. And I may be naïve, but I’m not that naïve. I’ve obviously been very adamant about not wanting to be an oldies act. Not wanting to be an artist who goes up there and has to play his old albums to generate, let’s call it, “A level attention.” I still believe I’m more than capable of writing big songs. I still believe I’m more than capable of generating big moments. I look around, particularly at my contemporaries, and I’m not scared to look in the mirror, let’s put it that way. I don’t see where the big competition is right now. Now, you could argue there’s plenty of competition from the younger kids. And there should be. They should want to murder people like me. Because I represent that which they need to shove out of the way. But I’m not shaking in my boots at what’s coming down the pike from my contemporaries. In fact, generally speaking, I’m more embarrassed than proud about what my generation has done with this particular era of material culture by just going out and quote-unquote “giving the public what they want.” That is completely counter-intuitive to what the generation was marketed as. I use the word “marketing” on purpose. That generation was marketed and sold as being counterculture. To have that generation now go, “Welllll, we’ve gotta pay our mortgage.” You know? Every week in my life, I have one of these types of phone calls: You know, if you’d just go out and tour on Siamese Dream, you’d make a lot of money. As we say in Chicago: no shit, Sherlock. My point in saying this is, that’s why we are where we are. If we’re going to be the Pumpkins, we’re going to be the Pumpkins, whatever that means in 2014. We’re going to be a rocking, creative, cool, fun, worth seeing, worth paying attention to unit, or we’re going to be the guys who show up every three or four years at the festivals and play those songs. By the way, I probably won’t be smiling.

STEREOGUM: I’ve always thought of the Pumpkins as a very album-focused project, especially as we’re taking a look at this Adore box set and these two upcoming albums, and I was curious with you being a ’90s artist how you felt about Spotify and iTunes and how you think about Pumpkins continuing on and fitting into this new landscape.

CORGAN: That’s a really good question. Having given a tremendous amount of thought, my answer is: I think you just have to do your own thing.

STEREOGUM: I think you went in this direction for a bit with the earlier phases of Teargarden, but do you want to explore different formats and structures for releasing Pumpkins music, or do you want to stick with more of the album format?

CORGAN: I like a project-based format. What I would say there is, I’m actually more interested in going the other way. I’m more interested in doing more elaborate projects that would probably take more time. Maybe at the end of the day I’ll have to do those under my own name or a different name and not Pumpkins. But I’m much more interested in doing really elaborate projects. I think there’s an audience out there that is interested in super high qualitative things, if you’re able to then turn around and figure out how to take something that’s really qualitative — let’s say, I don’t know, I did a four hour album about Vikings. You have to have some mind in there that most of the general public will only have heard the one song. So if you make the four hour opus about Vikings and you expect most of this crowd out there to listen, they’re not going to. So what you have to do is you have to accept that you have to give them something so that it might lead them to your big opus, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t, and if it does, cool. But not go out there with an expectation, which is what I used to do, and then get super bummed. Because let’s face it, the votes are in. This is a fast consumption culture. It’s only going to get faster. Once you get into more refined search engines, if you’re not in somebody’s search engine, you won’t exist. You won’t exist. If they say “I don’t like grunge,” you won’t exist. Your name? News about you? The new song you’re putting out? It’ll never cross their feed even if it’s the style that they like. So I think you have to accept that that’s just the way it is, and that’s what I mean, you just have to do your own thing. I do go back to the Field Of Dreams quote, which I think is a beautiful thing: “If you build it, they will come.” And I will say, using Adore as maybe the last word on that, I made a really solid — some say brilliant, some say the best record I ever made — and over sixteen years, people have come. The energy around this reissue is actually higher than all the others. Which is very interesting, because Siamese and Mellon Collie were huge records. But I think those are not as curious to people as Adore because Adore, the story’s still kind of untold. And maybe there’s still gas left in the tank to tell a new story, where with the other albums it’s kind of like, what you’d expect. It’s thoroughly explored, and this guy loves it and this guy says it’s a piece of shit. Basically, the votes are in. Adore is one of those things people aren’t really sure yet. They’re still not that definitive … the other day I was joking with a musician, and I said, “At least I made two great albums.” And he said, “What do you mean? You made three, maybe four.” If you count MACHINA. We were talking about the ’90s, but ultimately what I’m saying is, the read on my career arc, which is like “He made three ascending things and then he fell off the fucking face of the earth,” that may have been a press creation. The story on Adore was Icarus — he flew too close to the sun, let’s watch him fall. I got calls from the record label [in 1998] like “Wow, this record keeps selling.” “Wow this record just turned platinum, can you believe it?” And I was like, “Uh, yeah.” I think that was the beginning of the digital age, where that clicker mind was coming in. So what happened was, because of technology and the way people were starting to communicate, the initial verdict on Adore was: “This is a piece of shit.” It wasn’t like, “Oh, this is kinda weird.” It was, “This is a piece of shit, what the fuck has he done?” Once that vote goes out, which we now really understand in the digital age, it’s almost impossible to change people’s minds.

STEREOGUM: I agree with what you’re saying. With Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream there was less left to say, but this one’s an interesting one to revisit and reevaluate the story.

CORGAN: That’s what I mean. I think that’s why there’s so much interest around Adore, because I think there’s a sneaking suspicion that maybe this is like — you know, there are bands that have those albums. That when people go back they go, “You know, now that I think about it … ” And then all my reactions to the negativity make a little bit more sense. Because from the inside, I thought I’d made a very strong record. Literally I would do interviews and the first question would be, “So how does it feel to have such a massive failure?” You’re like, “Uhhh, yeah, it’s great. I really love being humiliated in public. Especially after I just came off of selling a gazillion records. I love it. I’m a masochist, this is awesome!”

//

//

The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore reissue is out 9/23 via Virgin/UMe.