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Smashing Pumpkins
Seven years is a long time in the music industry and only a band that meant something to their fans can return from such a hiatus to a positive reception. Early reports seem to indicate that The Smashing Pumpkins is definitely an act that is returning to a welcoming crowd. As they get set to release their first album in seven years, The Record brings you an exclusive look at the big comeback.
Read on about the new line-up, the old songs, the changing music industry and their plan of action this time around, in the words of lead singer/guitarist Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

Could you recap for us the mood of the band the first time around?
Billy: I think we grew up in an odd mix of… on the one hand, our parents came out of the 60s so we grew up with [the thought] ‘I hope I die before I get old’ and where no one was really considered viable, rock-wise, past 30-ish. So we were sort of on the edge of that on the one hand, but we also came out of the indie world which said ‘Don’t sell out, don’t do the man’s bidding.’ And either [because of] the economics or just the shifting tide of the business, at some point you have to do somebody’s bidding. So a couple of times we did corporate gigs which we hated; it was this really uneasy mix which at the time seemed important.
Now, of course, all those boundaries are gone. Everyone is doing anything to make money because the business is so bad. But it was an odd place to be, trying to resolve ‘How do I feel strongly about what I’m trying to do artistically but at the same time try to make it work in this mixture?’

Billy, tell us about ‘I want my band back’ [the statement he made publicly in 2005].
Billy: For me when I said ‘I want my band back’ I realised that I had taken the bestest, proudest thing I’d ever done and chucked it out the window and sort of tried to build a new castle to live in and in doing so took away every advantage of the one that I’d built and then fundamentally asked myself why I had to invent a totally new persona when Pumpkins was meant to include all the personas. Then everything I did became counter to what I’d done. So even my solo album which was very electronic focused… people talked to me as if I’d never done any sort of electronic music. And I’d say, ‘Well, the biggest song the Pumpkins ever did was sort of electronic.’ And they’d sort of scratch their heads and look at me and say ‘I don’t understand’. I had to explain myself against the titanic symbol of what the band represented even if it wasn’t realistic. So I thought, I just want to put my Superman costume back on [smiles] and just go back to being that guy in a way that I would have peace with.

Jimmy, what were your thoughts on reforming the band?
Jimmy: I had advance knowledge of it so I don’t think it shocked me as it shocked the world. I felt it was a real turning point for my life, I felt like it was an opportunity for Billy and me to re-solidify our relationship which never really went away. We were always friends and partners through both of our solo projects. So it made musical sense, it made spiritual sense and it was a way to solidify it in the world’s eyes that we were going to make music together and just make a statement that we’re not going to make excuses and we’re just going to do what we do. If you like it, you like it, if you don’t we’re still going to do it.

What were the challenges of getting back together?
Billy: No matter what we said or did, no one really truly believed we were going to do it. It was always this hesitant, kind of, like ‘Oh that’s nice… I’ll believe it when I see it’. It’s like the Guns N’ Roses thing, like, ‘Sure you’re going to make an album, sure you’re going to come back, sure it’s going to be good…’ which is a weird feeling! It’s almost like you’re no longer the people that [made all that music the first time around]. You’re disconnected from your own legacy which is a strong word, but I mean you don’t even have your own accomplishment… because you chucked it out the window or something, you’re no longer entitled to it. It’s a weird place to be in.

Jimmy: There were a lot of times when we were scratching our heads, looking at each other going, ‘Man, can we even do this?’ I think at some point, maybe a month and a half in, we started turning a corner and the songs really started reflecting how we were feeling. As opposed to going back and trying to recapture some kind of fire, we started rekindling a new fire.
It’s not so much the notes we play, because notes are notes… but it’s the way you feel about the notes when you play them that makes them kind of special. I try to approach the drums kind of like Elvin Jones would approach them, or like McCoy Tyler on piano, to try to support it with compassion like you would listen to a friend’s problem on a telephone call. I think our friendship really has ingrained itself into our music and I think that is what really gives us the upper hand ~ it’s the emotion.

What was the recording process like this time around?
Billy: I think we got so insular it was really hard to let anybody in. [Producer] Roy Thomas Baker was really more than anyone else the person we listened to, we didn’t listen to anybody else very well. You know it’s like the old thing, ‘You can take the short way or the long road’ ~ we decided to take the long road and not everybody understands that these days. We recorded only on tape; we didn’t use any computers on the album. The fact that it’s just the two of us means tracking takes a lot longer than it would with the band because I’m obviously doing all the overdubbing...

You can read the rest of our feature on the Smashing Pumpkins in the September 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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