Pumpkins on a package-tour
Beat - September 1995
The Smashing Pumpkins are productive, ambitious and popular - but are they pretty enough.
Beat flew first-class to Venice to meet them.By Morten Stĺle NilsenThe Smashing Pumpkins are at a porch in Venice, being interviewed by an Italian reporter.Beat is sitting close by - eavesdropping.The weather is beautiful, the gondolas drift peacefully on the water and life is great, but songwriter,guitarist, vocalist and boss Billy Corgan is about to work himself up over something.-Look at Blur. They get a hundred times more attention than us, and what is so original or goodabout Blur? Nothing, but Damon Albarn is so cute, that is why they get front- pages in every music-magazine in the world. We work harder, we rock harder and we are more original - but apparently we aren't pretty enough.
Five Minutes later Billy Corgan is at the same porch talking to a Swedish journalist .Beat is still eavesdropping.Billy is about to get the hang of things again.It irritates me. We sell a lot of records, but are completely ignored by the press.Look at Blur....Etc.Billy Corgan is extremely concerned by the disparity between record-sales and publicity-press, the glamorous pop-stars pictured in the gossip-press and the hard-working artists that has to be content with........ record-sales in the million-league.Smashing Pumpkins last album,"Siamese Dream", sold 4 million units.
The band enjoys great respect from serious music-lovers. I bet they make a lot of money.They have a new mammoth-album ready, a record that hardly will weaken their position.But are they content? Pah!- You ask me why I am so concerned with this. It's not right.I know people think I am petty and paranoid, but I can’t help thinking about it.Billy Corgan - tall, thin and pale as the moon - continues.- Let me give you an example:Two years ago Rolling Stone magazine wanted to do a story on us. At this point of time we had already sold a lot of records, but they refused to put us on the cover.Two weeks earlier they had put The Spin Doctors on the cover, a band that had sold far less records than we had- and are worse than us. They don’t even look good.Beat has come a long way in order to do an interview with Smashing Pumpkins, that is something Billy Corgan should reckon as a vote of confidence. Somebody up north likes you, and we have seen an uglier band.
Slade, for example.A couple of the members do look somewhat exhausted, but that has to be allowed when you’re on a tour that consists of interviews.We have the female bass-player D’ arcy, that’s her name, quite cute and with her hair cut short.We have the drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, -according to Billy- the closest thing you come to a hunk.Dark, brown and athletic.Most tired of the foursome is James Iha. The guitarplayer has the posture of a bag of potatoes and makes no fuss about himself at all.Halfway through the interview Corgan practically sends him out of the room.- James, you haven’t said anything at all during the last three interviews....- I know, the guitarist replies.- Well, why don’t you go to your room?James is off.- He got pissed last night, D’arcy explains.
The band is in Venice to talk about a pretty insane and quite terrific record by the name of «Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness; the magnum opus which is the follow-up to «Siamese Dream»Fasten your seat-belts, because we are talking about nothing less than 28 new tracks, divided into two CD’s with a running time of almost two and a half hour.Hysterically ambitious and ruthlessly accomplished.Only Norwegian band Motorpsycho dares to do this kind of thing in 1995, and terms like «gigantomania», «pretentious» and «prog-rock» will undoubtedly be used by many critics.Don’t listen to them because «Mellon Collie...» ( the two CD’s has subtitles; «From dawn to dusk» and «From twilight to starlight») is powerful and possessed with ambition in a way that very few rock-albums are today.
Billy Corgan is good old-fashioned maniac, an artist that dares to make a fool of himself in the name of rock’n roll. You can never get too many of those.He is the only one who talks- to a great extent - within The Smashing Pumpkins.The band has however decided that all four of them should be together for the interview-sessions this time around. Earlier, Corgan has done most of the talking by himself.Not that it is much different now: Billy is the visionary, the song-writer, the singer and the one who takes this most seriously. Smashing Pumpkins is his baby, and the other ones are smart enough not to play too much with it.At least not while the boss is watching. So saying, the whole thing appears a bit comical.The other members are there, but they barely speak. Now and then Corgan tries to encourage them to answer questions - with no apparent luck, and always in connection with questions that are uncontroversial.Iha was sent away twenty minutes after the interview started.
It didn’t happen without a certain sense of humour, but nevertheless.Then again, the internal tensions within The Smashing Pumpkins are almost legendary. Corgan has never tried to hide the fact that he needed psychiatric help in order to endure the recording of «Siamese Dream». The self- examination made its mark on both the album and the following tour.Then, what will happen when the band locks itself in the studio to make a record of the dimension that «Mellon Collie» is. Isn’t that to play with fire?- As a matter of fact - Billy brushes off - it went surprisingly well.- Ten and a half months in the studio! I believe the success taught us a lesson.Remember, success is obligation: 4 million people have bought our record and found our music good enough to do a thing like that. These things give you a push.«So you like us? Well damn, we’re gonna show you what we're capable off!», or what?.- But it is a very, very huge record. Too intense for people to relate to?.- Probably.Billy Corgan will not be scared.- We can’t let that stop us. I think every song on the album deserves to be there.I imagine that people might concentrate on one CD at a time.
Maybe they wont play CD number two until a year from now. When I was a kid I would play only one side of a record for months at a time.When I was through with the first side I found out: - «hey , this thing has got one more side!».- But the succession of songs , and -excuse me- the «concept» of Mellon Collie seems anything but coincidental? The album has an intro.., a coda...Corgan takes time to think. He is «pretentious» enough to take these kind of things seriously.- OK, if I got to decide, I would want people to play one CD from start to end, or the whole thingfrom start to end.
That would be...preferable.I assume that most people would want to listen to the album from the first to the last second, at least once.When that is done, it is up to the single person.- Was to make a double- album an old dream?- Absolutely. We decided early that this was going to be a big one.The ultimate Smashing Pumpkins record of 1995.- It looks kind of sick on paper.- Yes, but it functions when you hear the record. I mean - personally I have lived with this music for ten months.It took six months to record it and I think it works. It rocks.Billy likes to say that things «rock», especially when it comes to the music of Smashing Pumpkins.What a lovely expression.- It’s one of those records where you find four or five favourite-tunes right away. Two weeks later you are sick and tired of those tracks and find five new ones.By the way, I can promise you that this is the culmination and the end of the «old» Smashing Pumpkins.
After the tour - to come - we are entering the thinking-booth. I want to go in a more modern and electronic direction the next time. «Mellon Collie..» is the summing up of what The Smashing Pumpkins was about during the years 1990-95.Billy Corgan is very driven. He is married, but has - according to Jimmy - not seen the woman of his choice since he left her at the altar. - Billy said yes to all the questions, excused himself and hurried back to the studio.Billy laughs:- How I came up with 28 tracks? Well, almost everything I wrote in that period is on the album.But I...love to work. My day kind of looks like this:I get up at nine and start to write. I do that until half past twelve. At two o’ clock I go to the band-premises were we practise until seven.
Corgan uses the word practise, not the more relaxed «rehearse».He continues:- Nine to seven is not much more than a normal day at work these days. But I am so completely absorbed in what I am doing, so totally obsessed with the music that I wake up completely exhausted after one of those sessions.By that time a new day has arrived and it’s time to do the whole thing all over again..- Work-ethics, ambition and seriousness is some of the most unhip things you can possess in rock’n roll these days, isn’t it?.- Yes, but as I say, we are very unhip to begin with.- Oh come on, you’re not going to wail about the music-press again, are you?- I’m not kidding.
We have a big problem in England.- Everybody that aren’t English have a big problem in England!- That’s true, but that doesn’t make the problem less important. We also have trouble in certain European countries. Some countries like gossip, others like Top 40....In the U.S.A the press is extremely versatile. My hunch is that the more serious part of the «mainstream»-press is going to like this album. The «alternative» press is probably going to snort at it.«Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness» is as everyone will understand - by the title - an endlessly sad record. The melancholy, the blues and the tristesse is heavily poured over everything that takes place on the album.Not necessarily sad as in grief but sad as in blue, melancholy and beautiful.Music for people that are not ashamed of an unhealthy, but oh-so wonderful interest in self- pity.Billy isn't terribly happy about these characteristics. He has, without doubt, been viewed as a melancholic and a sad guy before. The music that he makes has always had this element. He often sings with a high, feminine voice that is about to crack. To make a point of it all, God has equipped him with a face that veritably glows from peculiar sadness. He is the classical «little boy lost», a small boy in a bad world. His face is pale as chalk, the eyes are innocent. When this is combined with a body that is too tall and ungainly, together with some big hands, the result is given: Billy Corgan looks as though he is still at the age of puberty. I bet he is clumsy and knocks things over and blush also.- If it’s a sad record? I don’t know.The answer is unusually prompt. D’Arcy is quick to relieve him.- You have to be crazy not to be sad! It’s a shitty world for most of us.Ah, the old «it-is-just-to-look-at-the-news»-trick.In the meantime Billy has thought of something to say.- It is difficult for me to look at the album like that because I felt pretty O.K when I wrote the music.I can see why you see it like that, and you are probably right. To me the record is first of all powerful.Just a few minutes earlier Billy was telling about how he had gone straight to the studio after the Siamese Dream-tour was finished, because he was depressed. I don’t have the heart to remind him.- The power of the music conquers the pain, the anger and the sorrow of the lyrics. The music takes you to a different and better place.He might just be right here. The Smashing Pumpkins are evidently not the prettiest band in the world. They are not terribly hip either. They might not even be happy. If you - as I do - hate pretty, hip and happy artists, you might forgive them for it.And by the way, they made the cover of Rolling Stone in the end. There is hope for everyone.
Return to the Band's Page