The Drum Media
12 March, 1996
By Michele Manelis
(Thanks to Christabel for sending this to us)
Seated at a trendy bar in San Francisco's downtown district, frontman and principal creative force behind Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan braces himself for another potential disaster- another interview. Clearly, this is not one of his favourite passtimes. Dressed in black, his surprisingly large frame and conspicuous bald head contradict his desire for anonymity. But this reluctant star, often accused of posturing and preening, delivers the goods on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sandness. It's the gamble that paid off.
This double album containing 28 tracks was a bold move for the Pumpkins and Virgin. "We knew it was a risk making this album," he says of their latest offering. "Would it be an artistic exercise in self indulgence? Would it be consistent? But in the end, I figured, why not just write what I want?" The result is an exercise in pleasure and pain. From Bullet With Butterfly Wings, where Corgan wails 'I am still just a rat in a cage', to the tender Farewell and Goodnight, the album is both exhilarating and draining.
Known for his megalomaniacal antics on their previous albums, Corgan has loosened the reigns with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, allowing more of a collaborate effort from his unpredictable quartet. The album, produced by Flood (Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey, U2, Erasure) was written and recorded in ten months at several studios in Chicago and Los Angeles.
"I think we've reached our literal end as a 'rock band'. This album marks the end of an era for us," he says of their follow up of 1993's triple platinum smash, Siamese Dream. "We've managed to squeeze as much blood from the stone as we can in a (rock) territory that's pretty exhausted," he says, admitting that his fear of repetition is a constant battle. "We started seven and a half years ago. We've come to the end of what we started. We're ready to move on," he shrugs. "Everyone is still imitating Nirvana and it gets to be real tiresome," He sighs.
And how does Corgan feel when he's imitated? "It's a combination of laughter and sadness," he says in between gulps of fennel-and-leek soup. "You laugh because it sounds funny and you're sad because the person can't do thier own thing. But when people have more sucsess imitating you than your own sucsess, that pisses you off." He smiles unexpectedly.
A lot has been said about Corgan and his band in their near decade long career. We've all heard about the fights within the band, the near break-ups and Corgan's control-freak histronics. " The band is always on the verge of breaking up. It could happen any minute but we certainly plan on doing another record and hopefully more after that," he declares. "We're highly emotional people and we play a highly emotional form of music. We don't do this for 'fun'." "We leans forward. "This is not easy territory to stand in, it's very taxing physically and mentally."
With all this angst and emotion, it's hard to imagine that Corgan thinks of himself as "just a corny boy from Chicago'. "It's true," he says, shifting restlessly in his seat. "It's difficult to say how other people see me because you end up sounding like a demigod," he says cautiously. "Some people percieve me in the most light, and some extremely negatively. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle."
In many ways, Smashing Pumpkins have copped more flack than Courtney Love or Madonna put together. " I haven't learned to take criticism well," he says shaking his head. "I've gotten some insightful critiscism and certainly some of it has been constructive, but most critics have never played on stage, written a song, known what it's like to endure a tour, or deal with the public. There's a point where you can't respect their opinion because that person hasn't been in your shoes," he says, sounding irritated. "Most forms of critique are not based on knowledge, they're based on opinion and that's something I really have a problem with. But I understand that's the way it is and it's never going to change."
Corgan feels for the most part that he's been unfairly singled out by the press. "A lot of my so called whining had to do with people taking an axe to me. I've never whined about fans. I've never whined about music," he says, raising his voice slightly. " I have complained about my band but that was in a different era. I just want to know what I've done wrong," he says sounding genuinely perplexed. " I know I've talked too much about my childhood and it's been taken out of context but I don't talk about it anymore because it's really nobody's business."
"All I care about is music. I want to make music the best I can and I want to be able to look our fans in the eye and know that I've given them everything I have. I'm asking something from them, it's their $20 and their attention for two hours. I expect the most from them and they expect the most from me. Beyond that - everybody can go to hell!
I just can't understand why we've gotten all this negative publicity," he continues, sounding more exasperated. "We've cancelled two shows in seven and a half years. We've played through the flu, people dying, and, as you can hear, my throat is totally fucked but I'll be there doing the show tonight. As I said, the music is all we care about, so if that's bad, we're bad," he shrugs.
A verteran of ducking verbal assaults, Corgan has been known on occasion to phone up the odd unsupecting journalist. "It doesn't do anything," he says, referring to these confrontations. " They're hiding behind their pens and they don't want to be exposed. If they wanted to be exposed, they woudn't be writing about it, they'd be living it," he says. " That's not to say that every journalist wants to be a rocker but there's a high propensity of wannabes. But it's like thieves in the bed- we have to live together," he says philosophically.
Corgan accepts that his artistic talents are more appreciated outside the US. "We have much more positive press in Australia and other parts of the world than we do here- in fact everywhere... except England. I think it's because in America, I represent an archetype that's not really in mind with what people want from their rock people. We got lumped in the 'not Nirvana camp' and in some places, like England, we're still stuck in that.
"It's hard to compete with your artistic impulses," he says of maintaining sucess. "The great myth about fame is that it brings you non responsibility but in fact it's quite the opposite. You have ten times more responsibilities," he says. " But it's hard to live up to people's expectations. You can build a public persona and then have to reconstruct it against the persona you created previously. But I think you can do it with some intelligence. You don't have to be the perfect person," he says of his role model status.
" I'll never be comfortable with being public property. In lots of cases people are very nice," he says of his fans. "But people seek you out, people call your hotel room, people grab you. It's a little silly."
Admitting he has also been in awe of celebrities while growing up, he candidly offers "The only autographs I ever got were from guys on baseball teams. I don't think I've ever asked for a rock guy's autograph." Although he has experienced some frightening experiences from overzealous fans- a subject not open for discussion- he explains, I don't want to talk about that stuff because it seems to create more of it." Corgan doesn't take any drastic measures to avoid the inevitable attention. "I just keep changing my hairstyle."
Corgan is looking forward to his forthcoming Australian tour and recalls his impressions from their last tour. " We had a really great time on the Siamese Dream tour. It really was the high point as far as everyone getting along and the people we met there. We walked away with a positive feeling." And what can Australian audiences expect this time? In true understated style, "Oh... It'll be more of the same," he says, smiling... happy the interview is over.
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