From fighting to smashing

The Washington Post

November 19, 1993, Friday, Final Edition

THE PUBLICIST AT Virgin Records can't say exactly which of the four Smashing Pumpkins will call for the interview, which is scheduled for "between 5:30 and 6:30." Or even if anyone will call at all.

So, with the enigmatic band's smashing second album "Siamese Dream" on the stereo at stun volume, this reporter settled back to wait for his Mystery Date: Will it be lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy Corgan, the Great Pumpkin himself? Bassist D'Arcy? Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin? Or guitarist James Iha?

When the phone finally rings, sometime around 7:30, it's D'Arcy, who says she just finished sound check with the band, which appears Saturday and Sunday at WUST Radio Music hall.

"We usually use sound check as a kind of a band practice thing, to try out some new material," D'Arcy says. "We always have a lot of new songs. They're pretty rough and pretty basic. I doubt we'll keep most of them."

D'Arcy, whose unused last name is Wretzky, is from Michigan, near Kalamazoo, and she says she came to alternative rock "mostly through classical violin for nine years, and choir and band and school musicals and orchestra, all that stuff.

"I always wanted to be in a band," she says. "I was interested in singing, but it always seemed like there were so many people who sang, that I would need something else, some other attribute, to make me more valuable in a band. And there's definitely a want for bass players. I didn't know about that until I started playing. Nobody wants to play the bass, everybody wants to play lead guitar or sing."

Before Smashing Pumpkins formed in Chicago, D'Arcy and Iha were involved romantically. "I met Billy [Corgan] kind of by accident in a club one night," she says. "Not in a club, actually, outside the club: He kind of picked a fight with me, about a band that was playing in the club. He said they were put together by a record company. And I thought his reasoning for coming to that conclusion was very thin. He said you could tell because the guitar player jumps around on stage so much.

"And I said, 'Well, I'm in band, and I jump around a lot.' And he was,'Oh yeah? You're in a band? You play bass?' And I was like, 'Yeah, I play bass, what do you wanna make of it? You don't believe me?' And he said, 'No, I have a band and I'm looking for a bass player.'

"I can't believe that I actually called him. Those were wilder days. If it happened today, I would probably just write him off as an idiot," D'Arcy says.

But she did call him, and Smashing Pumpkins began to grow. The band's first album, "Gish," was an early symptom of the grunge epidemic. "Siamese Dream," its major-label debut produced with Butch Vig, who did the honors on Nirvana's "Nevermind," went platinum last week. The group's smashing overnight success actually took five and a half years.

That success means Smashing Pumpkins is suddenly on the covers of magazines such as Spin and Details, with interviews that focus on the towering (6-3) Corgan to the exclusion of the rest of the band.

"People always want to compare us to whatever's big at the moment," D'Arcy says. "Especially Nirvana, of course, but everyone gets compared to them. They use Nirvana as some kind of scale by which to judge every band. Most of them are lazy comparisons."

Success also means Smashing Pumpkins is selling out shows around the country. "We're playing kind of smaller venues," D'Arcy says. "We feel like this is the last chance we'll get to play these smaller places, and it's much more intimate."

Recreating the lush, layered, ultra-melodic hard rock of "Siamese Dream" onstage is a challenge.

"Before we record songs, we always like to play all the songs a lot live, to see how they work," D'Arcy says. "When we recorded 'Siamese Dream,' we used a Mellotron, string instruments, multiple, multiple guitar parts . . . But we always know we can go back and play it live with whatever we have and it's still a good, solid song."

"Usually, songs get a lot faster," she says. "Billy said he listened to the record today for the first time in a long time, and onstage we're playing all the fast songs much faster, and the slow songs are much slower."

Corgan writes most of the words and music, and songs like "Soma" and "Spaceboy" are intensely, almost embarrassingly personal and direct.

"Most of the time I know what the songs are about," D'Arcy says. "There are some things that are real specific to him and some things that are just kind of general misery. I listen to him and I know about his life so much already, so it's just not really necessary for me to know what every line in every song is about, and I'm not really curious.

"[Corgan] is doing much better these days," she says. "But I'm sure that it won't be that way for long, you know. He's very volatile, he can never stay happy for long.

But D'Arcy seems content. "I'm really happy with this band and this music -- I think if I didn't play the music all the time, I would probably listen to it. I've been in several other bands and I could never stay for more than a couple months because I would get sick of the music. We do so many styles of music, and have so much material that it never gets old. It seems like the ultimate kind of band, like a Beatles kind of band."

Before she hangs up, D'Arcy wants to clear something up.

"The name of the band is a stupid name, a dumb bad joke and a bad idea, OK?" she says. "Billy named the band before there even was a band. He was like, 'I'm gonna have a band and it's gonna be called this.' 'Smashing' is not a verb, it's an adjective. It's not like we like to smash pumpkins or anything. And we are not amused by pumpkin jokes anymore."

I guess that means calling their fans Pumpkinheads is out.

"People bring us pumpkins," D'Arcy says, "they have pumpkin motifs in our dressing rooms. I mean, this one girl actually asked us if we change our name for every holiday -- like we'd be the Smashing Turkeys or the Smashing Santa Clauses. The Smashing Christopher Columbuses. And she was serious. Can you believe that?"

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