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Smashing Pumpkins looks set to continue the trail-blazing guitar magic first pioneered by Jane's Addiction. Cathi Unsworth discovers why the Chicago-based band think Prince should be revered and Bono killed.
After Lollapalooza it seems the sun has set forever on rock music's most innovative lifeline, Jane's Addiction. Who is left to take the metal beast to such ecstatic heights, to blitz so many preconceptions, to put so much beauty, magic and passion into one explosive cocktail? Four figures stand in silhouette against the flaming twilight. With sacred hearts tattooed on their backs, they hold the promise of a future equally, but very differently, glorious. They are Smashing Pumpkins. Smashing Pumpkins, like Perry Farrell, understands magic. They've already baffled the none too critical faculties of the American press by coming from Chicago and not sounding remotely like anything from the city's infamous Wax Trax or Touch And Go stables. And their debut album, the stunning «Gish», has bewitched an array of listeners who can't for the life of them find any pigeonhole for this diverse foursome to roast in.
«Gish» and the Pumpkins' current single, «Siva» are intoxicating mixtures of sheer power and delicate, fluid grace, strung together with silvery little words.
«Like most people we have a very good side and a very bad side,» smiles singer and guitarist Billy Corgan. «Most people think we are kind and gentle folk, which we are. But we are also very evil» Billy, if this US press cutting are to be believed, is a bit of a wild child, and baffling his fellow countrymen is something he clearly revels in.
«Definitely!» he grins. «Y know, people always talk about what the f*** are you? Are you rock, are you psychedelic? We, like don't care. It's taken us a long time to be a good band , to achieve that balance between power and beauty, and now we are achieving these things it's like a celebration. I hate to use the word 'ritualistic', cos that's a very Perry Farrell sort of thing, but we have a certain amount of ritual to us. Our shows are becoming less like shows and more like out-of-control celebrations. We're tapping into more than just a rock show.»
There is something very primal and spiritual about the Pumpkins' sound. «It's spiritual in essence,» Billy confirms, «but it's not inherently spiritual. We're not going out there to be spiritual, but it does connect you to something that enables you to live your life a little deeper. «We like to draw people in and we like to share,» he says. «We like people to be here with us; we don't want to achieve a pious distance that somehow we're little rock stars and you don't understand our little trip. We're human beings and we deal with things that are mystical and other-worldly. But it doesn't mean that you can't bring other people in. I mean, my quasi-religious beliefs aren't important, what is are the things you believe in - like human values and basic spiritual values that anyone can relate to. «So it's not important that someone exactly understands, as long as you can draw them in and create your own little world. I don't want to show you what a little death trip I'm on. I'll never be a more out-of-control person than Iggy Pop.
Smashing Pumpkins sound like they've come roaring out of a time-tunnel, having pillaged all the great parts of rock's history to bring them back in a new form that'll nourish the future. Billy like's this idea.
«We are the terminators!» he laughs. «I'm glad you noticed that. I try to achieve this balance about what I like about music from the past , but at the same time, wanting the music to be progressive in the sense of moving forward».
Both the sleek guitar of «Siva» and the Pumpkin's first single, «I Am One», echo the earliest dark innovations of Black Sabbath. «I distinctly remember listening to Black Sabbath when I was nine and putting my head inside the speakers!» Billy laughs. «Cos the vibrations from the bass would rumble your hair follicles! I really admire the fact that you picked up on the Sabbath thing, cos you can really slag them off for getting on to the whole Satan thing, but early on they were one of the few bands that just tried to do lots of different things». As the Pumpkins intend to?
«It's ambitious, but it's not trying to be any rock star thing,» Corgan stresses. «We're not trying to move up any f***in' mountain. But there is a deeper side to us, and it's not meant to be an alienating thing.
«Being in a band does not mean that you are one a higher plane of existence. Look at U2. They started out so ambitious, they used to be a really powerful band. I used to be really moved by them, but now I can't even listen to their old stuff. The shit they've done in the last five years has ruined everything for me. It's just proved that Bono is a big f***in' joke. Pumpkins' say, kill Bono.
«I don't buy into the idea that when a band gets successful it loses touch,» the singer snorts. « I think it's wonderful when someone uses that success to do something completely different. Like after Prince made 'Purple Rain' , he was the biggest star in the world and all he had to do was make 'Purple rain 2'. He made 'Around The World In A Day' which bombed. I really admire him for taking that chance.
« I think people get attracted to that power, and they think if they move anywhere off that course they're going to lose their power. They fail to realise it was the power they had to begin with that got them where they are today.
Why does it simplify? It should get more complex. If your audience can't understand why you want to move on then they're not for real. If we're ever in that position I believe we'll carry on pushing each other. Push, push on. Smashing Pumpkins exist on the edge between fantasy and reality, and their greatest joy is the blurring of the lines in between.
«People tried to pigeonhole us and it didn't work,» Billy smiles. «On the past tour, Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro and Chris (Soundgarden) Cornell came to see us; to meet people like that, whose music we really admire, and for them to realise that we're doing our own thing and not riding on their coat-tails is wonderful. There's no denying that bands like Jane's and Soundgarden have opened up the world for people to open up their ears. But the fact is that we are our own band.» The Smashing part of the Pumpkins could either mean fantastic or devastating. The choice is yours.
«Siva» and «Gish» are out now on Caroline.
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