Translated and transcribed by Gerard de Jong
Blood, sweat, tears and a lot more is what it costed, but it's finally here: Siamese Dream, the second CD from The Smashing Pumpkins. Rumors said the band was nothing more then a timebomb after the recording- sessions. A band ? `I was working my ass of day and night, while the rest of the band was watching tv.' Pumpkin lord Billy Corgan overviews the battlefield.
They thankfully would have put their arms around the snowball effect from the grunge hype. Ok, they didn't sell as much records as Pearl Jam (five million) or Nirvana (four million), but still: hard guitar music of mostly American origin and with a compositoric level. And the hot, overwhelming, emotional and - especially - dynamic music of the four Smashing Pumpkins on their debut Gish did the rest. In no time they followed the grunge-pioneers path, from `Ein abend in Wien' (Rotterdam) through the club-scene from Europe to the summer festivals of `92.
But awaiting on one of those festivals was an unexpected `Waterloo'. The main stage of the English Reading festival didn't turn out to be the expected crown on the end of the triumph-path. Due to a sad surrounding on stage, unwilling guitars, failing amps, boo-shouting, a lot of songs didn't got what they deserved. And the only thing the not so stable Corgan wanted to do at that moment was to quit the band. Or worse, be dead.
"But that had to do with a lot of things," says a cleaned up, healthy looking fresh cut Corgan on a ditto afternoon in Amsterdam, almost a year later. `I have a disastrous period behind me: my girlfriend left me, I had to leave my house, the band was messed up, and in between all that people expected me to make The Important Second Smashing Pumpkins Record, the record with we'd become `the second Nirvana' with. You understand: I'd rather die.' But he didn't.
-You said the band was messed up. But the relations in The Pumpkins have never been completely good, did they ? Some people called you a dictator.
Billy: Yeah, but I find it very hard to deal with that word. That would mean that the rest from the band would be completely silent and that they didn't have a will of their own. That's not true. As humans we still love each other very, very much and we still are a strong unity, almost a family. But as musicians, as a band... We slowly grew apart, I think. From the moment we got more successful, the other band members lost a little of their enthusiasms. Now there are clear disagreements about how hard everyone should work, and that kinda got out of hand during the recording of Siamese Dream. I worked on this record for five months long, 90 hours a week. The rest was just watching tv. And when they we're interviewed, it was: yeah, it really sucks, all this. Complain, complain, complain. And then I thought: What are you fucking complaining about !? You didn't do anything ! A situation like that creates a lot of misunderstandings and hate. It's a shame.
-But how did that situation arise ?
Billy: The heart of matter is that our first cd, Gish, was also mostly made by me. But afterwards I thought: I can't do this, this isn't a solo project. So we discussed it and we decided from then one we would operate as one, as a band. Well, we did that the next one and a half year. But no-one wrote a new song during that period, or wrote something that contributed something substantial to our repertoire. No-one gave a fuck ! So when we had to start working on the next record, we were back in the same old situation where I had to do everything again. The way we're standing now, I'll tell the others at the next record: ok guys, I'm going to start on some new recordings and if I need you, I'll give you a call. On stage and in spirit we're still a very close band, but from a musical and recording type of view it's really getting out of hand. And that's very frustrating.
-So in a way it is a dictatorship ?
Billy: Well, it was more then than now. But I got older and wiser and realized what I was doing. I was so scared to let someone else do something, that I didn't give them a chance. But when I finally did give them that chance, they didn't take it. Now I know that if you want to achieve something, you have to do it yourself. Look, everyone gets possibilities in his life, but you have to take them too. I don't want to sound cold or unsensitive, but that's just the way I see things. That's how I see the band.
-I take it the others don't have anything to say about the lyrics, right ? On Siamese Dream they seem more personal then ever.
Billy: That's right. I never asked the others about their opinion on the lyrics. I'm not interested in their opinions. I want to be able to write without fear, as honest and true as possible. People who stand to close to me, can destroy that. If a stranger thinks that I'm a lunatic or that I write stupid lyrics, it doesn't matter a lot to me. But if a person who's close to me says that, I'd be upset. And I still see the band members as people who are close to me.
-Is Siamese Dream the story of Billy Corgan's Year of Disaster ?
Billy: A part is. My life was a mess and so was the band, but there also had to come a new album. So at a certain point I decided to throw away all the pressure and to just never take offence anymore. Fuck the media, fuck the band. And I started writing what I wanted to hear and what I wanted to play. That helped. From that moment on it went fast, and it resulted in a big pile of songs. A month before the recordings everything was finished. So Siamese Dream turned out to finish off that period, not a direct reflection of it.
ROCK & ROLL MYTHE
-You're good in making whimsical, epic songs full of dynamics, a lot of extremes: hard and soft, dark and light. Does that represent the person Billy Corgan ?
Billy: Absolutely, yeah. People say I have unpredictable temperament. I could listen very intense to either Duke Ellington or Pantera at the same after- noon. My mood constantly changes.
-Do you still have control of it ?
Billy: Yes. Too much actually. I've had problems with that all my life. I have too much control over my emotions and it still gets worse. As a child I taught myself to hide my emotions; where I grew up, it was impossible and a real bad thing to show my feelings. You had to be tough and pretend to be real secure. That paid off later. Now my emotions are very open in my songs and I decided that for the new album there will be a lyric- sheet more. That was a big step by the way.
-You were afraid you'd be ashamed for that much of openness ?
Billy: Exactly. But now I know I don't have to, because for the first time in my career I pulled it off to show the real me in my lyrics. I acted too long. For years and years I found it easy to write songs about a person who stood close to me, but wasn't like the real me at all. It was a simulated version of Billy Corgan. I banned that one out. If I fail now, I fail as me. And not as the person I think I am. Or the person the media or the fans think I am. There was a time I wanted to transform myself into a rock star, after that in a poet and then in some sort of rock and roll mythe. Very cliche and very pathetic. Luckily I found out that I'm just an ordinary guy like everyone else, who has these beautiful dreams who Physically isn't the perfect body of a rock- mythe! (laughs)
-Do you get the impression that life has been nothing more than a journey now ?
Billy: Yes, and that's what it should be, I believe. Life is just one big journey to find your true self. And the fact you're getting older and that your tastes and opinions keep changing, doesn't make it any easier. You have to re-find yourself again and again.
-But as a successful musician, who is being lived most of the time, who has to rise up to a lot of expectations and who is constantly on a journey, you get a really wrong image of it right ?
Billy: Yeah, and that makes it more difficult. You get caught up in it all real quick. Most people want to be loved and accepted and respected. Being in the spotlights is the illusion of that. You can be easily fooled by that. You start asking yourself if this all is real. I solved it by treating the good impressions you get the same as the bad impressions. When I got negative responses I thought: they don't know what they're talking about. And I thought the same about positive responses. That way you build up to some sort of safety. You constantly have to be on guard.
-We just talked about the whimsicalness in your character. I think that also gets in your concerts: either it's total chaos or absolute magic. There seems to be no way on between.
Billy: You probably wont believe it, but we are constantly aware of that and we even built up to that. I'll give you an example. Last year we did a concert in Paris and after the first song no-one applauded. But there still were 800 people in the audience. So I shouted: `Fuck you, Paris!' and the next thing we did was totally throw ourselves into a totally chaotic set: four songs in 40 minutes, full of feedback and chaos, without even a single rest point. And meanwhile the only thing we thought was: fuck you, Paris, fuck you. You see ? Our shows are always a combination of the tranquillity of mind from me and the audience. If I'm on stage, it's my stage. And if you don't like that, get the hell out. A Smashing Pumpkins-concert is mine. And if the others - the audience - wants to say something, they just have to find their own stage. Stagedivers are ok, as long as they don't get in my way or take in my place. Because then I get angry.
-But do you still have fun while you're doing a concert ?
Billy: Of course! If we're on a stage, the audience has to go on their knees. But on a way we think is the best way. Or basic principle is to give good, solid concerts. Not too boring, not too heavy, and with a nice mix of songs: not too much loud songs in a row. That's our goal. But if people stand in my way, and don't allow me to entertain the audience in a decent way, I'll go crazy. Then entertainment gets substituted by the statement. I have my dignity you know ? And if I have to choose between one way my dignity, or the other way to sell a lot of records and be popular, I'll choose the first.
-What does a statement like that look like ?
Billy: Then I'll force it and we'll play a shitty concert. But it happens just as often that we are to blame for a lousy concert. Then we just can't pull it off and we're bad. And if we're bad, I'll make sure we're REAL bad.
-Aha, you do it on purpose!
Billy: Yeah, I like pushing it to the extreme. If everything goes wrong, if the band isn't in good shape and if the audience doesn't react, you realize youself it's just a worthless night. In the past we used to try to make the best of it and to make it an inspiring gig, but it never worked. So we gave that up. If it fails now, I'd rather pick up some negative energy and make a really bad show of it. The rest of the band hates that by the way. Especially if i apologize to the audience saying it isn't working and that we'll just have to make the best of it. Because as a band you just can't hide forever behind that macho rock & roll-poses. Suddenly we're four geeks then. But also that creates a good tension in the band which usually ends in a good night. The energy that gets free then, is just as important as the euphoria of a successful show. I'd rather see a band completely implode, till self destruction if that's what it takes, then keeping up the - forced - illusion it was a good concert.
-So you never play the same show twice ?
Billy: Exactly. Even though the other bandmembers would like that. But I refuse to. It has to be extreme: extremely good or extremely bad. So no-one in the audience will forget that night.
-So if I understand it clearly, you're the one who decided whether a Smashing Pumpkins concert was good or bad. Doesn't that give you problems on stage, or misunderstandings ?
Billy: Well, it hardly happens that I'm not in shape and the rest is. I mostly send over my mood to the others. If I gave the audience a big fuck you to chew on, the others know that's the sign for total chaos. But we don't have a lot of rules; we never use a playlist. The atmosphere decides what we're going to play. And the atmosphere also gives us the energy: euphoria, irritation, cosyness, those are all kinds of energy. I don't make music to pretend like Mister Perfect. I want the chance to be vulnerable. And I want the chance to be myself. That way I always had a sort of hate-love relation with the audience. The audience wants to amuse, people expect us to play certain songs, and in between we do what we want. It's like a cat and mouse game.
-So it's also provocation ?
Billy: Of course. I provoke all the time. If it all goes wrong during a concert it's mostly my own fault. But I can't afford that to happen. It's my own career I'm blowing then and it are my own records who aren't selling. It's all my choice. I take the decisions. Then I say: don't ask me questions now or give me others opinions please, it would only result in compromises. And it's always better to have one specific point of view then a normal one. That's why I'm doing interviews. By the way, the band wouldn't even allow me to talk about what the new album is about.
-And you ?
Approximately (laughs). Siamese Dream contains private-shit that I had to go through last year on one side, and a try at writing down my personal opinions on human relations on the other hand. Boring isn't it ?
-There's one song i find very intriguing: Soma.
Billy: It's about the girlfriend who left me last year. I tried to put all my anger in those words, even though i'm just as much to blame for the break- up. Soma is based on the idea that a love relation is almost the same as opium (drugs): it slowly puts you to sleep, it soothes you, and gives you the illusion of sureness and security. Very deceivable.
- How does your life look now ?
Billy: Much better. I started to look more after my health condition. And I got married. And the relation with me is better now. I finally know who I am and where I stand. But I already told you that. You can also find those things back in my songs. Last I drew some clear conclusions concerning the band. I clearly told myself: I'm talented, I'm intelligent, so if the Pumpkins fall apart, I'm well capable of going on by myself. I'm not afraid of that moment anymore. I already put too much energy in desperately keeping the band together, sooo much that sometimes I even had to put my pride and feelings aside. But that will never happen to me again.
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