Ray Gun - September 1993 (Issue #9)
By: Darren Ressler
(Thanks to Melissa for typing this out).
"Indie credibility was something that we were never really tooo concerned with, because thats like playing to a small group of people ~nthe tastemakers ~nand we were never really part of that community to begin with" Not a highly unusual statement, were it made byan Iggy Pop or a Paul Westergerg, or some other long-time presence, on the alt-rock scene. But it's coming from Billy Corgan singer/guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, whose recorded history only dates back to 1991. Still, it;\'s not boarish attitude or jaded ennui Corgan's speaking from it's just the way things are.
Hailing from Chicago, Smashing Pumpkins quickly established itself as the next big thing with Gish, its sludgy, melodic, psychedelic debut. There was something distinctivly different in the bands cacophonous mix: a compression of elements culled from the last three decades of music (sixties folk, Seventies psycadelia, Eighties guitar virtuosity) as oppposed to taking artistic cues from legendary Chi-town bands like Big Black, who relied on a heavy horomal cocktail of testosterone and angst for inspiration.
After SP released the Butch Vig-produced Gish, the four-piece set out on the road, playing with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. Alonf the coarse of 18 months (14 of which were spent touring), they also dropped a single on Sub Pop (La Dolly Vita)and a choice follow-up EP, Lull, which contained three unrealsed tracks from Gish. However, while the American and English press were championing the Pumpkins unique passive-agressive sound, which builds upon layers of emotion unpredictably bursting into a resounding climax, many finicky indie rock aficionados chastied the band because of its recording contract. You, see, when SP signed with Caroline, it was agreed that their sophomore effort would be picked up by papa label, virgin. This upset many so-called pursits on the scene.
"I think that all of that stuff was pretty foolish," says bassist D'arcy, stressing that the band envolvment with labels has a great deal to do with their relationship with the people they work with rather than buying into a name. Yet gossip mongers wagged that a Sup Pop single and a Caroline EP and LP equated to the Pumpkins trying to 'buy' indie rock credibility.
"As far as putting out a single on Sup Pop and the album Caroline," Corgan, who resembles a taller version of actor Corey Feldman, insists, "we put those records out because thats what we wanted to do. When we put out our Sub Pop single, nobody else was interested in us. When we put out a local single in Chicago [I am one] before that, to us, Sup Pop was like this humorous company. Four months later, when we suddenly had all of these record offers, that really changed what went on. As for buying credibility, I don't think about that 'n if we did, then we didn't do a very good job."
Many acts signed to major labels agree with Corgan and company. in. fact Monster Magnets Dave Wyndorf, signed to Caroline and Gutterhouse in the U.k., jumped ship to A&M. Wyndorf recently went as far as to say that indies can sometimes be detrimental to a band looking to really break big due to constant lack of money and inability to promote an album. Corgan strongly believes in the power of indie labels, but feels that those who are so concerned with trivial matters such as which company issues an album should first walk a mile in his shoes before shooting off their mouth.
"It's easy for people who've never played a note of music to criticize what is a proper decision for a band to make. Until you've starved, frozen and shit on the side of the road, no one can understand what a band goes theough," says Corgan. "There comes a point when its tikme to move up, All of these bands on major labels who are petending to be on independents are trying are trying so hard to maintain an image because they're afraid that someone might think they're uncool"
As SP started writing its sophomore album, the band unanimously felt that its grueling tour scedule helped Siames Dream become a work which better reflected their tastes. Having had its music dissected and closely examined due to all the hype around the band, main song writer Corgan let go and allowed his songs to evolve on its own.
"I felt so abused and criticized for all the wrong reasons. A lot of people have trouble understanding my feeling on that because the band basically got good press. But I thought that the consistent criticisms left me feeling sort of numb," Corgan admits. "I don't think of it as having stretched out, I think of it as coming to grips with everything from within. To me, we've done completely mello acoustic songs to kick-ass rock, so we're finding all of the stuff in between. We're letting go of pretnses and feeling free to do whatever we want to do musically."
"Our individual proficiency is better," adds drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, "just because we played for all of those months. Our arrangements were a little crispier, and the more time we spent playing together, the better we got to know each other in the music sense. There just isn't a forced direction on teh new recording everything seemed very natural."
While touring, the members of the quartet learned little things about themselves, such as quicker intros into songs woork best over spacier segues. They also estimated that they basically had ten minutes to prove themselves or else people would turn heel and walk to the bar and wait for the next band to take the sstage. After playing something like 40 extended versions of each song, they also learned to "cut the fat" and got much tighter as a unit. But road life also presened them with unusual situations.
"We played in Belgium in front of 70,000 people and sucked," confesses Corgan with a big laugh. "Then we played in front of 100 people, and it was amazing thing."
"We sucked so bad that night! When e were driving back to the hotel from the show," winces Chamberlin of that terrible night, we heard them talking about it on the radio. The driver translated every word to us."
With the last year of their lives working feverishly towards Siamese Dream, the band felt the pressure of living up to the high expectations leveled on them by themselves and the press. Unquestionably, Siamese Dream certainly goes beyond any preliminary expectations and delivers a better-executed, more consistent release when compared to gish.
Perhaps whats most charming about Siamese Dream is that the bands sound is far more extreme in every possible direction, yet it remains entirly consistent. 'cherub rock,' the first single, a blistering tornado of emotions fused with shards of buzzing power chords. Its energy is nearly overwhelming. On the flipside, SP ventured into new areas on 'disarm', which is complete with an orchestrated string section including cellos, violins and vrious other strings. And perhaps one of the clearest standoutss is 'Mayonaise' a song they were almost afraid to record, which flaunts a wispy, languid melody line courtesy of guitarist James Iha that's simply unforgetable.
"I may be speaking for myself," prefaces Corgan, "but I almost feel like this album is wimpier. I don't see why that is, but I do."
Bassist D'Arcy shakes her head and disagrees: "I think that the wimpy things are wimpier, but the heavy things are heavier."
With Gish receiving loads of critical praise from both sides of the Atlantic, the pressure to perform for the band was sometimes extremely intense. Still, they weathered through it in stride.
"We never set out to be a small band," says Corgan, "I don't mean that like we wanted to take over the world and weren't content on just being another indie band from Chicago. We wanted to go on to bigger things. Now there's so much pressure on us to be this big huge band; I think that there's parts of us that can be that kind of band, but I think that there's parts of us that can't. It's really hard because sometimes you feel that the expectations on what the band will do commercially or critically are beyond what the band is capable of doing. That kind of scares me."
Although three-fourths of SP appear to be satisfied with SD, Billy Corgan moans that he is "not completely pleased" with it. Not that he is a perfectionist; he's more like someone who's chasing the horizon, a place he'll get close to but will never actually reach. Corgan knows that. Says Mr. C.: "You'll have to be stupid to be a perfectionist. I just keep hearing the next album in my head.
Having let go of trying to live up to other people's ridiculous expectations, SP doesn't feel the need any longer to prove itself as they once did. The band members are free now. They're also two years older and with that comes certain degree of confidence not they couldn't care less if others think they're 'cool' or not. The envirnment in Chicago and the musical community we sort of grew up in as a band hasn't necessarily promoted our type of thinking," states Corgan. "it's been a real struggle; we've never deemed 'cool' and we've never been anybody's darling pick. Still, we have this strength."
So where would the Pumpkins like to be a year from now, careerwise? D'arcy seems overwhelmed by the thought and cna't answer. Chamberlin wants to be proud of the album. Corgan begins to talk and sticking to their guns and not selling out on anylevel from album packaging to T-shirt merchandising; then he catches himself and stops looking into the futur. "I think that we've learned not to dream that way, because somehow it never turns out the way that you want it," he explains. "If you expect something to happen, and it doesn't, then you're sad. But if you just take the world as it happens."
Despite all that, SP are visibly nervous about how SD will fare. But their sense of progression as artists has given them a new-found feeling of strength. and they know that the album they've come up with isn't Gish II.
Two years older and wiser. If anyone puts them down again, they're going to answer this time around the way Bill Clinton warned Saddam Hussein. D o n ' t t r e a d o n S m a s h i n g P u m p k i n s!!!
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