Psychic Reliquaries and Separation Anxiety
Alternative Press - August 1993
(Sent to us by Eve Stahlberger)
"What starts alternative music, or punk rock or whatever?" Billy Corgan asks. "The initial idea, which is, I'm going to do something different, I'm going to do my own thing, is great but it all turns into a private football jackoff club where it's like I'm cool and your not cool. These bands end up being what drove them away in the first place."
In the middle of work on the Smashing Pumpkins' major label debut, Corgan is feeling pressure-the pressure of finishing an ambitious project, the pressure of holding together a dysfunctional group, the pressure of justifying his ideals to a subject that often values attitude over aptitude. Meeting the band in Chicago (home) and Los Angeles (work), Eric Gladstone probes the enigmatic darkness of their hearts and minds. He sees a light at the end of the tunnel... "It's a train!" says Corgan.
About Billy Corgan, I knew a few things that he was the long haired leader of a band that who'd had a single on Sub-Pop and an album on Caroline; that his band Smashing Pumpkins, was wildly successful on an indie level with their revision of that late-60's/early 70's groove rock so common in their, uh, ilk; and that judgement the one time that I had seen him on MTV when he was sullen and reticent-he seemed like a major league Difficult Enigma.
That wasn't much, but in this business, it was enough to know what to expect from dealing with him. But all of it, or almost all, flew out the window, piece by piece, from the very first time I talked to him. The morning before I was supposed to meet the band in Chicago, Corgan called me, sounding studio fried but still surprisingly friendly, unassuming and unreserved.
The recording at Triclops studio outside Atlanta, had gone beyond schedule ( a total of 96 days) and they were starting the mixdown next week in Los Angeles; he had just passed his 26th birthday, and only just spent his first night in the house he bought three months ago. Still, he was willing and enthusiastic about getting together. He wanted me to come over to the house, although, the band and some of their retinue had discussed it and everyone else decided that it was a bad idea-that it could be featured too prominently at a time where the Pumpkins did not want to appear as the poster children of Alternative Sell Out.
"If people are going to crucify me because i'm honest, then that's what is going to happen, " Corgan said. "It bothers me more on an integrity level, that selling records somehow corrupts you.' This as I was to find out was merely the tip of the iceberg for Billy Corgan, who spoke to me so candidly on so many aspects of his life, that his words rang with the spirit of a career veteran, who has nothing left to lose, or a child who hasn't yet learned his sense of reserve.
In different respects, Smashing Pumpkins are both, having survived their share of underground/indie scrutiny, and waiting to expose themselves to the rest of the music listening world. I'm not interested in being Judas, or Pontius, Peter, Paul,(or even Mary) to Corgan's Christ-but if he's got a gospel, i've got a tape recorder.
So it was on Friday morning that the Pumpkins' roadie and general pack mule Vince delivered me from the airport straight to Corgan's chateau, where Billy(despite his age and maturity that's what everyone calls him-never Bill, William, or Corgan always Billy) greeted us in a bathrobe, a pastel blue t-shirt imprinted with Baby and a downward arrow pointing to his slight paunch...and very short hair. He looked more like a 6'2 pooh bear than a Rock God candidate.
Corgan's house is within a traditional city neighborhood, only a walk from the Cub's wrigley Field. (This, it turns out was a selling point to Corgan who is an avid spectator of every sport short of chicken fights). his street is well kept but surely not upper crust-little more than driveways separate homes, though Corgan's Victorian era realty has a garage out back. In short, it's not a house, not a mansion, and it's not in the suburbs.
After sifting through some CD's that Corgan's weeding out of his half un-packed collection, billy's dressed and we're back in the car to go to breakfast. That takes us to, Jim's grill a local neighborhood diner that apparently caters to the Chicago rock crowd, several of whom are pictured on the walls. As it happens it's only a block and a half from Corgan's last fixed address, a second floor apartment that at least from the outside looks like a complete dump. Over a generous platter of grease, Corgan begins to fill me in on the Chicago scene, and how they fit into it. In many respects they don't. "It's so weird for here, " he says. "It's like the boys club of bands, because they go back to '83 or something. It's all so stupid and petty.
"We just viewed ourselves from outsiders, " Corgan continues, " and we played as such for a couple of years. Luckily we managed to build up a following and we got some good shows and sooner or later we got some attention," That's the short version, anyway. The long version which we'll get to in a moment, includes Billy's first band The Marked, and the aid of Joe Shanahan, owner of Chicago's most prestigious rock club the Metro, which some cynics implied gave the Pumpkins an almost unfair advantage towards their success.
Corgan, I think, suspects I'll ask him about this soon enough, but that's only one of the many barbs he has received that stick in his craw. "It's the weirdest thing to be in a band where you could take 20 pieces of press, and none of those pieces will say your bad: no one will say you write shitty music, you can't sing, you can't play guitar, your songs are bad. the criticisms are all about your standing in life." That stance, admittedly, is what I'm here to find out about. After all, the reason that most of the media didn't criticize Smashing Pumpkins' music, at least the first LP Gish, is that except perhaps for some inarticulate precocity, it was pretty hard to fault. Evocative without being a slavish imitation of Aquarian-era mystic rock, its sense of dynamic tension-blasting guitar grooves fused to tender, near whispering meditations-captured attentive ears.
Produced by Butch Vig before he was a household name, Gish was a solid collection, easily more timeless than most of its 1991 peers. Still, it wasn't something to be repeated to a formulaically to a fickle, musically over-fed generation. So just how will the Pumpkins will follow that up, saddled with a major label (Virgin, part of the EMI Records group) expectations, is an important question. to spend four months in a studio is not considered proper behavior in the excessively scrutinized alternative realm. And since Corgan is no eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, or Chris Cornell, and the Pumpkins don't have a public perception of having done their mileage on the indie circuit, they haven't gained many apologists. Anyone who let the music slide last time will now focus on it like a laser beam.
Primarily on the agenda, is hearing the rough mixes for the new album (to be called Siamese Dream). But as the schedule is to be fairly open, there's no hurry. Jimmy (Chamberlin drummer) is vacationing in Los Angeles, and James (Iha second guitarist) is celebrating his 24th birthday this night, so he won't be around until tomorrow. However, D'arcy (Wretsky bassist) and her boyfriend Kerry Brown will be by the house later. So Vince drops us back at Billy's, and we start sifting though his boxes, unpacking and assembling the stereo. Corgan spins some tidbits from his sizable collection: Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, a Sweet bootleg, Electric Light Orchestra, a single by obscure San Franciscans the fever tree and country blues collections. His taste is impressively widespread and selective, typical of someone who once worked at a collector's record store.
Taken as a whole, his faves explain some of the Smashing Pumpkin's sound, but leaves just as many gaps. Some of the many other '60's/early '70's bands like the Pumpkins have been compared to, Corgan will praise. Others garner dislike or indifference. "I don't want to talk about musical influences anymore, " he says, "because I think people really miss the point. They want to draw a direct parallel. I take the more the cue of the writer's intention. Hendrix did some great...he called them sound paintings. John Coltrane is an even better example of someone who can take sound and literally create a visual image." Corgan claims, "I never learned anybody's songs, " despite the fact that the band has covered the Doors (he plays me a 1989 live version of "Crystal Ship" that's pretty rote) Velvet Underground, Zeppelin, and Steppenwolf. They've also recorded Syd Barrett, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and the Animals.
"You could look at my record collection and literally everything in it has influenced me, ' argues Billy, " I never said to myself I want to be Led Zeppelin, I said I want to be power, that muscular , rhythmic power. The influences were somewhat of a parental influence on the first album, but now I feel that voice is no longer in my head. I found my own voice."
Parental guidance for Corgan, is more than a metaphor, his father William Corgan Senior was also a guitarist playing blues rock in the early '70's Chicago scene with members of Rufus and the band Chicago before falling into a"Holiday Inn/Murph and the Murphtones" situation, billy says and finally giving it up. Besides a 1968 single, which Billy says he heard once, the elder Corgan apparently has no recordings of himself. Billy jokes that the many boxes present, full of demo, rehearsal, and live tapes of the Pumpkins from the earliest days through last year (truly a bootleggers nightmare), are probably a reaction to that.
Billy claims his father taught him more of "what I should be thinking about (and) trying to do" than strict notes and chords. Asked whether his father likes the Pumpkins, Corgan says, "I don't think he'll ever be able to objectively listen to it. he can't separate the awkward twelve year old me from the adult whose making the music." Broaching this subject with Corgan is very telling he says he feels uncomfortable about it yet explores it openly and at length.
"When I was five years old, my father had butt long hair, an earring, a full length fur coat, and a purse, " Corgan recalls. "There was always people in and out of the house, musicians you know subculture." What might sound like an exotic scenario in the effect contributed to a darker effect on Billy. "The way I was raised taught me distrust: only believe in yourself; don't ever put any faith in anyone else, cause they're just going to fuck with you or hurt you, or disappoint you." "My whole life people always made me feel like a freak, and that I was different. I have this huge birthmark that goes up all the way my left arm. When your five years old, anything that simple separates you. And I was larger than every kid- I think in second grade I was twice as tall as anybody in my class."
Corgan admits chuckling, that his birthmark inspired the name of the Marked, a band in 1985 that he formed with a drummer who had a similar birthmark on his face. Though the group rehearsed in Chicago, Corgan claims that they were so naive they didn't know how to get a gig until they went to St. Petersburg, Florida, and decided to move there. In addition to teaching him how to survive on mini donuts and water, the experience taught Corgan "what not to do, what makes people get bored and walk out of a club."
While the music was completely different, a melange of influences like bauhaus and Ravi Shankar, Corgan calls it "the prototype of what the Pumpkins is, a band that embraces a lot of influences and is not afraid to do all sorts of things." Happy for the learning experience outside of chicago scene scrutiny, Corgan notes that his windy city entree wasn't an instant smash. After returning to home the guitarist came up with the name Smashing pumpkins as something of a ruse. He drafted Iha from a suburban slacker band(as Billy jokingly calls it) called Snaketrain.
"Then I met D'arcy by accident, ' he says and they played a couple of gigs with the drum machine, programmed like a drummer high hat, fills, everything. Before finding Chamberlin. Their disparate combination of backgrounds-Iha's punk rock instincts, Wretzky's classical training (violin, choir) Chamberlin's jazz schooling-seems like a recipe for either triumphant innovation or groping dissonance. "We went through totally horrible phases, " Corgan admits, "from gloomy atmospheric to flat out rock, to mellow, back and forth. Sooner or later it was like this pendulum that started swinging in the middle." While that obviously didn't happen over night, Corgan is not deceptive but a bit inconsistent about the band's early days.
At one moment , Billy recalls self deprecatingly "We were awful terrible, people threw things at us." Minutes later he claims that they were together in a way when we first started playing, there was a presence because I had played before and I knew what we needed to do." And the "instant negative reaction for the band was because we weren't punk rock enough."
How did the band go from being horrible to all of the sudden "like 400 people coming to hear us play"? Corgan bristles when I mention claims of inordinate favoritism from Club Metro's Shanahan-starting with an opening shot for Jane's Addiction, before a thousand people only on their fourth gig. The Jane's show was a "last second thing" Corgan says but moreover argues, when (Shanahan) put us on our own shows in the Metro in Chicago we, brought in "like 800 people."
Ironically, much of the antipathy between the Pumpkins and other sprouted not so much from arrogance as non-communication."No one from the local community ever came and talked to us, " Billy says, ' and I was afraid to talk to anybody...totally terrified." "A lot of people really misread me, " Corgan says when confronted with a reputation for arrogance that he has acquired, through heresay and some interviews. "They think I am a lot more vindictive and meaner than I am." true, the billy Corgan sitting in front of me appears nothing like that. his demeanor is a mixture of acute insecurity and outspoken pride. But he's also very observant and talkative. And that combination can be immediately off putting or endearing. "it's so easy sometimes to hear people talk about you and say things to you, " he continues "and it's like wait a second 350, 000 people bought Gish, not to mention a million and a half heard the Singles soundtrack." Glancing at the platinum/gold record award that sits nearby as proof, I see his point, I see his point. But I'm also beginning to understand the misread.
"It means that somebody out there doesn't give a fuck about whether I played in some band before, or whether Thurston Moore likes me you know what I men?" Our discussion of the Chicago scene has ballooned quickly into Corgan's reaction to the entire alternative/indie realm.
"That's the whole sickness of alternative music, independent music. They're no different from the Paula Abduls of the world, they sit in their little castles and say, Well you're not cool enough, and your not this enough....It's never based on whether your band is good or bad? It's are you politically correct? And who do you hang out with? It's so easy to get caught up in the small, bitchy bickering world of the music industry, and everybody's little allegiances and rat packs and football teams, and lose sight of the fact that it's still about: you make the record and people like it, or they don't like it; they put it on and it makes them feel good, and it makes them love their boyfriend or girlfriend more, or whatever. I don't have to please the Thurston Moores of the world and get their approval. Because the Thurston Moores are no different than me, they do videos, albums, they hire producers..." The same producer.
"Yeah! Everybody is playing the same carnival game, people are just playing it different ways to keep themselves looking cool. And the media knows the difference, but if anything it's the media that perpetuates this myth to death. The english media is the worst. They love that romantic image of Kurt Cobain stumbling from his house and accidentally writing a hit. These are highly, intelligent, creative, people are making this music. They know what they're doing. And the things I'm saying are not knocks against the people creatively, it's knocks against the posture."
He continues:"Who are you to say this? This is what I get from interviewers,"Who are you to have this opinion? What do you mean who am I? I rode around in a van for three years, we had faith in ourselves when people told me, Stick to your day job. My own father didn't care." Corgan finishes the details of their success story- an album length demo, recorded at their own expense, a tape that yes Joe Shanahan took upon himself to send blind to some A+R types, a single the original I Am One put out on Limited Potential with their gig money, and a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, where the fluid and Butch Vig saw them play and mentioned it to Sub Pop.
By 1990, after the Sub Pop seven inch (Tristessa/La Dolly Vita), the Pumpkins were able to choose between that label, Caroline and offers from half a dozen majors. The Pumpkins picked Caroline affronted with the Specter of too many Chicago bands signed to majors and dropped soon after-not, Corgan insists, because they sought any credibility. "Let's face it, " he resigns " the whole business runs on how many records you can sell and how many people you can pack into an arena. And that's what provides validity. If this album sells a lot of copies people will pay attention to what I say, and if it doesn't people are going to call me an asshole and a fool."
All of this , as it happens has been a very apropos build up for the new record. Not only because, when Billy finally begins playing me the rough mixes, one of the first songs Cherub Rock assails the indie world. More so because musically, the tracks fly in the face of all that is taken for granted in alternative music.Drastic shifts in sound within songs, unpredictable melodic changes, guitar tones that change every track (from the sound of motorcycle engines, to fried sitar, to meaty moog, Corgan, his band, and once again co-producer Butch Vig have carefully recorded a production of tone poetry that stops at almost nothing. That's not to say it's light years from Gish-many tracks including Cherub, are more progressions than departures from the Pumpkins dynamic, strange effects on others, including Hummer recall the end of Rhinoceros (elaborated tenfold); and a couple more predecessors on Gish's quiet side. But the misleadingly titled Quiet and the near nine minute Silverfuck, confidently stomp on some of Seattle's finest.
And the album's most affecting tracks-Disarm, Today, and Soma sport mellotron, tubular bells, timpani drums, piano by REM's Mike Mills (so I'm told) violin and cello. Even with the first listen, with the lyrics just slightly more discernable than on Gish, these songs suggest an internal dialogue-speaking through head rushing crescendos and throat-choking melodies-that is supple with emotion. There are easily a handful of hit singles in the collection. Corgan knows that will grate the nerves of the indie rock tastemakers and fly against the precept of alternative attitude. But then, it depends on how one defines alternative; a blunt (and often just as crafted) revolt against quality or refinement, or a driven effort to break boundaries, smear cliches and rewrite rules? The Pumpkins clearly intend to do the latter.
"I totally made the record I wanted to make, " says Corgan. "There were all these rules in my head, like you can't make a record that you can't play live. I threw that out the window." When I suggest that, good as it sounds, it's dangerously close to a new chapter of self indulgent progressive rock-Billy chuckles and mentions his obsession with ELO (which it sounds nothing like) "I said before I did this album that i wanted people to say it's overproduced. I mean if Ministry can do it on a techno/industrial level. If Nine Inch Nails can, why can't I do it on a rock level? If your going to take the time to sit your ass down and write a song, why not make the song sound the best that it can sound? it just doesn't make sense, but again, this is indie posturing: if you invest your heart and your time into your record, that somehow your trying to trick somebody. Or that your selling out."
I, I and I. It's easy to forget that Corgan is speaking for the band, and not his solo project when he uses I five more times than we. Billy notices this and advises me to change all the I's to we's. "I don't mean I the band, " he insists, "but it's what consumes me and takes up a lot of my time." Unintentionally, that'a a confirmation of what separates Corgan from the rest of the band. Billy describes the quartet as totally different people, but "really close in a family(sense)."
Considering his own family experience (his parents are separated his mother remarried) and the mostly negative feedback that he's gotten from his father, that's saying something. But Corgan repels the suggestion that he's a domineering patron or a control freak. "I'm a very omnipresent personality and I could see where people might mistake that." But he argues "We all stand around like four equal people at practice, I don't stand on a platform and yell at them with a megaphone." Nor does he relish being the dominant songwriter-of the new tracks Iha co-wrote only two. "I've begged for more input, " sounding like he's pleading for me to intervene. "I just constantly find myself in the position where I feel like I have to go through people and around people to do the necessary tasks."
When Kerry and D'arcy arrive, I can't help but study her for clues. Though she's talkative and easygoing, even in a good mood she's an austere presence with a troubled tone in her voice and a tendency to furrow her brow. Perhaps she's still recovering from the studio stretch. Brown, who runs the nearby Soundworks, (where he co-produced some Pumpkins b-sides lat year) has brought a long the new CD of his band Catherine, which was co-produced by Corgan.
After a test spin, Corgan gives them a tour of the house. Soon after Billy's fiancee Chris also arrives. After a six and a half year on and off relationship, they are happily reconciled. In fact by the time you read this they will have been married for a little over a month. Chris, who helped set up the house while Billy was recording, seems like a calming presence in his life, though Corgan intimates that it was not always this way.
The following afternoon, Saturday the assembled Billy, D'arcy, and James begin to offer a clearer picture of this band/family, if not a terribly favorable one. Iha, whom Corgan described as "the tour rock god" of the band, is also apparently the most attitudinal member, answering most queries with sarcasm or one liners. His hair also has been cut short (and dyed) and he confesses to an obsession with oversized shoes and clothing in general.
Earlier Corgan pointed out emphatically that the Pumpkins were not a jamming band, so I direct towards Iha a simple question regarding how much of the music comes from Corgan's demos, and how much the band contributes. "it kind of depends on the song." Iha mumbles, snickering. "What's the question?" asks Billy. "The question, " says D'arcy, " is, how much of the songs come from your writing and how much come from band interaction? Band fights!" she laughs. "That's a question that is probably best not too answer, " Billy says.
Do you fight a lot?
"Not about the writing..." says Billy.
"About everything, " says D'arcy.
"I'd say what we fight most about is the intensity within the band, " Billy says, " and whose not doing enough and how much is enough."
"I think it's a mixture of everything, " D'arcy continues " the pressures we put on ourselves. We're just very uptight as a band unit, because of the pressure.' I ask jokingly if that's how the dynamic tension songs, like Siva, came about.
"it just seems natural to me, " D'arcy answers seriously. "I don't understand why people make a big deal out of it. I was brought up on classical music, and that's the way classical music is written. It gets so boring when a band just plays one style of music."
Contrary to all indications, the last couple of years have not been a bed of roses for this band. The recording of Gish took more than three months due to the meticulousness Corgan and Vig brought to it. The end result was impressive but it pushed Corgan to the brink. Corgan had what he bluntly calls a "nervous breakdown". For an entire month he didn't leave his apartment. "In a very apparent way I thought my life was getting better, " he says, "but inside I just got worse and worse until it got to the point where I fucking hated myself. Everything that happened was like this constant tape loop in my head, life is not worth living, life's a drag, your always going to be a freak, over and over and over."
"For all outside purposes, everything seemed fine. The album had sold a "zillion" copies, we were making money, and everybody was happy except me. I'd play these weird little insecurity games with myself, where I thought I was some imposter who managed to slip through the cracks, that it was an accident that I sold any records."
Tensions in the band were not exactly helped by the intermittent relationship between James and D'arcy, or a rumored affair Corgan had with the infamous Courtney Love. "It's true," he says. "Directly proceeding her being with Kurt. Like, by hours. The funny story is, she's told everyone that she flew out to Chicago to see Nirvana (in October 91, ) and that's where she hooked up with Kurt Cobain and they've been together ever since. The truth of the matter is that she came out to see me, I flipped out, ended up making her leave my apartment. She goes to the show gets completely fucked up, goes home with Kurt, fucks Kurt, calls me the next morning and begs me to let her come back over to my house. That's the way it happened."
Reluctant to go into detail, Corgan attributes Love's version on the story to "this weird indie embarrassment." Looking back though Billy has largely positive things to say about her. "She's had a profound effect on my writing and my music, in a more symbolic way. if she had her act together she could obscure someone like Patti Smith. She has that much raw talent. And in terms of intelligence, she is almost a genius in an insane kind of way. But she'll never get her due, because she's a cartoon character in a way. She's completely wound up in the whole idea of rock and roll, the mythology, making sure everyone thinks you're cool, shooting drugs...I think drugs were probably there before the mythology."
The Pumpkins resumed a blur of touring the next year, but things did not improve. Says Corgan "I woke up one day and realized that my parents were running my life from some distance-not currently, but some 6-year old kid like looking up to his parents. My fear of love and closeness with people running my life. And the fear of criticism, the fear that so-and-so is not going to like you in the most subtle of ways can run your life. And when I was finally out of the influence of my parents, the way I expressed it was this kind of constant mourning." "I didn't like life, I didn't want to continue the band, I didn't care about writing another song. The path that the band was on was just heavier, meaner, and it just wasn't doing it for me. There was no emotion behind it. Literally, I was writing songs avoiding the most obvious hooks and choruses, trying so hard to be different. That's playing somebody else's game."
Fans might have reasonably expected another album by the end of '92 had to settle for an assortment of new tracks over a variety of releases instead. But among the piecemeal offerings, there were some telling gems:the hypnotic, screaming Drown(on the Singles soundtrack), and Starla (on the I am One UK single), and the baldly autobiographical Plume (on the same). "These represent me when I don't give a fuck, Corgan laughs, but it was a liberating shift. And the positive response they received-many reviewers noted Drown as the highlight of the soundtrack-encouraged a new direction. "In a strange way I committed some sort of mental suicide. I'd completely killed whatever I thought I was two years ago. I realized I never was going to be what twisted thing I'd created in my head of what I'd wanted to be...a beautiful searing head thrown back, rock persona; It's just not me. So I decided I was going to do the best work that I could do and stop worrying what everyone else was going to think."
The depth of Smashing Pumpkins' problems become clear when i meet Jimmy Chamberlin the first morning in LA. Chamberlin informs me that the vacation he was supposedly taking was in fact a four week drug and alcohol detox program.
Thus Today was written when he was "suicidally unhappy", centers on the line Today is the greatest day I've ever known, " he says, "with such irony, because I felt so low, it's like there is nowhere to go but up." Hummer, Billy explains, "is the idea that life is not designed for those who are cheerful, whistling, daydreamers, (but)designed to be cruel and mean." For Quiet he says, "I was in such a severe state of denial, it was like I know I'm an idiot, I don't want to hear it anymore, it was kind of a swipe at my parents.
"Your making me squirm in my seat, " Corgan says though aware that more journalists will ask him about the songs. Spaceboy is about "my little brother, " he says (Corgan has three) "I don't want to talk about that it's way too close to home." And Disarm? "I'd rather not talk about that it's just too close."
"I don't necessarily want to bog the songs down in meaning, " he says. "I could go on about how Spaceboy is this depressing vibe, or pain I've been through. But somebody might think, wow what a beautiful song it makes me feel good, it might remind them of someone they love." Obviously writing is not an altogether happy task for Corgan. "it condemns you to some mental hell, " he says, though always at work at it (even during the mixing sessions).
But on the other hand, says Corgan "the act of playing, actually getting up on stage is very therapeutic." Though they've already played many of the tunes on stage before-on the last English tour, and a couple of benefit shows during the georgia sessions, there is some bemused apprehension about how this record will be represented live altogether. "Make it sloppy, " jokes Iha. Hating "tour apathy"., Corgan doesn't permit repetitive set lists anymore; "People appreciate that honesty, " he says. "At every level I'm committed to being fair." He means it.
Not only does Corgan insist that they have a local band at every show (try and give people the same opportunities that I got) he's also very scrupulous about ticket prices, merchandizing (22 dollars for a t-shirt is rape), playing as many out of the way places as major cities, and keeping CD prices in check, even though faced with how much they'll lose monetarily.
"I don't want to stand here and trumpet my integrity, " says Corgan, ' that makes you out to be a fool. But people make assumptions. I can see it already, Aww they sold out. When we signed to Caroline, people were telling us we sold out." In fact, frequently in our discussions, Corgan expressed ire that people thought their album was an indie sham, that it was financed, distributed, and promoted by Virgin (who have a stake in Caroline), and that's why it sold so well. "I can't tell you how many people told me, I had to go to five record stores to find your record, " he insists.
Nevertheless, Corgan avoids explaining the cosy jump from their patron Major several times. Finally, the last time I ask him, he sighs. "I should tell you the true story, since I'm sick of trying to pretend anymore. We worked out a deal to sign with Virgin, but in kind of a retroactive way where we would be on Caroline, with a guarantee after our Caroline record came out, if it did bad or it did great we would be on Virgin.
"But for Gish" Corgan insists "we specifically asked for autonomy. Virgin would have nothing to do with the record, none of the A+R people, no radio people worked on the record nothing." Though Corgan doesn't mention it, the best proof of his autonomy is that for Gish, he had yet to sign a publishing deal-his songs were registered only as "copyright control".
"We were at this point where we've got all these majors bidding over us. We took advantage of a situation, and it gave us like a safety net, a confidence, So that's the truth. Never been told." And as nefarious as that might sound it doesn't take much figuring into account how well Gish did, and the post Nirvana environment in the record industry, Smashing Pumpkins could have gotten a bigger flashier deal. At midnight (after 12 hours), they stop mixing in order to hit the hotel's bar, a regular event for Corgan, Vig, and Moulder. Apparently the bar has a karaoke if inimitably pathetic proportions-a handful of repeat offenders who take turns singing horribly to pathetic videos with subtitles, when the host (David Allen Grier on helium) doesn't interrupt.
"Why does this place give me the creeps?" Vig wonders out loud. Maybe it's the thought of someone saying the phrase "big time record producer" a little too loud, I retort. Corgan ruminates on how some of the singers would react if handed Vig's business card. "It's all really depressing songs, " Moulder moans, moments before someone does Mack the Knife, perhaps the worst/best yet. Then at the end of the night comes a version of the star spangled banner so bad it makes Rosanne Arnold's version sound operatic. Corgan, who's been holding his walkman all night, records the whole thing, promising to put it on a b-side if it's listenable. (It's going to be on the b-side of Cherub Rock) But other elements of the band's future are not so easy to concoct...
One thing is for sure. Eager not to repeat the draining isolation of this recording, Corgan and band plan to convert his garage into a working studio. But what, or who will record there? "I want o be in a band, " Corgan says, "I don't think I ever want to be solo. (But) when I think about making another album I think about working alone with a computer."
When I asked D'arcy earlier whether she wasn't apprehensive of the band's future, she said, "It'll be okay for a couple of months and then it won't be okay, and then it will get good it swings back and forth."
"The band is at least going to be together to tour on this and everything, " Corgan agrees when were alone, ' and then i'm going to evaluate the situation. I feel really uncomfortable talking about it, " Billy finishes "because it's hard for me not to be honest, but to me, from a public point of view it's really unimportant."
Again, Corgan has a good point. It reminds me of the time I asked my father a life long Sinatra fan, was asked if it didn't bother him that Frankie hung around with thugs. Dad shot back "I don't care if he's a jerk-I know that. I just like the way he sings." Then there's the argument about the Beach Boys pet sounds-does it matter that 99 percent of it is Brian Wilson and session musicians, and not the credited band? Of course not. So let's make this clear: the fact that Smashing Pumpkins may not exactly be cheery, democratically equal unit should not take away from the fact that the new Smashing Pumpkins album (on which all of them did play) is a brilliant work of art.
A brilliant work of art? For someone whose only heard the album twice, not fully mixed or sequenced, that's a pretty risky thing to say. So when I get an advance tape in the mail, moments before deadline, I'm intent on being critical. But all the tunes that have been ringing in my head for the last few weeks are still there. And I just want to keep turning it up.
Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions
Why is the album called Siamese Dream?
Billy: To put it simply, Siamese connected organically, dream we all know what dream means;so it's kind of living in a dream state, an organic connection between people...
D'arcy: It's going to be the name of our restaurant when we stop being a band
James: i'll be working at the drive through
Is there any way to talk about the recording?
D'arcy: that wouldn't cause us to have massive flashbacks and start going into seizures on the floor?
Jimmy: the recording was a nightmare
James: My self esteem is like a notch above kafka's now. it has gone up a little since the recording is done.
Why did the recording go into overtime?
D'arcy: You always have technical problems, a lot of technical problems...
James:The Florida orange growers didn't have a very good year either.
D'arcy: There was the blizzard of the century. Then there was that weird flu thing we all got, even the dog got it.
So you had a lot of "down time"?
James: Oh, we had plenty of down time...
D'arcy: It was pretty much down the whole time?
James: Never came up. It did go sideways a little
So, billy are you a perfectionist?
D'arcy: And he's not a liar either.
Are you prepared for the major label, mainstream marketing scheme?
James: We prepared ourselves for the sell out a long time ago.
D'arcy: We wrote out a big list of things we wanted to buy.
James: We get the Wall Street Journal.
D'arcy: We know where to invest our money.
Do you have a message?
Jimmy: If you milk a cow like a tyrant, it will give only blood.
James: The arduous monkey knows many secrets. *
Return to the Band's Page