BEAT magazine

Scripted/translated by Helge Loy

After a monumental album a monumental tour follows. 1996 looks as to be the big Smashing Pumpkins year. Norway is up. BEAT went to the band's rehearsal studio to see if Billy Corgan has a returning concert nightmare.

BC: As a matter of fact I do. I have these terrible dreams. The one nightmare I have the clearest picture of, is the one where I'm on some kinda Lollapalooza-type stage. Huge stage. Big crowd. But nobody listens to the band. Everybody is talking. I approach the microphone to say something, but it falls down from the stage.

The band is still tuning. I get the feeling that the band isn't ready to play, and I felt pretty frustrated. Have no clue what to do. I walk over to the guitar and pick it up, but the neck is made of rubber and the strings start to snatch. The amplifier doesn't work....I've had that dream.

BEAT: You can't trust anything.

BC: I used to have a similar dream as a kid. I threw a basketball, but no matter what I did, the ball wouldn't hit the basket. It reminds me of this one. An angst-dream. But I'm not very nervous about going on stage anymore, so I guess it's kinda funny. Maybe I'm just suppressing it.

Reports from concerts in the US, Australia and Asia tell about a broad concert format, where big parts of MCIS are presented. From the all acoustic stuff to the fuzzbox's complete walls of sound. We seeked out the band before the tour in domestic surroundings, the band's rehearsal studio to be precise.

BC:Yeah, we really have had some horrible jam sessions in here.

Billy Corgan laughs and waves his arms around the huge studio. It is situated in a bricklayed building in a shabby neighborhood in Northern Chicago, filled with scarred amplifiers, guitars, some drums and various sound gear. The Pumpkin-boss is dressed up in a brownish cord jacket and a pair of striped pants that looks like they once hang in Brian Jones' of Rolling Stones wardrobe. Similar to a lot of great, pain-ridden song writers he seems awkward in his own body.

His low, distinct voice and deep, greenish eyes seems to be in a fight with the tall body he has been given in this life - perhaps a result of cosmic mess. Corgan is being served by an efficient-looking blond woman, who silently deals vitamins, sodas, fruit and common encouraging vibrations. The man behind angst-hymns like "Disarm" and "Today" almost seems happy - the jovial host - as he guides me through the room while retrieving old dusty fuzz-pedals and guitarical rarities.

The old brick walls surrounding Corgan have perhaps been exposed to some horrible jam-sessions, but they have also witnessed some great rock 'n roll. A big part of MCIS was recorded right here in the Smashing Pumpkins' rehearsal studio, and it's definitely one of this century's most ambitious, epic album - a double record syclus that really demonstrates Corgan's lyrical abilities. Here's everything from piano ballads to the raging guitar-madness that got Smashing Pumpkins a seat in alternative rock's Pantheon.

There are also moments of beatleish music hall stuff, queenish guitar splendor and cuts to the aquatic landscape where Prince and Jimi hunt vampy mermaids through eternity. MCIS, which is produced by the British dreamteam Flood (NIN, U2, Depeche Mode) and Alan Moulder (Curve, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody valentine), is a vast sheet which Corgan and co-guitarist James Iha have covered with all kinds of guitar colors.

The size of the project made of course the album the most band-imprinted album ever, with strong contributions from Iha, D'arcy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. James Iha arrives at the studio a couple of minutes after Billy. His hair has been dyed in various blond and reddish colors. His elegant features make it easy to understand why his girlfriend, the designer Anna Sui, recently used him as a model in one of her fashion shows.

But James is no spoiled, wrecked poster-guy. He's basically a normal guy from the Mid West. Like Corgan he has a sense of self-ironic humor and subtle crushing side-comments.

IHA:Yeah, I was in on one of those catwalk-things. (BC gets interested)

BC:How did you feel without the guitar, James ?

IHA:I thought I would be OK. But when I went on stage, I was just another jumpy supermodel. It's scary to think about how we use our guitars as a kind of crutch/mum/dad support-thing.You're in the studio with one. You're at home with one. You go on stage with one. It's like...

BC :It's like....Fuck you, I have a guitar !

He laughs and looks at his guitars. His utilities of creation.

BEAT:Do you support the theory that an artist will have to be happy in order to create ? Or the other theory which says you have to suffer ?

BC :I think there's something in both. If you feel pain-ridden you will of course manage to get a deep and singular tone in your music. But if you're really out of it, you still won't be able to write a song about it. When you hate your life, you don't have enough energy to think about music or career. I think writing lyrics works best when you're somewhere in between - not horribly depressed, but not really happy either. Coz who feels like sitting at home working when everything is happiness ?

BEAT :So you have to keep a distance to the pain before you can write about it ?

BC:definitely. When people read the lyrics on this record, they'll probably think my life sucks big time. But the album is in many ways a comment to things that already are in the past - things that have happened and been assimilated and congested. I write about places I have already been to, not necessarily where I'm at right now.

BEAT:Now that Kurt is dead, do you feel more pressure on you to become the next figurehead ?

BC:. Look at it this way : If someone sees me as a figurehead now, they definitely didn't before. I don't want that position in lack of a better candidate. I'm not interested.

BEAT:Kurt Cobain was clearly not interested either.

BC: I wouldn't be so sure.

BEAT :Well, you knew him.

BC: No, I didn't really know him. But I believe there's a public image and then there's something personal, and anyone who gets that far, helps pushing themselves, no matter how ignorant they say they are. Or to put it this way : You don't sit down in your room and write one of your generation's best albums by accident.

BEAT: If someone were to let loose a computer on your lyrics, words like "belief" and "silence" undoubtedly be among the most frequent subjects.

I guess that's right. I think anyone in our position - playing in a popular rockband - will be vulnerable when it comes to integrity. On one side we have a rare opportunity to be creative and live an exciting life. On the other side we are asked to repeat the same stuff over and over again, on a high level of quality. And these are, as I see it, factors that work in opposite directions. Creativity isn't necessarily about repetition.

But great artists, no matter what period, find themselves in a position where people get so obsessed with what they do that they are forced to repeat themselves. I regret that, but you're often surrounded by people who gain if you copy yourself. What makes the whole machinery work - the creativity - isn't as important as making money. And that's symptomatic for life in other contexts. You have to choose between living life to the maximum or go out and pay your bills. This is something anyone is exposed to, not just people who play in rock bands.

BEAT: With this record I think you have found a way of satisfying people's expectations without repeating yourselves.

BC: Well, we started the recording with a clear assumption that it would be the last Smashing Pumpkins album. We are planning to make more records, that's not it, but we're not gonna make a record that people expect. This attitude, the style, the music - everything is going to change.

BEAT: The band is breaking up ?? Is that what you're saying ?

BC: No, you get it wrong.All I'm saying is that we've reached the end of a creative high and low. It's time to walk in other directions. The possibilities are either to split the band or to force ourselves to go in another direction. I feel that to some extent we're taken for granted. It's hard to explain, but we've just reached a point where we know time has come to move on.

BEAT: What did you read while making this album ?

BC: A lot of spiritual stuff. The Vedaes, the Upanishades (Indian texts), christian martyrs.....There's this amazing book, a 4000 year old sanscrit yoga-thing, but translated. It's a really simple little book. I got it from a friend, and I have read it over and over again. It's about balancing earthly demands and spiritual reception. And how God fits in that. So I read lots of stuff like that. Soul-searching is not the right word. I just tried to find out about things.

BEAT: What do you read nowadays ?

BC: Mostly cartoons.

BEAT: Do you guys have the same taste in music ? What are your guitar heroes ?

BC: I think we pretty much agree when it comes to the old stuff. We both like Black Sabbath and Jefferson Airplane.

IHA: The older I get, the more I appreciate Mick Taylor of Rolling Stones.

BC: Yeah, when you're young you're not capable of really hearing what kinda guitarist Mick Taylor was. But when you grow older, you start listening to the single contributions to a songs. You remove yourself from the solo-stuff.

BEAT: Even though Mick Taylor did solos all the time while playing live with the Stones...

BC: He did ?

IHA: Oh yes. On the records it was different though.

BC: I din't know that. So to hell with him, then !

BEAT: Did you really say you liked Jefferson Airplane ?

BC: The old stuff. We're born in a special place at a special time, so we just searched through a whole lot of music and found what we liked. When it comes to a band like Jefferson Airplane, there is some stuff that's brilliant. And there's stuff that sucks. Simple things, mixed in drugs, dazy, all that "no thought for anything" shit.

IHA: It was cool to be rock-morons, coz you actually found out what was good about all those bands from back then. Most of the young people today don't even care to look and see what's there.

BC: Everybody is so hung up in the influence those bands is supposed to have had on us. But I think we found our keywords more by asking : "What's good and bad about this band ?" And also, when you go back yo the 80's, what do you find worth listening to ? I guess Blondie and Television were OK. But the music didn't have any depth and feeling like in the late 60's and early 70's. It's like cool to be generation X, and you can't wonder why things are as they are. So to explore things like that explain in a sense what we're doing. I believe music is an important barometer for culture.

BEAT: Smashing Pumpkins is one of the bands that has made heavy metal legitimate again.

IHA: And that was...? Well, there are some pretty good Judas Priest-grooves on the album. I'd be happy to tell you which songs I mean.

BC: No ! Don't do that !

IHA: This is a delicate subject between us.

BEAT: You know what I mean. You were among the first alternative rock bands to talk about people like Ozzy and Black Sabbath in a positive way.

BC: Well, I have always said that you can very well disagree with Black Sabbath's satanic policy, or Judas Priest's pseudo-leather things. But what attracted me to their music as a kid, wasn't what they were singing about - even though I was kinda fascinated by it in a childish manner. But the fact is that "Unleashed in The East" is a fucking good album. "Master of Reality" by Black Sabbath sounds great.

BEAT: The big concept album belongs in another period in the history of rock. Was that something over which you reflected ?

BC: I knew that people would ask questions, get problems, react negatively...whatever. But I decided not to give a damn. If this were about a massive concept, I could understand that people would get problems with it. If it were 3/4 guitar masturbation, I could have understood that people got sceptical.

But MCIS isn't like that, and I'm very proud of the album, song after song - they're all different, and they all try to say something different, but yet they all fit together in a good idea, like a novel or something. The fact that it's being associated with the 70's, I don't give a shit about. We saw the pitfalls and navigated around them to the best of our abilities. I think the album is more like Beatles' "White Album" than "The Wall". Time will tell if it holds.

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