Head Pumpkin In Driver's Seat On Ex-Cars' Leader's New Album
July 17th, 1997
By: Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports

Ocasek wanted Pumpkins' gifted young songwriter Billy Corgan to take creative control.

When it comes to choosing a record producer, most musicians look for a guiding hand, someone experienced to offer wisdom, insight and ideas. And then, there's Ric Ocasek .

Ocasek -- acclaimed producer himself, veteran rocker and leader of '70s new wave sensations The Cars -- was searching for something a bit more extreme. So he brought Smashing Pumpkins main man Billy Corgan aboard as producer for his fourth solo album, Troublizing.

"I really wanted to relinquish the control," Ocasek told ATN Monday at New York's Belmont Lounge. "It's almost like being masochistic -- I wanted somebody else to control me. Which I knew he would."

Troublizing, which hits stores next month, finds Ocasek back for 11 thoroughly pop-infected explorations of life's troubles and absurdities. For his backing band, the singer and songwriter assembled an all-star lineup of musicians with whom he first worked as producer: Hole's Melissa Auf der Maur on bass, Bad Religion's Brian Baker on guitar, and Nada Surf's Ira Elliot on drums, in addition to Cars alum Greg Hawkes on keyboards.

While Hawkes' playing clearly imbues Troublizing with a Cars-esqe sensibility, Auf der Maur, Baker and Corgan add huge guitar sounds that might surprise casual fans of Ocasek's classic Cars songs, such as "Drive" or "Shake It Up."

Ocasek said he met Corgan two years back after a Smashing Pumpkins' club show in New York ("He was of course phenomenal," the Cars-man said). Thereafter, whenever Corgan was in the Big Apple, he and Ocasek would get together. When Ocasek asked him to pick some songs from a demo that he wanted to work on, Corgan selected five tunes.

"For me, just to have it sound different than I would have expected was my thrill," Ocasek said. "That's what he kind of did. On the songs he did, a few of them changed quite drastically. Like 'People We Know,' which I originally played on a heavy guitar. It was sort of a heavy-guitar ballad. He sort of changed it into a little pop thing.

"On 'Crash Land Consequence,' he picked up elements from the demo and then exaggerated them. That was arranged from the top with a full band. But we left drums out until half the way through, and added some harmonies that were nice that I didn't have in there at all. In fact, all of the harmonies he added I didn't have in there at all."

Ocasek counts Smashing Pumpkins among his favorite bands, and said that he holds Corgan's musical vision in particular in the highest regard. "He's a great songwriter who knows how to get to the point, and he has a different style of writing. Certainly he's a pop songwriter, but he comes from a background of not being such a pop writer. I'm sure he grew up on pop music, but I'm sure he's also been in some hard-core bands, and some harder bands.

"His influences are like he's taken the hard part of music, the hard-edged part of it, and ultimately translated it into a more pop song," continued Ocasek. "Maybe he didn't know it was pop when he was first writing but certainly it's appealing. In the overview of what's going on in music, it stands out as some of the better things that are going on right now in 1997."

When it came time to put together the rest of his band, Ocasek said he was looking for players who not only possessed compatible skills but also working personalities that jibed. "I put together mentally a band that I thought would have a good time together," Ocasek said, "that would be surprised with each other. We rehearsed the stuff we did for a couple weeks as a live thing. I just thought that those personalities would mesh. And it worked out that they did. Everybody had a great time and had fun."

Although the band rehearsed as a live unit, it's doubtful that they'll tour with Ocasek when his first-ever solo tour starts in October, he added. "They're all busy with their own bands. I might take certain people if they're available at that time. I think that Hole's making an album in October, I know that Bad Religion is, and I would almost be sure that Nada Surf might be doing it too."

Whomever Ocasek tours with, he's going to encounter a different pop world than when he last toured with the Cars in the late '80s. The Prodigy and Marilyn Manson hold the ranks once claimed by the likes of The Police and Duran Duran. But Ocasek says he's not concerned -- especially with the hype surrounding electronica.

"The whole techno thing is just taking programming to another place," Ocasek said. "I think it's simple to program music. I think it's: A) not only simple to do it, but it's extremely simple not to have to sing anything on it. I think its the simplest thing in the world -- and I think only simple-minded people do it , that is to take other people's music and use it for themselves.

"So basically, as far as I'm concerned, it's not very original. I mean, how hard is it to program? Not very hard. And I really don't have an immense amount of respect for that kind of music personally. It just reminds me of Suicide (a electronic band Ocasek produced in 1980) but with more parts."

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