ON THE EVE OF THE SMASHING PUMPKINS' SHOWS HERE, BILLY CORGAN TALKS TO KIRK GEE IN LOS ANGELES.
Most of the world woke up to the Smashing Pumpkins with 1992's Siamese Dream, an album that threw some heavy psychedelic tendencies in with an affection for solid-rock moves, and somehow made the leap into the mainstream. Success beckoned, so the Pumpkins spent some time arguing among themselves, then as the world rediscovered punk last year they released MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS, a sprawling double album that went from dreamy, drawn-out guitar epics to full on guitar assault, often in the same song. All this make the newly punk-loving critics dizzy with its complete lack of cool, but people still dug it and now a relaxed BILLY CORGAN is taking time out before their Australian tour to further explain himself.
HIT: NORMALLY INTERVIEWS HAPPEN AS A BAND IS ABOUT RELEASE AN ALBUM, BUT THIS TIME I'VE GOT YOU MONTHS DOWN THE TRACK AND HALFWAY THROUGH A BIG TOUR. HOW DOES THE MATERIAL AND ALBUM CONCEPT FEEL TO YOU NOW? A: Pretty good really. We wanted to make diverse music that was representative of the band in its entirety, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. Now, going out and playing the songs, they feel good.
Q: THE PRESS SEEMED PRETTY AMAZED THAT YOU MADE A DOUBLE ALBUM. SOME REVIEWERS WERE COMPLAINING BECAUSE YOU MADE A DIVERSE-SOUNDING ALBUM, LIKE IT WAS CONFUSING FOR THE PUBLIC OR SOMETHING.
A: I don't know how people are expected to find now things in the same music. If you look at most bands today, they only do one or two things well, so they do that. With us it's been a case of the power of diversity and the power of emotional material coming through different songs, and complaining about that misses the point of what we're about. Sure we could be a one or two-dimensional band, and if we did that we probably be a better band commercially, but it's never been the interest for us.
Q: lIVE THE BAND SEEMS DIFFERENT YET AGAIN, THERE'S A TOTAL '70S METAL "LET'S ROCK" VIBE. DO YOU SEE THE LIVE BAND AS A DIFFERENT ANIMAL TO THE STUDIO BAND?
A: The band is sort of like the weekend-warrior version of the band on album. On this album, when you see us live it's a bit more representative of the album, a little more to the bone as we worked the songs up live before recording them. People always complain "why aren't you more like the album live?" or vice versa, and it's not a snobby thing but we've always done what we wanted, and it's cool if people find something in it, but beyond that there's not much to it.
Q: NOW THAT ALTERNATIVE ROCK IS MORE OR LESS THE MAINSTREAM, HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELVES FITTING INTO THE ROCK WORLD?
A: We don't really care any more. We come from that background, we have that mindset and most of our fans are alternative rock fans, so that's it. I think nowadays it doesn't matter as much as five years ago when you had this huge discrepancy between the amount of records sold and the attention paid to the music. Nowadays, you have a band like Silverchair, these 16 year-old kids playing Pearl Jam/Nirvana music, and they're hugely popular. The validity and integrity of Silverchair is completely minimal. People should just recognize us for our achievement and our power as a musical unit. We never really got in with alternative rock, that community never fully accepted us and we're not quite mainstream.
Q: THERE'S ALWAYS BANDS LIKE YOURSELVES OR SOUNDGARDEN WHO HAVE BEEN OUT THERE FOR A WHILE BEING IGNORED BY THE COOL KIDS FOR NOT BEING ALTERNATIVE ENOUGH, FOR BEING TOO METAL OR TO ROCK, AND NOW YOU'RE TOO ALTERNATIVE.
A: It think the ultimate irony is that five years ago we were this careerist, overly ambitious band, a psychedelic Led Zeppelin/Jane's Addiction clone that couldn't write songs, and now look at how people perceive us. I think that given all that happened in music, we come out looking pretty good. We've stayed our course, we haven't sold out. You can look at the double album two ways. You can call it a totally pretentious over indulgence, or you can look at it as right when the career move would haven to come out with the hit album, we do the opposite. To me, that's integrity - doing exactly what you want, not what people expect you to do.
Q: BUT THAT'S SORT OF COOL IN A WAY. I LIKE ALBUMS TO BE A GRAND STATEMENT, AND I LIKE BANDS TO BE SORT OF INSANE, OR AT LEAST HAVE A FEW PSYCHODRAMAS GOING.
A: Yeah, sometimes I read stuff that people have written about music and how it seems pretentious, and I think, "well, what was so bad about that stuff?" Look back at the heyday of rock and people dressed crazy and acted crazy, so what was wrong with it all being entertaining on another level: What's wrong with a little pretentiousness? The very notion that you're not being pretentious when you're standing up there singing your songs is so wrong. The very act of rock and roll is pretentious: 'Hey sit still while we assault you for an hour with our music' - it's totally pretentious.
Q: EXACTLY, AND IF I'M PAYING MY HARD EARNED CASH TO SEE YOU IN A BIG HALL, I DAMN WELL EXPECT MY MONEY'S WORTH. I WANT GRAND GESTURES AND LOTS OF THEM.
A: Hence the explanation of the sort of band we are lie. If you put 5000 people in front of us, we will kick their asses, it's not fair to shuffle about and noodle them off to sleep. We have the ability to play precise, powerful rock, so why not? I take a lot of inspiration from people like Bowie or The Who, people who made this amazing music, had this recorded output, but managed to be themselves and have fun doing it. We're having fun, it's great to go out and play live and have people actually know the songs. We've pulled our act together, the ego problems have stopped and we're having a great time.
Q: WITH ALL THESE RUMORS FLOATING AROUND ABOUT HOW YOU ALL HATE EACH OTHER AND THE LEAD SINGER IS NUTS, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE BAND? IS IT AS BAD AS WE'RE LED TO BELIEVE?
A: It's weird, so many people seem focused on the band breaking up that you almost feel obliged to. We plan to make another record although we'll probably take a break after this tour because we haven't been apart for more that a few weeks in eight years. So we'll relax, write a bit and experiment with new directions. We recognize we're in rare air here, you don't often get the chance to this eclectic music and have an audience for it so we don't want to blow this chance away. It's a weird act of God that four people can come together and make this think work.
Return to Billy's Page