SP Interviews/Articles

Billy Corgan, the mathematician

Puls Furore

April 1996

(Transcribed by Haavar Wold)

Off course we follow European sports; for example, we know a lot about cricket and rugby....Hello!, we think, and start a long tirade about the fact the British themselves means the CONTINENT when they say Europe, and that cricket and rugby only are played on the skerry, in South-Africa and Australia!

Besides....Billy Corgan interrupts:- We have used English producers.Do you think that is possible without being told some story - on a daily basis -about Manchester United and Eric Cantona? Peace. As the only Norwegian newspaper PULS FURORE got to visit the Smashing Pumpkinsduring their stay in Oslo.In the generation behind U2 and R.E.M , Smashing Pumpkins have entered the top 3 in the never-ending race to be «the worlds greatest rock’n roll band»- a fight the Rolling Stones claim to have settled once and for all sometime in the early seventies.Metallica, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan and Co’s latest release, «Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness» has so far sold X million units.

By the end of the year the editorial staff at Puls thought this was the very best record of the year.- Good taste, Corgan laughs - But don’t you use a tape recorder?-No, double work you see? He looks at us kind of sceptical, pulls up a bottle of fresh springwater, and explains that he likes to be correctly cited.- Terrific, we say, then we have a common starting point.- You used Butch Vig as a producer on «Siamese Dream» (1993) and Flood and Alan Moulder on «Mellon Collie....». In what way do they disunite?- Butch is the pop-idealist, Flood is the scientist, while Alan is somewhere in between.The bassist, (I guess Puls is a bit misinformed here- H.Wold) Jimmy Chamberlin, fills out:- Butch Vig is a perfectionist in the Beatles- league, very pop-oriented.Flood is more of what I would call a deconstructor.

They are both dressed in all- covering black, Corgan with a clean shaven skull.They behave calmly, are very polite, and give you an overall impression of being anything but rockstars who trash their hotel-rooms.

Chamberlin has reportedly had periods with a somewhat unhealthy intake of medication, and between «Gish» (1991) and «Siamese Dream» the band was allegedly almost collapsing. Now they appear as cultural personalities - two guys who reflect onwhat they are answering and not to mention how to be articulate. More than working-class youth out of Chicago, they radiate a gentleman-aura a’la Elvis Costello.Listen to how Corgan answers the question about poetry and it’s spiritual content and origin.

It’s a difficult question, especially since you are not an American. Often it is very hard for me to understand the nuances in the lyrics of English musicians.I assume that you have the same problem in proportion to American lyricists.As to the spirit. The music represents life, music is life itself. Life is for most of us both thoughtless and smart. I hope this is comes through in my lyrics.

Being as well-spoken as that, he digs deep barrels to the tradition which in the last couple of weeks has found it’s most prominent representatives in Noel «Fookin» Gallagher & Johnny Rotten.But the Pumpkins are not from «Frogner». The whole group is working-class, from Chicago, at least the mid west.- Chicago has a very cosmopolitan vibe, and we appreciate that the city so openly values our success.Historically the city’s population was distinguished by being dominated by Blue Collar Working Class;those who were dressed to put dirty tools in their pockets.- Different from other cities in the states?-Yes. New York is.......run by itself, if you know what I mean. New York is Sodom and Gomorrah, completely Kafka. Los Angeles is run by the entertainment industry, while the life in Chicago is characterised by respect for the traditional values of the working class; family and work. The unemployment is, by the way, completely average,and the city struggles with the same kind of problems that distinguishes every major city.The point is that Chicago works.- Musically speaking the city has first of all been a blues-city.- Historically speaking, yes. But in reality Chicago has not had a vivid blues-milieu since the sixties.History says that the city was in need of a black working-class.

That is why it also attracted delta-blues musicians, Howlin’ Wolf and many others.- Has the life as a black American changed a lot since the days of Martin Luther King?- You’re asking two white people. It is very difficult to try and conceive what other peopleare thinking. You have to ask that question to black people.

The fascinating thing about The Smashing Pumpkins is that they musically, not in any way, can be labelled.They are not grunge, maybe they never have been- but did off course get a stamp after Butch Vig launchedthe noisy «Nevermind» by Nirvana. They are a heavy rock-band, not heavy-rock, with frequently more space for melodrama and soft passages.

By the way, are there anyone else who thinks that it is just as well that Paul Waaktaar Savoy’s «Velvet» is not turning into an international hit? It is nearly identical to Corgan’s three year old «Today».- We are a rock-band, end of topic.- If we say that we recognise some Johh Coltrane and Miles Davis in your music- how far off are we?- By no means. We are both fans of Coltrane and Davis, but we can’t say that our music is directly inspired by those two. It is difficult to copy Miles into rock, that’s kind of easier with Led Zeppelin, Corgan smiles.- In my record-collection you can find almost everything, Chamberlin says. - Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, Rush, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington - and some dusty Al Di Meola-records tossed in a corner.-

Are you a piano-player also, Corgan?- I play some piano, yes- but I will not call myself a piano-player. I have taught myself how to play in order to write better songs. The songs I write on the guitar have a tendency to be based on a riff, on a piano the process of composition will concentrate more on the harmonic elements.-

You arrange the string-section yourself?

Yes, it is basically the same as «arranging» my guitar-playing.None of them have got a theoretical music-education.- I have learned some scales, Corgan says, but he appears to have a purely mathematical relationship to a minor 9 chord.- I know what it is but theory is only important in a technical context. All the technical knowledge of the world isn’t going to help you write good songs.Music comes completely from the soul.

Do you know any Steve Vai tunes, Chamberlin asks.

He is a brilliant guitar-player, but he doesn’t communicate.

The opposite is the case with Eddie Van Halen, Corgan expresses - Typically enough he wrote his best song and most well-known song, «Jump», on a synthesiser.«The life on the road is lonely», Åge Aleksandersen once sang.That’s how The Smashing Pumpkins feels too. To put it simply, they love playing live, hate touring.It is difficult to tell whether Corgan is breathing heavily, considering the topic of question or the real world-maybe it is the person asking the question, what do we know. This is anyway how he answers the questionabout whether life on the road allows the space for writing any new material.

Listen, this is a typical day. Right now it is two o’ clock. I got up at ten , had breakfast, and had a meeting with the manager.After the interview -we don’t give many- we leave for soundcheck. From there to dinner, before we have to prepare mentally for the nights concert.- Touring has it’s moments, Chamberlin thinks, but he also thinks that too much «garbage» disturbs your existence while on tour.-The Smashing Pumpkins functions too much as major corporation.Sometimes it feels like the music is the sixth most important thing on the list, if you know what I mean.The point is that we don’t want to be fooled.If we don’t involve ourselves in the business we are going to get screwed.It is a strange ,and sometimes, very frustrating situation to be in.«Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness» runs for more than two hours, a double-album that iskind of connected without being a concept-album. As many has discovered it is an extraordinary, fantastic product- as made for playing live, all the way through?- That’s an idea, Corgan shouts. For the first time he shruggs off his considerate persona.- That could really be an interesting experiment. We did it once with «Siamese Dream», but it was incredibly boring- both for us and the audience. «Mellon Collie...» has a different progression and another type of internal communication which can provide for a full run all the way through.It’s time for soundcheck. The two gentlemen do not wish for a repetition of the concert at Sentrum Scene three years ago, an event they describe as a disaster. They have no clue how many people they are going to play for tonight, so when we can inform that there has been sold more than 6000 tickets, Corgan the mathematician is alert.

The last time we played for 600, this will be a thousand more, or what?Let’s hope he has got a different mathematical relationship to his minor 9 chord, or there will be a lot of counting.We approach the new millennium. It seems like the gentlemen Corgan and Chamberlin will put a solid markon the lives of millions of people towards that happening. A special new years eve one might think- and have they started thinking about where to play? The biggest venues has to be booked now,or what?- New years eve? Thats even worse day than Christmas eve.

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