Billy Corgan and D'arcy Talk About What's Next For Smashing Pumpkins
Greg Kot - Request Magazine Jan 1997
(Sent to us by E C Stahlberger)
Sitting in the Smashing Pumpkins' festive, paisley-dressed dressing room backstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City Billy Corgan is characteristically at a loss for words. Head shaven and sipping on bottled water, he looks more lanky and vulnerable than he has in years. "We were extremely excited about playing here the first time around, " he says, referring to the canceled July concert that was rescheduled for tonight. "But today I have to admit that it feels slightly ominous." Sitting next to him, the band's bassist D'arcy nods ruefully. "I'm a bit paranoid about coming back to this place, " she says draping a zebra striped jacket over her slender shoulders. She shivers slightly.
Corgan and D'arcy realize that they are even fortunate to be in this room, still together as bandmates, still touring North America in support of 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, in the aftermath of a summer they would rather forget. For many rock bands, headlining at the Garden is a career pinnacle, and it was no different for the Pumpkins. But on the morning of July 12th, the day the band was to begin a two night sold out stand at the arena, Corgan, D'arcy, and guitarist James Iha were awakened by shocking news: Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and tour Keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin had overdosed on Heroin, and Melvoin was dead. Instead of marching into the Garden in triumph they marched to the police station for questioning.
Chamberlin spent ten hours in a cell and eventually was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. Three days later, Melvoin was buried, and five days later, the Pumpkins fired Chamberlin. (Chamberlin could not be reached for comment on this article. In october the drummer pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct and was released by a New York judge pending successful completion of a drug rehabilitation program. His attorney Richard Schaffer, has indicated that the drummer's sense of remorse is profound-"A friend passed away, and it has affected his life in a significant way"-and that Chamberlin is committed to getting himself healthy.")
Rather than fold the Pumpkins went back to work with a vengeance: they hired a new drummer Matt Walker of the industrial band Filter, and a new touring keyboardist Dennis Flemion of snide popsters the Frogs, and were back in the road in six weeks. As the year ended the band released a flood of new music in a five CD box set, The Aeroplane Flies High, containing five A-side and 28 b-side singles, a new song for the David lynch film Lost Highway and instrumental music for the soundtrack to Ron Howard's mel Gibson vehicle Ransom.
At Madison Square Garden in the city where it almost ended a few months before, Corgan and D'arcy agreed to talk about why they decided to talk about why they decided to keep the band going after the unthinkable happened, and what they plan to do after the current tour ends in early 1997.
Request: This is an anniversary of sorts. in July, you were supposed to play Madison Square Garden for the first time only to get the call about Jimmy and Jonathan.
D'arcy: When I first found out, my first thought was, it's over. there is no way we could keep it going.
Billy: I never thought it was going to end the band. For me, the question was how are we going to continue? And then when we started continuing, we just realized that Jimmy was not part of that picture.
D'arcy: I never thought of the band without him. i thought that without him the band would just stop.
Request:Some people say you should have stuck with Jimmy or broke up the band out of respect for him and Jonathan.
Billy: When we lost Jonathan, we lost a friend, but we didn't lose our band in the process. In the context of the band, losing Jimmy was a bigger blow. Jonathan was a hired on musician who became a friend, and we suffered the grieving that you would with any friend who passed away. But I was very close to Jimmy, and obviously Jimmy was a big force in the potency of us getting our music across. For anyone who doubts our decisions in this, and I've read and heard people doubting the severity or the cruelty of the decision, they just don't know the 8,000 roads we've been with that man.
D'arcy: Some people think it's so terrible of us to turn our backs on him because he has a drug problem. But that was just one facet of our problems with him and that he has with himself. I mean you take away the drugs-say God comes down and says "Jimmy will never do drugs again, you have my word" that wouldn't be good enough for me.
Billy: There's still a pile of problems. Gooch (the band's tour manager, tim Lougee) still speaks to jimmy often, and Jimmy's basically communicated back through Gooch that he's thankful he got kicked out of the band. He believes it's important and that it was necessary. At least Jimmy is appreciative of it, because he realizes why it was made. Everybody wants to turn to Jonathan's death and that incident, but it's just the end of a long, long road, and people who aren't on the inside of that are never going to understand.
Request: I take it that there was an element of deception involved, that jimmy was lying about his drug problem?
Billy: You could never have a clean open relationship with him because there would always be that question in the back of your head.And we reached a point where we just couldn't continue that way. On a crass business level, you have dates and commitments-it's a whole little army moving around. you cannot be questioning on a daily basis whether someone is going to flake out. The other end of that is just the personal insidiousness of it all. You're asking yourself what has the eight and a half years(of playing with Chamberlin) brought us? If you've known someone for eight years, that's not necessarily a long time, but when you play with them in a band, and you've spent God knows how many hours like this (sweeps his hand across the dressing room) telling jokes and sitting in fucking airports and da-da-da-da, that's like 56 dog years. When you down to the end of the road and you realize that the house you have is made of cards and that your crossing your fingers and hoping that someone doesn't pull out the bottom card, that is just not acceptable. And certainly, at this level, it's just too much stress. At this level, you have so many people leaning on you from so many different directions, so much stress that if the four core members are not tight...
D'arcy: There's already so much that can go wrong, and does go wrong you don't need to have something around you that you know is going to go wrong. It's just a matter of when the bomb is going to explode?
Billy: With Jimmy you are looking at a guy coming from fucking Joliet (Illinois). I met the guy and he was playing in Holiday Inn bands. This is a man who came from nothing, is not affluent, who is not highly educated, and has gone on to become one of the most respected drummers of his generation. Just his individual story is a complete tragedy. I believe that God gives you a couple of warnings, and the warnings were all there for him to see, and for whatever reason, he didn't see them. He's lucky to be alive.
Request: Jimmy had been struggling with his addictions for years. What did you do to help him with his problems?
Billy: You can only get involved as far as somebody will let you. We had a meeting with Jimmy literally two or three days before this happened where I said "something's wrong, your not acting normal, and you need to tell me what's going on." And he said "There's absolutely nothing wrong. Your seeing ghosts. Your paranoid. Don't worry everything's fine. So were in our late 20's and jimmy is in his early 30's. What are we gonna do send him to his room?
D'arcy: How hard is it to help someone who wants to come clean? So how are you going to do if someone doesn't want to? Lobotomize him?
Billy: If people question our integrity at all about Jimmy's well being he'd still be in the band-if we didn't care about Jimmy's well being. Firing a core member of a multi-platinum rock band is an extremely heavy business decision-you're basically threatening your entire little empire.
D'arcy: Shaking it from it's foundation.
Billy: Like we might not have been able to ever make confident music again. For all we knew we might not have been able to ever go on tour again. For all we knew every fan was going to turn their backs and say "I'm not interested in them anymore." So (the comments about abandoning Chamberlin are) puzzling to me. We were willing to put this man's life ahead of everything, as we told him personally. But unfortunately, he didn't put his life ahead of everything.
D'arcy: And as far as people saying what we did was cruel, what about what he was doing without a care for us or the band or the preponderance of people within the Pumpkin corporation working for us. He wasn't thinking about that at all.
Request: The tour ends February 1st. What happens then? Will there be another Pumpkins album? Last year you were saying that this would be the end of a cycle, and then everything would be up for grabs.
Billy: Were going to sit down and evaluate everything at the end of the tour, but I feel fairly confident at this pint that were going to make another record. That's pretty much a certainty. I can't speak for everybody but that's the basic sense that I get. I don't know about you (looks at D'arcy) but I know that James wants to make another record.
D'arcy: I'm not ready to think about the studio. I can't imagine not doing another one. But I can't...
Billy: Her point is well-taken. Let's just see where we are when we get there. But for me I need to start planning. I need to start writing. I am planning on making another Smashing Pumpkins record. As far as all those other things, I don't know. Jimmy will absolutely never rejoin the Smashing Pumpkins. That's a definite. Whether Matt continues with or without us, we don't even know how Matt is gonna feel after six months of playing with us. We're a pretty hardcore bunch of people. Jonathan wasn't involved in any kind of musical decision making. Obviously, Matt playing the drums, he's involved in that now. Seeing how we are bouncing back off him makes me realize how insanely hardcore we are about how we play the music, and there's not a lot of quarter given. All we said was "We need you to finish the tour." And whether there's a future in the band or anything who knows? That applies to him and to us. Put it this way, if we decide to continue with the band our options are completely wide open.
Request: You have got some new music coming out on several movie soundtracks. Is that indicative of where the next album will be headed?
Billy: I just did some music for the Ron Howard movie, Ransom, and some of it is indicative to me of what is ahead-not necessarily the music which is very aggressive electronic music, but the process by which I'm going to approach it. If we do decide to make another record, we feel completely free of the burden of having to do anything, including playing live. I think if we do anything, it will be more music focused and less grind focused.
Request: It seems like the Pumpkins have always been dealing with some form of adversity. The scenesters in Chicago hated when you were coming up for not being indie enough, then you nearly broke up during the Siamese Dream sessions, and now this tragedy. Each time you find a way to keep progressing, and arguably your music has gotten better with each step. It seems like the adversity makes you a better band.
Billy: I think we are the most willful people in a band you would ever want to meet. And we have sacrificed every personal thing we could have to make the music better. And I know a lot of people think that's a corny postion to take. We gave up a lot of family time, home time, all to basically to pursue the Pumpkin dream whatever you want to call it. The things that have happened to us most people would construe as negative, everytime it is put up against the thing: Is the music important enough for us to overcome whatever were facing? And we can take solace and comfort and strength in the music. Every time we have managed to do that.*
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