Smashing Pumpkins - The Final Interview
Over the past few years, the Smashing Pumpkins have resembled a revolving door, with members going in and out and in again. This year's release of the eclectic and explosive MACHINA/the Machines of God looked like a turning point. It seemed like frontman Billy Corgan had finally put the past behind him, and was grasping the present with clenched fists. It appeared as though ousted drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was amicably back in the band, and that ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur had nicely filled the high-heels of departed member D'arcy Wretsky. And it looked like Smashing Pumpkins were diving full-force into their career, once again, creating emotionally charged, cutting edge rock songs that shimmered and shuddered with vigor.
But during a radio interview on Los Angeles rock radio station KROQ May 23, Corgan announced that he will dissolve the group at year's end. "We're at the end of our road emotionally, spiritually, and musically," Corgan told KROQ. "It's time to tell the truth and let the truth be known. It is a weight lifted off my shoulders I think that deep down our fans knew that this was the end."
The band's current U.S. trek ends May 30 in Portland, after which the Pumpkins will embark on a European and Asian tour that will last through the fall. Indeed, you may have seen the last of the Pumpkins (at least in a live setting), but they're not quite done yet. The band will appear on an episode of VH1 Storytellers in August and Corgan says he wants to film another video. Most strikingly, he told KROQ the group will probably head back into the studio in July to cut another record using material left over from the MACHINA sessions. "We have some other things to do," stated Corgan simply. "We want to do more recording."
The decision to disband, follows a protracted period of drama and lineup changes that date back to the 1996 tour promoting Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and the overdose death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, which took place on tour in June of that year. Consequently, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who had not reigned in his own drug habit, was tossed from the band. After a one-album hiatus for 1998's toned-down and underrated Adore, a clean Chamberlain returned during 1999, but bassist D'Arcy Wretzky opted to leave after MACHINA was recorded, and was replaced by former Hole member Melissa Auf der Maur. "We squeezed a lot into 10 years, I'll tell you that," Corgan told Guitar.com in what may be his last guitar publication interview as a Pumpkin. "All this sort of drama, the comings and goings, it's all been very, very difficult."
Yet Corgan told KROQ he's not breaking up the band because of internal discord. He's simply fed up with the vacuousness of the contemporary pop scene. "There's nothing wrong inside the band," he insisted. "[It's just that] it's hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys."
In Corgan's final interview with Guitar.com he seemed enthused about his latest accomplishments, yet somewhat dismayed by the apathetic culture he's surrounded by. In some ways, he's as lost as a film star who's immensely successful, but constantly under surveillance. Not that Corgan is constantly being watched by others, but he's hyper-critical of himself and unable to rationalize his recent fall from mainstream grace - especially considering he's recently made some of the best music of his career. Indeed, Corgan stands firmly behind MACHINA as more than just the return to form the critics hailed it as, and hints that the band's swan-song will probably be even more mind-blowing.
Guitar.com: Some have said the Pumpkins sell-by date has been rapidly approaching for a while.
Billy Corgan: Well, we definitely have other things planned. Everybody wants the dramatic ending or whatever. I think thats missing the point. [Up until now] the band has somehow kept going. [Many times Ive thought], maybe well break up just to prove everybody right.
Guitar.com: What happens to all the other stuff now that youre calling it a day?
Corgan: Were gonna finish it, no matter what. All the people who were so convinced we felt the need to return to rock will be amused to hear how rock the stuff we left off is. If we were trying to return to rock [on MACHINA], we didnt do a very good job. The record does rock, but it rocks differently than Mellon Collie or Siamese Dream or Gish.
Guitar.com: Did MACHINA rock because Adore didnt, or is that too simple of an explanation?
Corgan: Yeah. In a cynical way, people have sort of pointed to our return to rock with sort of a jaundiced eye: Oh, they had to come back and play rock because they couldnt sell any records. But theres about five heavy songs that we left off the album. This couldve been a real, real rock record, but at the end of the day it just didnt work for us emotionally, so we just didnt put that stuff on there.
Guitar.com: Conversely, could it have been a much quieter album?
Corgan: There was a lot of quiet stuff that didnt make it, too. I guess the best way to describe the album is its sort of the middle of the sessions, sort of like the fine middle. The more riff-rocky stuff got left out. The more wistful, been-there-done-that ballads got left out. We sorta tried to stick to the stuff that was more in the middle, cause that seemed to be the stuff that worked over time. We worked on the album for 10 months, so you have of opportunity to figure out what you want to do.
Guitar.com: You evolved considerably since your inception.
Corgan: I think you say that, but you dont realize it until you actually get there. People assume that when the band moves on to a new style it loses the ability to play the old style, which is not true. When were practicing, well start to revert to something, like Pumpkins 1992, and we sort of look at each other and go, Oh, man, weve already been there. Maybe we like the song, but weve got to get off this horse. Were on the wrong horse.
Guitar.com: So how did you turn it into a different horse?
Corgan: I think you just make a conscious effort to destroy what youre doing and just try to figure out something new. Well change the drum part. Well just change anything.
Guitar.com: And then you try to bring the older material into the same sonic orbit as the new stuff, right?
Corgan: Yeah. We sort of found a nice balance between older material and newer material. For the past three albums, we tried to reinterpret the older material through the straw of the new album, as if the old material was written for the new. A song like Bullet With Butterfly Wings sounds more like it was written with Everlasting Gaze than in 1994. Thats the only way to describe it. The style and approach and what were trying to achieve emotionally, its all current. Its not old.
Guitar.com: Does that refresh the songs for you?
Corgan: I dont know. I like destroying everything and making new things out of that. That seems to be a character trait I have no control over.