Back in June, FMQB took a road trip to catch the return of the Smashing Pumpkins in Asheville, North Carolina. The band was playing a residency at a small club and introducing their first new material as a band since 2000. While in Asheville, FMQB caught up with Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin for their first major interview about the reformed Pumpkins and their new release, Zeitgeist. The interview with host Lou Brutus was later syndicated to radio as a World Premiere radio special, but due to time constraints, much of what was said had to be left on the cutting room floor, so we give you (almost) the full interview in print!
11-02-2010, 10:05 PM
What was the lead up to getting this record done and the reassembling of Smashing Pumpkins Like?
Billy:Somewhere along the line we started talking about a timeline by which we would start working together again - probably when I was making my solo record. I had anticipated maybe making one more solo record before we'd actually do this record, but I hadn't planned on spending a lot of time on it. After I did my solo record we decided we should start working and see how well it would go. we didn't set any kind of timeline, it was sort of like let's go and do a month and see if it makes any sense, because we didn't assume that it would work and we weren't sure whether any of the other members were going to be involved. So we went to Scottsdale, Arizona and rented a house. It was just Jimmy and I and the desert. We worked there for about three months, and then went to Los Angeles and started rehearsing. Jimmy's son was just being born, so we decided we'd rehearse in Los Angeles and we ended up saying let's just record here, it's easier, and his family was close. We were kind of settled in.
11-02-2010, 10:10 PM
Was any of this written prior to getting together in Scottsdale?
Billy:I kind of approached it like a normal Pumpkins record, in that I would show up with a sort of pocketful of ideas and riffs. Like "Seven Shades of Black," that was on the original sort of riff tape. I just had the riff over and over again, so we would just sort of play that for twenty minutes and see how it would go. So that's kind of where we started, just trying to find the thing again, whatever the thing was.
Jimmy:The main thing was trying to re-identify what was going to be the new type of language within the music. One thing we found when we got back together was that what we do, whatever that thing is, it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of searching to get there. In order to not repeat the past, you've really got to go to the past and identify what you like about it, and identify what you don't want to repeat, and then kind of throw all that stuff on the carpet and start writing from that standpoint. So it was a bit of a journey. The first three weeks we were kind of scratching our heads, wondering when it was going to happen, if it was going to happen. Then about three-and-a-half weeks in it started to click and things started to sound a little bit different. By that I mean sounding like Smashing Pumpkins, which was kind of cool. It was kind of a revelation. It was kind of an impetus to keep going, and we started reaching small milestones that were more and more exciting. As time went on, we started getting really excited about what we were doing.
11-02-2010, 10:13 PM
Let's talk about "Doomsday Clock" which opens the record. What can you tell us about the song and why was it picked as the opener?
Billy:Originally the song was really slow and mellow, with no lyrics. IT was peaceful, almost like a desert vibe. We played it like that for a while, we really liked it. I had a bit of a melody, but we reached a point where we were bored with it. So, on a whim I said, "What if we play it like really loud?" And it was one of those things, the minute we started playing it loud it just totally clicked. Those are great moments. Then probably over the course of the next ten-fifteen minutes we pretty much sorted out the entire song. As far as starting the record, there's sort of an apocalyptic feel in the air, whether it's people talking about the Mayan calendar and 2012 is the end of the world, or it just feels like the end of the world if you just turn on the TV. There's something about the clock ticking down feeling that just seemed to set the tone right away. The record is sort of a personally political record, so it seemed like the right gut punch to start with.
11-02-2010, 10:25 PM
To know where your mindset was at for recording Zeitgeist, we need to get a background on Roy Thomas Baker. Tell me what you know about him historically and how he was brought into the fold, because he really is one of the best who's ever lived.
Billy:Just to give a quick reference point, our record, Siamese Dream, which we did in 1992-1993, was very much based on Roy's production style, particularly with Queen. There were other sources, Boston and Classic Rock stuff, but it was something about Roy's massive sound that we were trying to identify, and even reviews at the time sort of mentioned that it had that "way-too-much production" thing that Roy was known for. So, to most people, Roy's best known for his work with Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is one of the great songs of all time. Through the years his name had come up, in the `90s for us as somebody we [should work with], but we always heard his day has come and gone, basically. Anybody in the music business would always tell us that, so we were always scared off. We never even had a conversation.
I was with Courtney Love doing some demos for her record at the Village, and the guy who runs the studio said we should really call Roy Thomas Baker. My first reaction was: "Isn't he out of his mind?" He said he was just in here with The Darkness. He's totally on his game; he's never been better and we really should talk to him. An hour later I was on the phone with one of my idols from the recording side. Right away we hit it off, so Roy actually came to visit us when we were working in Scottsdale. He's his own man. He doesn't bend for anybody. Most producers try to pretend they're your friend or something, Roy's just himself. He doesn't pretend not to be your friend.
Right away we were really engaged by the fact that he wasn't fazed by anything we said. It was interesting because our first reaction was: He's this famous producer; he's going to come in and tell us what to do. Is that going to be a good thing or a bad thing? He would just come and say, "well, that's good." We were waiting for this revelation of, "You need the angel choir and the marching band," and there wasn't any of that.
We we're going: We thought you were the guy! Aren't you the guy? But there's something about the way he just kind of sits there and talks to you about music from a very passionate point-of-view, that suddenly we found ourselves, starting to think like him, and we realized that our thinking was really small and his was much bigger. His thinking was: Whatever we have to do to make the song great - it doesn't matter if it sounds like Queen or if it sounds like the garbage man. That started changing our minds. The next thing you know we started thinking like Roy, which is hard to explain quickly in an interview. So he became this dominant presence through the record. We're just in total awe with what he brought to the table.
11-02-2010, 10:38 PM
The two of you being not just musicians but the music fans that I know the two of you to be, you probably have to have picked him for at least an anecdote, a story about stuff that he had done. Jimmy, was there something that you had to go to him for that you thought: You have to tell me how you got this drum sound, or how you did this. What did you ask him first thing?
Jimmy:Oh, man, there are just so many stories. Everyday was just... how did you do this? How did you do that? I asked him a lot about The Cars' drum sound. I'm a huge fan of the way the toms sound on those records. He's such a sonic master, and there's no really one thing that he does. He basically takes what you have and makes it twenty times better.
Billy:Most producers will try to adapt you to their toolbox. He's such a master that he creates tools for you. Like right away, because Jimmy's obviously a different drummer than say Roger Taylor of Queen. Even though we love that drum sound, we would think, "Is that going to be a good drum sound for Jimmy?"
11-02-2010, 10:43 PM
Talk to me about the cording of the first single "Tarantula."
Billy:Quickly put, he just destroyed this mix. It's so loud. I like it loud and I like it cranked up, but I remember when we were mixing this song, standing there thinking, "I don't know. This is really over the line." Of course it's the the first sing and, again, Roy's not that type of person sitting there thinking: "Oh, this might be the first single, so I need to pull this back. I need to be more conservative." He's the other way. It's like; we're going to go down in flames. So if you listen to the mix of this song it is us going down his lanes.
Jimmy: It was like working with a little kid. He's the Willy Wonka of sound. As soon as he hears something he likes, whether it's the guitar solo or the vocal track, he just turns it all the way up, and you're thinking "We can't do that. We can't turn up a guitar that loud." And he's like, "What do you mean? Why?" Not to get too technical about the way he does things, but we would come in and listen to something and say, "Oh, the bass is too low." and he would have the mix totally dialed in, and say, "Oh, okay. If you think the bass is too low we'll start over and we'll work it from the bass up." No matter what we would say, we would always end up exactly wherever I was when we came into the room the first time. And if you turned anything down at all, the whole mix would just crumble. It was wound so tight that as soon as you touched something the whole thing would just disintegrate. IT was really dumbfounding to watch the guy work.
11-02-2010, 10:47 PM
How have you evolved working on records through the years in regard to knowing when it's done and knowing when to stop finagling with it?
Billy:We may never learn that lesson. We were fiddling with stuff literally to the last second. I take a lot of blame for that. I'm more detailed oriented probably than anybody I've worked with - all the producers, everything, even Roy. People commonly call it perfectionism, but I feel a little bit like a painter because as the person who generates the original idea, and writes the song and understands the 3-D landscape of the lyric. I have to put it all together so if some element is not supporting another element that I'm intrinsically involved in, then there's some part of me getting disappointed. The singer's always mad at the guitar player. I write these beautiful lyrics and the guitar's so freakin' loud you can't hear what I'm saying. So there's always these battles going on internally, but on the outside it's just looks like my sad song, but inside it's this whole conversation going on. It's very hard to know when things are done.
11-02-2010, 10:52 PM
What can you tell me about "Bleeding The Orchid?"
Billy:I wasn't trying to emulate, but when we first came up with it, it reminded me emotionally of an Alice In Chains song. Alice In Chains was a band that I didn't fully appreciate in the early `90s, because we were all sort of competitive. All the bands were vying for attention. They were kind of more Metal; they weren't as Alternative. I didn't really appreciate how brilliant Jerry's writing was, how brilliant Layne's singing was. I wasn't man enough to really appreciate what an incredible band it was. So, there was something about the emotional landscape of that song that reminded me of Alice In Chains. Somehow that stirred me and got me thinking about Layne, what he had been through, and what a lot of us had been through from the Gen X bands. Jimmy's a father now. Courtney's on round 17 of drama. It's not fresh anymore. We're all adults, and we all have our own version of scars and stuff, so it's a bit of a cost assessment song about what it meant to actually go through that. Not in any kind of victim, pity way, but more like looking at a building that's been shot up after a war is what it feels like to me. It's not drama, it's this is what really happens as you go through that.
11-02-2010, 11:02 PM
When you are creating an artistic package like this, there is the further interdependency of artwork, video work. How hands on are you in the creation of all this? Let's begin with the album cover which really, to me, has a vibe of a World War propaganda poster.
Billy:I had a long conversation with Shepard Fairey about the themes of the record and asked if he could sum that up very simply like propaganda and he really did that.
Jimmy:I think I got an e-mail with about five mock-ups, and when I saw that one, I literally walked down the hall and got Billy and came back and we looked at it and thought, "That's it."
Billy:Our first reaction was, "Holy you-know-what!" It made us sweat. It made us uncomfortable, but we couldn't tell you why. Simply put, we've avoided politics because we think politics is full of you-know-what. It's a game for chumps. While they've got the whole world thinking about left vs. right, there are people in back rooms making real deals. I'm old enough and met enough people in the government to know what really goes on. Not that I have some inside knowledge. I know that there's something going on, and I don't have to know what's going on. So, we don't play that game. I was asked by the Kerry campaign in 2004 thing to show up for something to be on stage, and I said "no." It's not that I wanted to elect Bush president again, I just don't believe in the process. We had two Skull & Bones members up there running against each other. It's like you have two presidential candidates from a secret society that don't talk about their secret society, but they're going to be president of the free world. That frightens me as a U.S. citizen. So we've avoided politics. We've avoided making a political statement. But at this point, the politic of our country is interwoven into our daily lives. It's inescapable. Every time you go through an airport you're reminded. I was in New York, ten blocks away, when 9/11 happened. Every aspect of it is now interwoven in our daily life. There are kids dying. I went to Walter Reed and met a bunch of the Marines with their arms and legs blown off, and talked to them about what their life is like and going to be like. It gets in your DNA. It's not this existential concept like, "Yeah, they're over there." So, it made us uncomfortable but we didn't know why. I guess it's that contradiction that a lot of citizens feel that we really love our country, but we're not sure about the way it's going. We're not sure what we can do. we're not sure even what we can say. T he wfew exmples where people have stood up and said anything, they get their heads whacked off. And they're up there in the same headline with Paris going to Burger King. It's a really weird time. He seemed to sum up the simplicity of that contradiction and I think that's what made us sweat.
11-02-2010, 11:08 PM
Speaking of Paris Hilton, amongst the artwork there is a shot of her that you took. Can you explain how that came about?
Billy:Yes. Through Courtney Love in Los Angeles I got to run in whatever that circle is. The original idea was, and I almost went for it, was we were going to see if Lindsay, Britney and Paris would all shoot for the album. But ultimately decided that that was probably going to be too prohibitive because then you would get into those girls fighting amongst each other. Britney probably wouldn't do it, would be my guess, so without the Holy Trinity. And part of the setup of that concept is I went on KROQ in Los Angeles on May 23, 2000 and announced that the band was going to break up. Tammy Heide was deejay and asked the "Why?" question. I jokingly said "because we're tired of fighting Britney Spears." The mainstream media of this country is so unintelligent that they actually picked up on it as a real quote and it became that we were breaking up because of Britney Spears. We took a tremendous amount of criticism for that. It was about as close as we ever came to we're bigger than Jesus Christ - John Lennon. So this is kind of a long range piss take. If we had Britney, it would have been perfect. But, anyway, so Paris I knew personally, hung out with her a few times and I asked her if she would be willing to do this, and God bless her, she showed up at 10am on a Sunday morning, sat there in the chair, got made up, and said "What do you want me to do?" We shot her. She was awesome about it, totally fantastic.
11-02-2010, 11:11 PM
With that said, tell me about the song "Starz."
Billy:That's the existential question. Speaking personally, there's a responsibility to talent, celebrity, fame, public acclaim, any level of that. We've entered into a new age where there seems to be no responsibility attached to notoriety. It's not to say that there weren't examples in the past, but now this is a trend that dominates the other trend. There are people now who sit around and strategize what drama to get their celebrity in next, because they know that's what they need to generate the energy to get some ad campaign. When you get into that kind of stuff, you do really end up with people taking crazy risks. Rehab is no longer a bad thing. It used to be rehab was like, shame, go away, you're going to rehab. Now rehab's like a strategic move.
11-02-2010, 11:18 PM
With all the changes in the music business, where do you see the greatest challenges both as artists and as guys trying to make a living? Also, where do you see the greatest opportunities with everything that's changing?
Billy:It seems like they go together. It's easy to sit around and lament the death of the music business, but I have to remind myself that we helped kill it. We were somewhat instrumental in helping create the trend that is now existent, which is everybody downloading for free when we released an album for free on the internet in 2000. It really was a wholly F.U. to the establishment that we were operating in because we were so sick of getting our rear ends kicked around by people who would care less about music. Now the day has come that the music business is really gasping its last breath. It's not going to die, but it's really not the business that we grew up in - which, to the normal consumer, I think they don't care. They're just looking at it as a quality issue.
So our job is to have very high level quality, and quality in terms of us means, we can't sell out, but it's not the 1992 version of sell out. Sell out now is like don't get into Pro Tools land and get into thinking that you have to play to some particular demographic that's still buying records. Not to bore anybody, but if you could hear some of the conversations that go on behind closed doors, it's frightening what people suggest to your - what you should do to "recapture the old spirit." We sat around and thought; Well, the old spirit was we don't give a damn. So the more we don't give a damn, the more people seem to like us. The more we seem to care about those things that we're supposed to are about, it's when people seem to get really bored with us. So our job is just to be adaptable, be musical, and be deadly both as a live act and as a recording artist.
We're about to get out of a record deal. We may stay and we may go. But if we go, we're goin'! We'll start releasing songs weekly, and it won't be about singles and any of that stuff. You start talking to people who are in the other end of the business, retailer and stuff. They no longer see that they have to get their music from one of the three labels. They're interested in you just giving them stuff, directly, so as soon as you start seeing that relationship, you start thinking, "Wow!, there's a lot of you can do without have to answer to some big daddy up there who's got his dick in something else."
11-02-2010, 11:21 PM
When you do something like the string of shows in Asheville and San Francisco, do you know at the time that you're doing something significant in the band's history, or does that get sorted out later?
Billy:We took it as an opportunity to write and push the band over the cliff. It was an artistic opportunity, and was very interesting because it put us in front of small, supportive crowds that we could wipe out in front of. We wanted to come out of those string of shows as a stronger unit and have something more interesting to say than just a few hits, a few new songs.
11-02-2010, 11:22 PM
How was working in older stuff with the new stuff mixed in?
Billy:So far we've pretty much been the happy Pumpkins. We're getting ready to bring in the old, lightening bolt throwing Pumpkins, so we're starting to go there again.
Jimmy:Yeah, starting to darken up a little bit in a nice way.
11-02-2010, 11:23 PM
Do you need that? Is that good?
Billy:You've got to stand in the rain to appreciate the sunshine.
11-02-2010, 11:23 PM
Elvis The Fat Years
11-02-2010, 11:31 PM
an interview from 2007 that i read in 2007. thnx.
11-02-2010, 11:35 PM
Yeah, great wasn't it? Uhh, really I just got done moving and found this thing still floating around from two houses ago. Once I scan it and upload it to some archive somewhere, I'll sell it on Ebay to some fool for millions, claiming it's the only copy.
11-03-2010, 12:38 AM
Politics: A Game For Chumps
11-17-2010, 12:38 AM
No problem. BTW, there's a fucking gremlin on the wing. You'd better watch out.
Edit: I didn't mean to resurrect this. Sorry. Let `er filter down. I'll see everyone again in about three weeks.
11-17-2010, 10:31 AM
That's actually a really good interview. Thanks! Almost makes me want to go back and listen to Shitgiest...
11-18-2010, 12:50 AM
I was going to go back and listen to it again, then I realized I just wanted to hear Superchrist, which is/is not an album cut.