Music Interviews

Interview: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan – “The world got the body, but to me, the band lives on.”

Billy Corgan

The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan

After the conclusion of The Smashing Pumpkins, the collapse of Zwan and the publication of a volume of poetry, Billy Corgan has attempted another reinvention – as a solo artist. The former singer of one of indie rock’s most influential bands can’t seem to rid himself of the Pumpkin phantom.

Certainly not when fans attend his shows expecting to hear Smashing Pumpkins songs.

With the release of his first solo album TheFutureEmbrace, Corgan expected to confirm himself as a bona fide solo artist. But he soon realised that self-indulgent music wasn’t going to help his career. When asked in 1995 if he would ever go it alone, the lead singer replied, “I’ve tried and it just doesn’t work without the others.”

“I never wanted to leave the Smashing Pumpkins. That was never the plan.”
– Billy Corgan waxes nostalgic…

A decade later, despite doing it alone, Corgan realises it still doesn’t work. “I’m sort of like a lame, single guy in a red sportscar,” he says of the Solo Billy.

And he owes me a thousand bucks. That’s right. Billy Corgan made a bet with me that he would never reform the Smashing Pumpkins again, replying with a hesitant “No”. That was just a few weeks before taking out a full-page ad in a major Chicago daily and explaining his reasons as to why he had decided to reform the band (flagging record sales?). Don’t jump for joy yet – the other former band members haven’t exactly confirmed that it’s happening.

“I never wanted to leave the Smashing Pumpkins. That was never the plan,” he told me. So what happened? “Exactly!” he wonders himself, “We would have these sort of meetings and I would say, ‘This band should be together for 25 years. There’s absolutely no reason that we can’t evolve.’ We’d already set up that we were capable of evolving. We’d already proved that. ‘Let’s just become like The Who – we’d keep on evolving and changing with the times. We all have or ups and downs, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be together. It’s a special thing.'”

“It just doesn’t work without the others…”
– Billy Corgan on making music without The Smashing Pumpkins

But the other members didn’t feel as devoted to the band. That level of commitment wasn’t there for James and D’Arcy and Jimmy, even though he was committed enough. So at one point, the situation became toxic. “But I never wanted to leave the band. I never wanted it to end.”

Maybe it’s just the concept of being in a band that appeals to him. “Yeah, it’s great. You make better music. I still believe that. And even if you look at solo artists who make great albums – Iggy Pop or David Bowie – there are always these other great artists involved. Some of Bowie’s greatest successes were because of lead guitarist Nick Ronson. And Mike Garson, who played piano on all that stuff with Bowie, said Ronson was way more involved in Bowie’s music than anybody ever. No one knew it, because he was such a humble person. He never tried to get the spotlight. Of course, Bowie became considered the genius.” Of course.

So basically, Billy Corgan wants to give credit where credit is due, except that we all seem to equate the Smashing Pumpkins with him. And he knows it. He also admits that the band lives on in his heart. “After Zwan, there was no question I was going to be a solo artist. The Pumpkins exist in my mind as a living entity that is a huge part of my life. As far as I’m concerned, the band’s not broken up. The world got the body, but to me, the band lives on.”

“As far as I’m concerned, he was playing down at the pub.”
– Billy Corgan on James Iha post-Smashing Pumpkins

He seems to read my mind. “But you will never see the four original Pumpkins on stage ever again, unless it’s a Hall of Fame thing. But you would never see a tour. There’s so much damage, there’s no way.” Such as? “James, that’s a bad situation. I’m not saying it’s not repairable, but it’s pretty far.”

I tell him abut the Perfect Circle concert I attended last year, where James played. Billy dismisses it. “When you go from being in one of the best bands in the world to some cover band… As far as I’m concerned, he was playing down at the pub.” Well, I’m sure they’ll end up in a reunion tour sometime in the next couple of years. But he dismisses that too.

“I’ll bet you $1,000 that you’ll never see that. The bet will last 20 years, without interest though.” So that’s a thousand times 20?

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