- Is it the Great Pumpkin or Charlie Brown?
Smashing Pumpkins singer-guitarist Billy Corgan is the only original member left in the post-punk/goth/metal band. (New members are guitarist Jeff Schroeder, drummer Mike Byrne, and bassist Nicole Fiorentino.) He's taking the restructured group on a 13-show “intimate” tour in support of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor, the first part of an evolving online project that will eventually include more than 40 new songs. The Smashing Pumpkins start their tour at House of Blues on Tuesday, July 6. We talked to Corgan about what's going on. —Jeff Niesel
I just saw you in the Rush documentary. I thought it was cool you admitted being a fan.
They’re one of my favorite bands growing up. I still love them. I’m proud of them as a band for continuing to push forward. I thought they were the most amazing thing I ever heard. They were one of the first bands that spoke to me. They were the first band that I thought was from my generation, even though they were obviously older. I particularly liked the lyrics and that influenced how I look at lyric writing. If you look at my lyrics, there’s a lot of [Rush drummer] Neil Peart in there. When we first started the Pumpkins and Jimmy Chamberlin joined and I realized he knew every Rush fill, I was like, “OK. This is great.” The prog element of the band is something that not everyone has understood, but Jimmy and I were both really into it.
I often read that the Pumpkins “disavowed their punk rock roots” in the early days. Would you say that’s accurate?
I don’t think that’s accurate. None of us were really into punk rock. I loved punk music, but I wasn’t a fan in the sense that it influenced my writing. I grew up a musician dad who was very critical of bands that couldn’t play their instruments. And part of what punk was about was that you don’t have to play well; you just have to feel right. I saw Bad Brains, 7 Seconds, and DOA. I loved them and thought they were great. But they never influenced me. There was a moment in time with Nirvana and Green Day when punk came into the mainstream. Everyone pretended to be into punk. But I didn’t want to pretend I was into the Clash because I wasn’t.
The band had such a great run in the ’90s. What led to its dissolution, which really came at the height of things?
You know, all four of us were all from dysfunctional backgrounds. [Guitarist] James [Iha] had the most normal background. But none of us were perfect people. We were not prepared for the attention. We had two people in the course of our ten years who had substance abuse issues. In addition to that, we were in band that not everyone understood what we were doing. Even though we were popular, we kept hearing that we were terrible, and that I couldn’t sing. There was always this element of negativity surrounding even the best moments we had. Our videos were the only thing that most people agreed upon as a positive. It put a tremendous amount of pressure on us to continue to be successful. We just ran out of gas with the fairy dust. We had seven magical years and since then, it’s been like, “What was that about?” I have a big mouth, and that hasn’t helped. If I had kept my mouth shut, I think things would have been easier. That being said, I’m proud of the fact that we continued to pursue a musical goal even after the band broke up. I continue to pursue the original vision, which is kind of like the Rush thing. We want to push forward and continue to find new ground. I’m only now feeling comfortable. Now, I can do this as I’ve meant to do this all along, with a happy face and a full heart and deal with the pressure.