For the past decade, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has gotten something of a bad rap. He’s been labeled as difficult, stubborn and even heartless towards his old band, but when you hear his side of the story, cynical is really the best way to describe him.
No longer with his ’90s bandmates, guitarist James Iha, bassist D’arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who helped the group sell over 30 million records with the nine-time platinum “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” and the four-time platinum “Siamese Dream,” these days Corgan tends to concentrate on new Pumpkins tunes and reaches out to the new generation of fans more.
“I don’t know what to really say about the fan base because when I try to address it with great honesty, it warps into a stupid thing like ‘Billy won’t play his old songs,’ which isn’t true, because I will,” Corgan said. “Just because we’re playing the ’90s music, doesn’t mean we’re embracing the ’90s spirit. When I try to differentiate it it’s ‘I am being difficult because I’m not willing to embrace the past,’ but I’m not willing to embrace the past to the detriment of my future, which to me is counterintuitive to why I am in a band.”
A well-publicized split with Chamberlin and comments about the death of alternative music have made some question Corgan’s musical desire, but truth be told, his love of performing is as strong as ever.
“I still like playing a lot and the fans have been great. I just don’t like the culture of music today,” he said. “It’s an uncomfortable place to be because it doesn’t support, in my estimation, the music. It’s turned into a marketing machine for a lot of other things.”
Corgan admits he can’t offer any solutions to the problem but hopes that someone will come along with something better or new.
“I don’t have any answers. I believe in music, I believe in the band I am in and I like working with them and I am more than happy to play, but the rest of it, I don’t know what to think,” he said. “The industry has been in this weird death spiral for over a decade; no one stopped it and there’s been no savior. We’ve been losing lots of kids who will just go on YouTube to watch a song. How do we gauge success within that realm?”
Although he won’t go as far as separating the Smashing Pumpkins of today from that of the ’90s version, he recognizes why people make comparisons, but he’s thrilled to be going for the ride with guitarist Jeff Schroeder, drummer Mike Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino, leading the band forward without using its past hit songs as a crutch.
“The old Smashing Pumpkins would not have gone along with this version of music, so as far as I’m concerned, why would I go along with it now? I think that’s the commonality,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if someone saw us seven times 20 years ago or discovered us yesterday. I think people follow music because they are unique, innovative and exciting.”
Originally scheduled to be in our area last month until Superstorm Sandy wiped out the entire East Coast leg of the tour, the Smashing Pumpkins will play the Patriot Center on Dec. 9 in support of its latest album, “Oceania.”
“The show will open with the ‘Oceania’ album in full and then we play kind of an interesting selection of songs after that,” Corgan said. “It’s almost like two acts. The dreamy, spacy side in act one, and the second, which is more aggressive and dark.”
The live show is a complete multimedia experience, with the Pumpkins backed by visuals prepared by Sean Evans, whose most recent work was assisting Roger Waters on the newest staging of “The Wall.”
“I had never done it that way before and I think it makes it more interesting to go out and explore the album every night, looking at it from the live point of view,” Corgan said. “We saw everyone out there playing their old albums, this death of alternative nation, and it was sort of an inside joke to play our new album, but then it gathered steam and we decided to do it as a big production.”
A lot has changed for Corgan since the Smashing Pumpkins first formed in Chicago in 1988 and set the alt world on fire with the release of “Gish.”
“When I started in the music business, my dad had tried to break in and was bitter about it and so I had some perspective. For me, it was always like the Wizard of Oz—how do you get to that magic castle where stars are made. Now I don’t see where it works for anyone,” he said. “At the end of the day I still believe in the relationship between the artist and the listener and I think as long as that is ok, music is still worth doing.”