The non-stop workhorse that is Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has been insanely busy this calendar year, perhaps more so than at any time in his career. This fall, he and the band completed work on upcoming studio album Oceania (which is an “album within an album (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope)” slated for a spring 2012 release), while Corgan himself has been dedicating an hour per day to write a spiritual memoir also due out next year, graciously granting interviews just about every week, and has continued his long-running love affair with pro wrestling by co-founding the innovative Resistance Pro, which specializes in concussion safety and awareness.
That’s not to mention the September launch of the Smashing Pumpkins Record Club (SPRC) that (every once in a while) rolls out old and rare Pumpkins tracks online for the price of an email address, and finally, a short but very successful tour through the U.S. and Europe that started in October and which wraps up Friday in Portugal. Got all that?
Good! Now get this. I was lucky enough to do an email interview over the weekend with the brainchild behind one of the best bands of his or any generation. The interview questions cover everything from the Gish and Siamese Dream albums that were reissued a week ago today (each with an extra disc of bonus tracks and a live DVD), to the Adore era and the upcoming Oceania album. His answers are enlightening, in some cases surprising, and regarding the last one, perhaps even newsworthy.
So without further ado, here are the “Lucky 13” questions I settled on and the answers Corgan gave me via email.
A couple of weeks back, you told Crestfallen.com that you would know by the end of November what record label will release Oceania. Is there any news on that front?
We’re just in the process of exploring options, of which there are many in the ever-shifting world we now inhabit, littered as it is by start-ups, former monopolies, and once-proud scions of industry. Answers soon, I think.
On the current world tour that started in October, SP has played about 4-5 songs from Oceania per show, and a couple from the Teargarden [By Kaleidyscope] project. Of those, the sparkling electronics of “Pinwheels,” “Oceania” (the song), and “Owata” stood out the most to me. Which do you find more fulfilling to write as a songwriter: good pop rockers like “Owata” and “Perfect,” or more epic prog rock material like “Oceania” and “Porcelina”?
How a song is produced has little reflection on my feelings about a song, so honestly I judge ‘em on whether or not they are good songs that stand a cut above.
The highly anticipated reissues of Gish and Siamese Dream came out this week (my copies are still being shipped). How would you describe to fans the improvement in sound of these landmark albums now that they have been remastered?
Pretty simple; mastering legend Bob Ludwig taking the original tapes and applying his well-earned wisdom through the ultimate in modern technology. Voila!
The Pumpkins played a ton of shows at Chicago’s Metro club in the early years, so how did you decide on the specific show dates to be included on the DVDS to the deluxe editions of the Gish and Siamese Dream reissues (8/25/90 and 8/14/93, respectively)?
Just shows that were readily available thanks to some old friends.
I’ve always wanted to know how you (and perhaps the great producer Butch Vig) got certain sounds on my two favorite tracks on Gish. Maybe it involved simply slowing down the recording of the guitar with the tremolo effect, but how did you achieve that almost goth-like sound at the start of “Rhinoceros,” and the swirly sounds at the end of “Bury Me”?
“Rhinoceros” is a reverb run backwards into infinity; “Bury Me” is just a series of layered feedback moments performed to achieve a circus swirl.
The Pumpkins started playing “Daydream” live again a few years back, this time with you singing the lead vocal (which was a pleasant surprise). Though it is your song and that you sing on the “Old House” demo (now out on the Gish deluxe set), [ex-bassist] D’arcy’s vocals on the album version will always be identified with it. How did the decision come about to have her sing it on Gish?
Her voice gave the song a longing that mine did not.
Though there was when it first came out, there is no dispute among critics now that SD is a five-star record. Yet you recently said to Matt Pinfield that you weren’t big on “Quiet” and even seriously considered kicking “Geek U.S.A.” off of it. What or who ultimately convinced you to (wisely) keep them on the record?
It was my decision on both. It had a lot to do with how the dynamics of those songs balanced out the others. At our core, we were more interested in shifting dynamics and atmosphere than just flat out rockin’ out.
Though it hasn’t been used much, I’ve always loved the beautiful, sustained guitar lines aided with an EBow on essential SP songs like “Shame,” “Sinfony,” and “Stand Inside Your Love.” What inspired you and [former guitarist] James [Iha] to use such a device in your music?
Flock of Seagulls! And The Cars song “Since You’re Gone.” Oh, and “Christian Says” by Tones on Tail.
This may seem like an odd choice by my favorite piece of poetry of yours are the unsung lyrics to “17” from Adore. After 20 years worth of albums, and a poetry book (Blinking With Fists), do you think you’ve reached a creative peak yet as a lyricist, or do you think you will always have a wealth of ideas to write down?
I feel my best lyrics are yet to come.
Speaking of Adore, one of the all-time great Smashing Pumpkins songs is the gorgeous opening track, “To Sheila.” Who is this Sheila that the song refers to, and is she anywhere near as pretty as the song itself?
There is no Sheila, an invention in my mind of an idealized love affair.
There is no doubt among longtime SP fans that you are one of the best songwriters and guitarists of your generation. Do you ever get frustrated about the mainstream rock media (Rolling Stone, Guitar World, SPIN, & PASTE) not recognizing you as such in their periodic so-called “best” living songwriters or guitarist lists, or do you consider them irrelevant at this point?
I am who I am. Let’s just say real musicians know what I do do.
In May 2010, fans online got to see band members record their individual parts to songs like “Lonely Is The Name” live in [longtime producer, Catherine drummer and D’arcy’s ex-husband] Kerry Brown’s studio. Based on the live versions the band played last year, it sounds like a pretty cool tune, but did you guys ever finish recording it and consider putting it on Oceania?
It was considered, but wasn’t a strong enough song. But certainly well-liked by us.
About four years back, you and [current guitarist] Jeff [Schroeder] played “Translucent” live for the first time ever. For the recently created SPRC, would you consider remastering and releasing once forgotten obscurities like that pre-Gish gem and others, like “There It Goes”?
Those two songs might just well end up on the extra-disc of our next official reissue release in April  for [hit 1994 b-sides compilation] Pisces Iscariot.