Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Dec 10th 2009 9:00AM by Benjy Eisen
Now, with 19-year-old Mike Byrne on the skins, Corgan is the last man standing from the original group. Sitting in the Spinner offices, he offers us a glimpse at Smashing Pumpkins 3.0, coinciding with the announcement that the band plans to roll out 44 songs, one at a time, over the next few years for free. The tracks will form the basis for the new Smashing Pumpkins album, 'Teargarden by Kaleidyscope,' which will eventually be released as 11 four-song EPs.
All this from a band that released an entire album for free ('Machina II') back in 2000, before it became hip to do so. If history is any indication, maybe every band will start releasing massive amounts of four-song EPs. Then again, that could end up just being a Smashing Pumpkins thing.
Why are you releasing the 44 songs of 'Teargarden by Kaleidyscope' for free?
I've never been comfortable with the idea that you work for a couple of years just to come up with a pile of 12 songs and that becomes the album. What I like about the idea of recording the songs one at a time is I'm always in the moment with the song. I'm hoping it will raise the quality of the songs that I release so that every song is important to me. Hopefully the audience will feel that way too.
It's going to take a while for the record business to find its new bearings. In the meantime, it keeps acting like it's the old record business, which I think really works against the artistic aspect of putting out music. I thought I would walk around all of that, make the songs available for free and I figured out a way that I could feel invested. I figure it's going to take three years and I'm always putting out something I feel excited about, and then I'm also getting some level of feedback from the audience about what they're actually connecting with.
Releasing 'Machina II' for free seemed like a middle finger to your record label, Virgin. Was that what you intended?
I was very frustrated in 2000 when we wanted to put out 'Machina II.' We were out of our record deal and the label had absolutely no interest, even though 'Machina' had sold pretty well. They wanted nothing to do with me or us, so rather than just have all this music sit in a box somewhere, we decided just to put it out. It was a very exciting time because it was maybe an early hint at what we're in now. All artists are kind of in this immediacy where a grainy YouTube video is something that is just as important as a $500,000 video. If it connects with people, it connects. Back then it was sort of a point of revenge. Little did I know that it was a forbearance of things to come.
Do you regret breaking up Smashing Pumpkins in 2000?
Breaking up the band was a mistake because I think it broke trust with the audience. You had an audience that was very invested in that idea -- whether they were invested in the people or the idea or the songs, I don't know. Like a relationship that you break off from and then try to pick back up, it's never quite the same. It doesn't mean it can't be as good, but it has to be different. That beautiful original feeling got lost in the interim of being away. If we had said, "We just went away for seven years," it would have been similar, but somehow breaking up, there's a violence to it.
Many fans said things like, "You reformed Smashing Pumpkins but really it's just in name." Do you think that's a valid criticism?
Anything is a fair criticism. The question I would ask is, "Do I have the right to do it?" Based upon what I've seen since reforming the band, I do have the right. If I felt I didn't, I would sit here honestly and say, "Nah, I probably should've just left it alone." I've been making music with the intention of connecting with an audience for 20 years now, so at the end of the day I have to be accountable to me in that way. I can't not do what I believe in because somebody else doesn't feel the same way I do about it.
Your new drummer, Mike Byrne, is 19 years old. Are you going to let him drink backstage?
You know what's funny? I don't even know if he drinks. I've never seen him drink.
What was the drummer audition process like?
We got over 1,000 submissions. Most people sent in a little bio, maybe a picture and then a YouTube link. We had to go through all these submissions and they kind of wound down to a pile. There were people from really great bands that were interested, and so I'm looking at all these great drummers and I get to this one. My friend is loading up the YouTube clip and the kid is 19 years old. My first thought was "No way!" Press play and it's him just going off at some music store. He's not even playing a beat, he's just going off. I thought, "Wow, this kid is really something."
Then we called him down for an audition. He was probably the seventh drummer that I had seen that day. I looked at him and I thought this kid looks really young -- he looks like the little kid. He was super nervous. I had a very similar feeling the first time with him that I had the first time I played with Jimmy Chamberlin. There's just something about playing with a great drummer that just gives you a chill. The next thing you know, I'm on the phone with his parents telling them that I'm actually thinking about hiring him.
Not to cut him out of the process, but I didn't want it to be him walking into the living room going, "Mom and dad, Billy wants to hire me for the Smashing Pumpkins." I wanted them to understand that it was a legitimate thing, that he wasn't in some kind of fantasy. He's a really great person, a fantastic musician. I love his attitude. Only certain drummers can play like that at such a young age. The fact that he's playing like this at 19 makes me wonder where he's going to be at in five years.
The great thing is that he grew up listening to the Pumpkins and loves Jimmy's playing, so there's no weird thing there. For him, he completely understands what he's being asked to do because he understands where the band has come from. It feels like this was the way everything was meant to happen.
What has surprised you most about your career?
If you went back in a time machine to 1993, recording 'Siamese Dream,' somebody could say "This is what's going to happen" and I would never have believed it. I would never have believed all the bad things, I would never have believed many of the good things. If I could go back in a time machine and talk to me back then, the thing would surprise him is that at some point I was willing to walk away from being servile to success.
That's a difficult question as an artist because art really is about serving. You want to communicate but there was something about the process of making others happy that somehow was making me feel unhappy. It made me crazy, but I was good at it. It's like you're being rewarded for something that hurts you, but yet everybody is telling you it's a good thing. Then you try to pull that energy back into yourself, you try to make it more about you, and then suddenly you're not making people happy. You're making yourself happy but now that's another form of unhappiness because now you're making other people unhappy. It's taken a long time to get to a place of being OK with it all.
I don't get into the grandiose, "If only one person is touched by it ..." I want people to hear what I'm doing but I think I only go so far. It won't be at the expense of my life, my health, my sanity. If that makes me sort of just an okay artist, well then, I can live with that.