Interview: Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins — "It's exciting to be in this amusement park of fuzz and blurry colors again"
Sat, 20 Mar 2010 18:06:59
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Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan definitely knows how to write a sonic epic.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, his two-disc opus from 1995, remains a modern alternative rock classic—spawning multiple hits and a journey that was definitive for an entire generation. You'll never forget that "Zero" shirt or the "1979" video…Given the breadth, scope and vision of Corgan's work, he might as well be rock 'n' roll's equivalent of Tchaikovsky. There's always a symphonic, orchestral and cinematic thread tying together Corgan's music. Siamese Dream had it, and his most recent studio release Zeitgeist exhibited the same progressive cohesion. However, Corgan's releasing his most epic work to date right now with Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, 44 new songs, released one-at-a-time forming a larger vision. Released via the band's official site for free, the tracks are classic Pumpkins—haunting, hypnotic, heavy at times and simply undeniable. "Widow Wake My Mind" and "A Stitch In Time" show just how diverse Corgan is, while "A Song for a Son" is one of the legend's most poetic and pensive offerings.
The Smashing Pumpkins visionary sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about how crucial "the song" is for Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, the importance of social networks, what an honor it'd be to work with Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino and why the world can always thankfully just go back to Shakespeare.
Given the engaging, visual nature of the songs, if Teargarden By Kaleidyscope were a movie, what would you compare it to?
I would say if Teargarden were to be a film, it would be best served as directed by the great Russian director Tarkovsky. I wish it was more like Alice in Wonderland, but alas I have not had a life so charmed.
Do these 44-songs tell one complete story?
I don't feel like a single life tells only one story. So in that way my album will tell many different stories about my life.
How important is it for artists to tell stories sonically?
I don't think it is important at all. Many great rock songs are more like perfect snapshots of a moment in time that can never be reclaimed, only visited.
The Teargarden songs have a pronounced poetry lyrically that's very poignant. Where you reading a lot while you were writing?
Usually when I'm writing lots of songs I can't read, which drives me crazy because I love to read. I find these days I am writing a simpler lyric, which I am OK with but I would prefer to be writing more like F. Scott Fitzgerald instead.
Are there any authors or works of literature that are especially inspiring to you?
Shakespeare and Bob Dylan I find are always best when trying to goad oneself into a higher level of written communication.
Did you go into recording Teargarden with all 44 songs completed?
So far I've written something like 50+ songs but I think many of them are good but not great. My guess is many of the good ones won't see the light of day, and I'll just have to write more in the hopes of besting what I have. I would prefer if every song were great from now on.
"A Song for Son," "Widow Make My Mind" and "A Stitch in Time" all standalone wonderfully, but at the same time, they share the same spirit. Would you say that's the case?
I agree with that, and thank you for the compliment. They all, I feel, are born of the same 'wandering bard, folkish' root. I might be a closet hippie.
Do you have a favorite song from these Teargarden sessions? It almost seems like the songs blend the classic distorted psychedelica of Gish with the epic nature of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
There is a song called "Spangled" that I love very much that is sitting in a box waiting to come out. It is not often that the songs I love are the ones others love. but this one might be one of those. It has one of my favorite lines I think I've ever written, something about butterflies not being able to make it in the movies. As far as the mix of distorted psychedelia in the music with the epic quality of say the Mellon Collie album, that is probably true about it re-appearing. It is kind of surprising to me because it is a sound I thought I had lost for good but it seems to have organically re-appeared to support these songs. I love the sound a lot and it is exciting to be in this amusement park of fuzz and blurry colors again.
Your guitar playing and lyrics align so seamlessly. Do you feel like you speak through both at the same time?
I would say with 25 years and counting behind me I communicate best when my guitar playing is well married to my voice and whatever it is I am trying to say. I learned to sing by playing lines on the guitar and so maybe that's where that all comes from?
In some ways, do you feel like you're bridging the gap between the modern and classic methods of releasing an album with Teargarden? You're embracing the online platform of sending out a song at a time, but you've certainly created an intricate whole vision with the entire record.
I think we are back to the old way of connecting with people, which is one song at a time. And maybe it isn't such a bad thing that you are as only as good as your last song. It is exciting to be more in the moment with the songwriting and recording. I'm sure I'll make some funny choices about what should or shouldn't come out, but I want to see if I can reach a level that the old way of releasing didn't seem to afford me.
How crucial are online tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace to music? Do you feel like they bring fans closer to the music or make the experience more impersonal?
The social networks, as they are known, are fantastic places to connect the dots between something exciting and how to gain quick access to it. If people are finding friends and, even in some cases, husbands and wives and partners online, then music would naturally be a part of the way that they would share who they are.
Are there any Teargarden iPod or iPad apps in the works?
It has been discussed but someone tried to tell me that it was a mixed bag, that stuff. I am not tech savvy enough to know what is and isn't cool in that world.
How do you stay so prolific? Are you constantly finding new avenues of inspiration?
I believe the source of all creativity comes from the same place that keeps the Sun hot and the Earth spinning. In essence since each moment is unique in our lives there is always something new to discuss.
The visual aesthetic of The Smashing Pumpkins has always been so unique and unforgettable. Do you have ideas for the stage show, album covers and video concepts when you're writing the songs or do the songs dictate that aesthetic once they're complete?
I have tons of ideas but often times I don't have the support or resources around me to help me make them real. I wish I could do all that I dream of.
If you could work with any director on scoring a film, who would you want to collaborate with and why?
I would be honored to work with Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorcese in that capacity because they use music in very important ways in their films. Woody Allen as well.
What's on your playlist right now? Who are you listening to? Also, have you seen any movies that were particularly inspiring as of late?
I mostly listen to Fred Astaire and Vaughn Monroe these days, if any one wants to look them up. As far as movies, I mostly watch movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.
What inspired you to come up with the "open audition" online process for the band?
The open process of audition seems to me to be the best way to say that The Smashing Pumpkins as a band is really about creating an opportunity, and trying to find whoever out there might be most drawn to that opportunity. It has more to do with faith and the laws of attraction than music in many ways.
What's next for you?
I am currently writing a long-form story version of the old myth of Medea that will be published in book along side a story by my friend Claire Fercak. Once I finish that, I am writing a spiritual memoir that would be finished next year. Also planning a tour with the Pumpkins, which is exciting.
What do you think of the Teargarden songs? Let us know what you think!
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