The Pumpkins Media Militia Interviews Jeff Schroeder - 2008-07-29
(lookup on archive.org)
SmashingPumpkins.com: Your Wikipedia article has an unsourced claim that you're a comparative literature PhD student specializing in Asian-American literature at UCLA. Can you give us a brief bio?
Jeff Schroeder: I've been a graduate student in the department of Comparative Literature at UCLA for about 7 years. My area of focus is Asian American literature and cultural production (which includes film, theater, music, etc.), but I also study 20th century French and Francophone literature, and a little bit of contemporary Korean cinema. In general I'm interested in the relationship between the political (and I use the term here in a very broad sense to encompass history, race, class, gender, etc. as well what we normally think of when the term is evoked) and the aesthetic (literature, film, performance art). Right now I'm working on my dissertation, which deals with representations of war in the Pacific Rim.
SP.com: I'm going to ask you the most impolite question you can ask a graduate student: When are you going to be finished your PhD?
JS: Good question! I'm lucky because I'm done with all my courses, which means I don't really need to be in LA on a daily basis; so the only thing standing in between me and my PhD is the thesis itself. No small matter, but I'm determined to get it done as soon as possible. I try to work on it everyday, even if it's just for an hour or two. As you know, graduate students need deadlines, so I've given myself about a year and half to finish it. Thanks for asking the question. You've motivated me even more.
SP.com: What have you been reading lately (either for school or otherwise)?
JS: Since I've been on break, I've been reading a ton of stuff. In terms of novels, I just finished Paul Auster's new book, Man in the Dark. Technically it's not out in the US yet, but I was able to purchase an Advanced Readers Copy on Ebay. I've read everything he's published, and I would say this one was an average effort by him. Inspired might be a good way to describe it. I also just read The Boat by Nam Le. Stylistically Le is a very, very good writer. His prose have a way of drawing you into his fictional universe in a manner I haven't experienced in a while. I'm real interested to see where he goes in the future.
When I got home from tour I was able to attend a 5-week seminar given by Fredric Jameson at UCLA. It was wonderful and inspiring to say the least. So after the seminar was over, I went back and read Jameson's The Political Unconscious and I'm about half-way through re-reading probably his most well-known book, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.
Also I just finished Gary Pak's first collection of short-stories, The Watcher of Waipuna. Pak is a Korean/Hawaiian American writer that I'm working on for my dissertation. I really like his first novel, A Ricepaper Airplane.
SP.com: You're not the only academic who moonlights as a famous musician (Dexter Holland of Offspring and Greg Graffin of Bad Religion are two other examples). Do you think there's something that predisposes grad students to music? (My guess: Free time and comfort with poverty.)
JS: For some people it might be like living a double-life, but for me I've never really made a distinction between the two disciplines. As far as I'm concerned, they're both art, and I love being a student of one and participant in the other. In fact, I think the two inform each other so much that it's really shame to see them as two distinct pleasures or fields of investigation.
SP.com: In a 2003 interview you talk about your rig, which at the time seemed to be based around all Fender guitars (Jazzmaster, Stratocaster, Telecaster), and recently you've talked with Gibson.com about having an all-Gibson lineup for your SP shows. Was this a conscious decision when going from the Lassie Foundation to the Pumpkins, or was this a change that happened prior to joining up? Why the change?
JS: Before joining the Pumpkins I never owned a Gibson guitar, so making the switch over to playing them has everything to do with my current situation. Pre-Pumpkins it was all Fender, as the interview you reference states. Since Billy predominately plays Fenders, it makes the most sonic sense that I play something that compliments it. Together we cover a much larger spectrum than one person alone could ever accomplish.
It took me a while to get used to playing Gibsons because they feel completely different than a Fender. Now that I've gotten used to their feel and sound, I love playing them every night. My favorite guitar to play right now is my SG Classic with Jason Lollar P-90′s. I haven't used it on tour yet, but since it sounds so good, I'm thinking of bringing it out for the August shows.
SP.com: Have you bought yourself any new gear since joining SP?
JS: Yeah, quite a bit. I love the Boss reissue of the Space Echo (RE-20). They've put it into pedal form and electronically reproduced the sound of the tape version. Of course it doesn't sound exactly like the originals, but it's pretty cool. It's a very musical sounding delay unit. I just recently got a J. Mascis Jazzmaster from Fender. I didn't like the stock pickups very much so I put some Curtis Novak pickups in it (a P-90 in the bridge and a standard vintage-type replacement in the neck). Now it sounds amazing.
SP.com: What are you running your guitars through when you play onstage with the Pumpkins?
JS: Amps: Randall RM100 100watt head
The RM100 is part of Randall's modular series, which are fantastic. If you don't know about them, please take a look Randall's website and check them out. Even though I change it up from time to time, I'm currently using the Tweed module for my clean sound, the SL + for medium gain, and the George Lynch Mr. Scary for the real heavy stuff.
Dunlop Rack Wah
MXR EVH Flanger
Menatone Blue Collar Overdrive
Homebrew Electronics UFO Fuzz
Homebrew THC Chorus
Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe
Digitech Whammy Pedal
Korg SDD-2000 Delay
TC Electronics G-Major and G-Sharp
I feel like I'm forgetting a few things here, but that's the gist of it.
SP.com: Have you had a chance to play the new Billy Corgan signature Stratocaster?
JS: Yes! They're really great guitars. I've been bugging Billy to get me one. I think he did an amazing job of updating the Stratocaster for use in a more modern setting while at the same time retaining some of the essential characteristics that makes the Strat such a unique and timeless design.
SmashingPumpkins.com: You talk about playing over 70 songs with the Pumpkins (this is also something that Melissa auf der Maur talked about when she joined the band in 2000 – perhaps there should be some sort of "So you joined the Smashing Pumpkins" pamphlet…) how did you go about learning them?
Jeff Schroeder: There's no real easy way to go about it. It just takes a lot time, energy, and patience. That being said, once I got about 30 or 40 songs in, it for some reason became a lot easier to learn and retain songs. But it's hard to remember everything. I try to take as few notes as possible and just remember everything by memory. When I write things down it takes me three or four times as long to remember.
SmashingPumpkins.com recently announced that the Pumpkins are going to be headed out on a Gish era tour sometime in 2008. Have you started working on learning the songs from Gish yet? Are you excited the change in sound and material?
I haven't officially started learning the album, but I probably know at least 3/4′s of it already. It's going to be great to play those songs live. I'm definitely looking forward to it.
Your Wikipedia page was first created in May of 2007 (following the announcement that you'd be playing with SP). It seems like Wikipedia is a good early warning sign of upcoming celebrity. Have you had any weird celebrity experiences since joining the Pumpkins?
Nothing too weird. I've had the chance to meet some very cool people over the last year or so. The Duran Duran guys are very nice, as are the Scorpions. I met Johnny Marr in Australia when we played some festivals with Modest Mouse. That was very cool too.
Prior to joining the Pumpkins you played in The Lassie Foundation. What's happening with Lassie right now?
We aren't a functioning band that plays shows or anything like that. But we do get together whenever possible to write and record. We just finished recording two new songs, "Three Wheels" and "Under the Moon," that will be coming out shortly. Very noisy and shoegaze.
Is there any new music out right now that gets you really excited? What are you currently listening to?
Out here in Los Angeles, I like two new bands, the Sky Parade and the Mezzanine Owls. Both bands have MySpace pages. I recommend checking them both out.
My friend, Steve Elkins, who drums for the Autumns, just turned me on to Fred Frith. Frith is a wonderful experimental guitar player who's played with an assortment of people over the years, mostly avant-garde circles. His 1974 solo album, Guitar Solos, is an early example of his deconstructed guitar style. His current stuff is even more out there. Before going solo, he was in a band called Henry Cow, which I like quite a lot too. They put out about 4 or 5 albums from the late 60′s through the early 70′s. There's a lot of cool Frith stuff on YouTube if he sounds interesting.
Jeff also took the time to answer some fan questions:
"Is Billy Corgan a dictator like the media made him out to seem, or is he easy to work with?"
From what I've experienced so far, I would say that both Billy and Jimmy are extremely dedicated and serious musicians who have set high standards for themselves. They surely don't hold me, Ginger, or Lisa (or anybody else working with them) to some set of expectations that they themselves don't uphold, and from what I've seen up to this point, we're all pretty similar in this respect. There's a certain ethos to the band that maybe some people looking in from the outside forget about from time to time. Some bands like to find their niche and stick with it for as long as it's viable, and this works both artistically and commercially. Anyone who has followed the Pumpkins over the years knows that "the band" (as a concept more than the actual people involved) is an idea that is continually being deconstruction. To me, this is what fundamentally makes the Pumpkins different than say the Ramones or AC/DC (both great bands in my opinion). So in terms of working in the band, you always have to be ready to rethink what you're doing. This could mean changing a guitar part, adding a different song to the set, playing something soft as opposed to heavy, etc, and this is not always easy. In fact, it can very difficult at times. But when you approach the question from this perspective, it goes a little beyond one or two people being easy or difficult to work with.
Wayne Arnold asks:
"I'd like to know what songs are your favorite to play with the band and which songs you hope to play that SP hasn't pulled out yet."
I really enjoy playing songs off of Adore and Machina, which is interesting because they were the two albums that took the longest to grow on me. I've always had a soft spot for Pennies off the Zero single, so that would be my choice for a song we haven't played yet.
"What was it like transitioning into the role of guitarist in the band? How important is it to not only recreate the songs, but to add your own energy and feeling into them?"
It's definitely not an easy job to come into a situation that has as much history as the Smashing Pumpkins. In a certain way, it's an almost impossible task to try and recreate the songs as they were played by other people. No two people play alike. I think they key is to have respect for the material and the way it was played in the past while at the same time being open to exploring new possibilities as well. For example, we play a song like Today pretty much how it is on the record. It seems to have the most impact this way. But then on a song like Blue Skies Bring Tears, the approach we took to the song at the residencies was much different than what's on Machina. So on something like that I was able to write my own parts and put my own spin on things.
"What is the biggest challenge with being a part of the band?"
The hardest part is being away from home all the time.
"As a graduate student in Comparative Lit, have you an interest in seeing any writings of your own published?"
Yes. Hopefully some day soon I'll start publishing some essays and whatnot.