Gibson Guitar Interview - 2008-03-03
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The Smashing Pumpkins broke into the musical mainstream with their second album, Siamese Dream. The group built their audience with extensive touring and their follow-up, 1995′s double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, debuted at No. 1 on the American Billboard charts.
With approximately 20 million albums sold in the United States alone, The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 1990s.
In April 2006, the band officially announced that it was reuniting and recording a new album. Returning members Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin were joined by Jeff Schroeder and Ginger Reyes in 2007 to tour in support of their new release, Zeitgeist.
Gibson.com met up with Smashing Pumpkins guitar player Jeff Schroeder before the bands show in Berlin, Germany, to talk about his past, the new Smashing Pumpkins and, yes, the Scorpions.
Gibson.com: Jeff, how did you get into playing guitar?
I think I have a story that hundreds of thousands of Americans share. It's my brothers fault. He was a huge Kiss fan, we shared a room, Kiss posters everywhere. From that time on, I wanted to have a guitar, Ace was always my favourite. Guitar driven music was always around when I grew up.
Gibson.com: When did you get your first guitar?
I got my first acoustic guitar when I was probably nine or ten years old, and just kinda made some noise with it. When I was 12, I started taking serious guitar lessons. I owned some cheapo no-name guitar. I took lessons for four years, so I actually know a bit about what I'm doing on stage, haha.
Gibson.com: What have been your musical influences?
From the early 70s to Punk Rock, 80s Hard Rock, Zeppelin, Kiss, UFO or Van Halen, that's the stuff I liked. Well, Van Halen was so big back then, that I actually didn't have a choice not to like them at all. When I turned 18 I started to get interested in Alternative music, so I got into bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Pumpkins. To make it short, when it comes to music I like guitar driven music best.
Gibson.com: Tell us a bit more about the last band you were in.
The band I had for the past ten years was called Lassie Foundation. It is a band inspired by late 80s, early 90s British guitar bands. Anywhere between Echo and the Bunnymen and My bloody Valentine with a little bit of the Beach Boys. Definitely not as heavy as the Pumpkins. Actually, the Smashing Pumpkins made me discover the heavier side of my playing.
Gibson.com: Is Lassie completely on hold, or are you planning any new releases?
When we had a two month break with the Pumpkins, I met up with my old buddies and we recorded some songs together. I can't exactly say when, but they should be up on iTunes soon. We are not really an active bad, but we have a certain fanbase in the US. It was really interesting to see how my playing changed playing a year with the Pumpkins. The recordings sound like classic Lassie Foundation songs, but mentally I was somewhere else, haha. But honestly, I am very proud of the stuff we did.
Gibson.com: How did you get the gig with the Smashing Pumpkins? Did your cell ring and Billy Corgan was on the other line?
Well, not exactly. What happened is, that a friend of mine send me a message saying that the Smashing Pumpkins are looking for a new guitar player. And he thought I should try out. I never tried out for any band, I never was a musician for hire, so I had no bio, no photos, I just had my band which I had for the last ten years. Because I really loved the Pumpkins, I was like well, let's give it a try. Luckily a friend of mine was doing some web-stuff for the Pumpkins, so she pushed them a bit to listen to my stuff. I talked a couple of times with Jimmy on the phone, we went to breakfast together. So Jimmy, some other bass player and me started to play around a bit. After another month, finally Billy Corgan showed up and we jammed a bit. It was like, thank you, we will call you… Another two month later I got the call that I got the gig. And it worked out really great. As a guitar team it is really hard to just create chemistry. Billy and I are at a point where we connect really good with each other.
Gibson.com: Did you have problems with old-school fans asking for former guitar player James Iha?
To be honest, I am actually surprised of the lack of it. We did around 115 shows now and I only one time heard somebody saying where is James… The support of the fans is really amazing. They give me little gifts, T-Shirts with my name on, for example. It makes me really proud to see such a reaction, because I worked really really hard to give the material justice and play to the spirit of the band. I was a fan of the band, too. But if the original band canīt be here today I feel more than happy to do it.
Gibson.com: Did you have to practise a lot to learn the material?
Since the tour started last year, we played over 70 different songs. So when rehearsals started we rehearsed for 6 ― weeks, 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. Today you witnessed the soundcheck, we soundchecked for nearly 1 ― hours. For the Pumpkins, that is quite a mellow soundcheck. We donīt even call it soundcheck, we call it rehearsal. We play a lot of music together, a lot of. Billy is definitely the musical leader, and sets the direction, but we are able to flow with it very well now. It definitely doesn't feel like practicing.
Gibson.com: How do you feel to work now with one of your former icons?
To be honest, I just feel like it is an honour and a privilege to share the stage with Billy. At a certain level you can be scared and intimidated and of course I was. But when you're in it, it is like sink or swim. Everyday to be able to play with Jimmy and Billy, itīs such an amazing experience.
Gibson.com: Unfortunately you weren't able to contribute to Zeitgeist.
We already talked about it for sure. Jimmy and Billy first of all had to get a band together. Ginger and I never did so much touring in our whole life. So the first objective was to play the shows and not worry about much else. Billy and I are now talking about guitar stuff all the time. I would see it as a very natural progression to move into that as soon as we have finished the Zeitgeist tour.
Gibson.com: What other musicians would you like to share the stage with?
Thatīs a frightening question. If I ever felt like I was good enough playing with these guys, my first choice would be John McLaughlin. He combines fluid, intense playing with this whole spiritual element. I really love Jeff Beck, I think he would be fun to play with. I also would love to share the stage with Yngwie Malmsteen, the shredding king. Actually we tried to get him to play with the Smashing Pumpkins, but he said he was in the studio and unfortunately couldn't make it. You never know… We try to invite a lot of people to jam on our shows. Uli Jon Roth for example joined us for a few gigs. Actually it seems like Tommy Lee will join us for the Australian Dates.
Gibson.com: How did Billy get in touch with Uli Jon Roth?
When Billy and Jimmy were working on Zeitgeist in L.A., the Scorpions were working on their new album in the same studio. So they met the Scorpions. Uli was in L.A. at the same time working on something else. Klaus, singer of the Scorpions asked Billy if he would like to meet Uli. Billy, being a long-time lover of the early Scorpions material took the offer and became close friends with Uli Jon Roth. Billy told Uli that when the Pumpkins would play Germany he should join them on stage for a jam. He showed up and played like two or three nights with us. It was so amazing, he didn't even listen to any music or the songs at all. We were playing an eighteen minute song. He just went up and played to it. No rehearsal, nothing.
Gibson.com: What do you personally think about Uli?
There is only one Uli. Unfortunately I think he is a bit overlooked. He is like the missing link between Blackmore and Yngwie. Uli is really an A+ class musician. It is amazing, his ability to react to music on the spot, that's killer. He is like the white Jimi Hendrix. He is a really unique individual with a very special aura surrounding him. It is beyond my comprehension how he is able to view his instrument. He is playing that 36 frets Skyguitar, I couldn't even get a tone out of it, haha.
Gibson.com: I heard you are getting your PhD.
I finished all my classes and only have to finish my dissertation. It is not an easy task, but I donīt have to be at school. I'm getting my Doctor in literature at UCLA. I really love to be surrounded by that creative energy. Whether it's music or literature, it is part of the same process for me. To me it is all art. As cheesy as it may sound, but if you read a good article, or see a good film, it may inspire your music or inspire to write a song. Or read a good book and write a good poem. My goal is to finish my dissertation, even if I never teach.
Gibson.com: So between travel, soundcheck and rocking the stage you are studying?
Of course I am. While the others are sleeping, you can often find me on the bus working. Yesterday for example, I finished a whole chapter of my dissertation. For me it is not that I have to, it is just an intellectual kind of journey. It is not very rock. This band is not very rock in a traditional way. People would be shocked to see how much water gets drunk during a tour, haha.
Gibson.com: What kind of guitars are you using with the Smashing Pumpkins?
As you have seen at soundcheck, my rig is full of Gibson Guitars, haha. I love them all. I have several SGs, a Les Paul Custom, a Les Paul Classic and a 335. My favourite guitar is the Les Paul Classic, that is my main guitar. The way it sounds, the way it feels, it is the perfect Smashing Pumpkins guitar.
Source: Gibson Guitar