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KoreAm Interview - 2012-10-19
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The Smashing Pumpkins' Jeff Schroeder admits there have been moments during some recent performances where he's had a slight panic attack. He'll be staring down at the keyboard and thinking, "Oh my God, what am I supposed to press? There are so many keys, they all look the same!"

Wait, some of you Pumpkins fans might be asking: Why is Schroeder, the band's guitarist, stressing out over playing the keyboards? In reality, all the bandmembers — including Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, bass player Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne — are multitasking on stage these days, thanks to a suggestion by Schroeder that only the core four go out on tour this year.

"Personally, I always feel like there's something about seeing the band — like when you see U2, it's the four members ? they don't have, well, who's that guy playing keyboards? And with some bands, like Guns N' Roses, you see 10 people up there on stage, and you kind of lose track of what it is," said Schroeder. "I think there's something powerful about conveying who the band is, having that kind of solidified framework. [So I suggested to Billy] we should try to do it all ourselves, and he agreed."

Of course, that means that every member has to take turns at the keyboards, which feature prominently on the Pumpkins' well-received new album, Oceania, full of the band's dark and dreamy signature sounds. It's an instrument Schroeder didn't grow up playing, so to prepare, he bought a keyboard and learned the basics from YouTube.

"Some nights I'm thinking, why did I open my big mouth?" he said, laughing. "It requires a lot of concentration, not only having to switch to keyboards and then to guitar and back, and changing out all the effect pedals and guitar sounds, [but we're also] playing the whole [Oceania] record from beginning to end, with visuals."

But he joked the fans get to see how hard the band members are working for them.

In all seriousness, though, the Pumpkins have indeed been working hard. Their new album, released this past summer, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and has garnered some of the band's best reviews ever. Corgan has said that even the Pumpkins' most popular albums from the '90s never received such praise from music critics. That's especially gratifying for this line-up of musicians, who save for Corgan, aren't part of the original Pumpkins that rose to fame 20 years ago.

"I think we had to grow as a band, then fans respond to that," said a philosophical Schroeder, who joined the Pumpkins in 2007. "You have to be able to look your own band in the face and go, 'Well, we need to get better, we need to work harder to get the fans to buy in.' You have to work really hard to get fans to see: Well, it's not the old band, but this is valid on its own terms. That's really hard to do."

Although this past year has marked the most promising for the band, Schroeder shared that it's been one of the most difficult periods for him personally. On Feb. 6, his mother passed away after a five-year battle with cancer. He once described his Korean immigrant mom as a "renegade" and incredibly supportive of his music career.

After the Pumpkins returned from touring last December, Schroeder says he moved back into his parents' home in Orange County, Calif., knowing his mother only had a few months to live, and, along with his father, took care of her 24/7.

"The thing is, my mom, she was never a complainer," Schroeder said. "Once she was diagnosed with cancer, they said she would only live 18 months; she lived five years. That's a testament to her resilience and her courage."

Music has helped him deal with the loss of his mother, who Schroeder says was "so foundational" to how he thinks of himself.

"Just being able to play music, play guitar, get lost in that—it's extremely healing. It's that inner dialogue that you need to have, that you don't want to have to translate into words, you don't want to translate into distinct ideas. You just want to, emotionally, cathartically, evoke something. I can't imagine living life without that. I'm just not wired to survive without music."

His bandmates have also been a tremendous source of comfort. "I have to say, in tragedy, it brought everybody even closer," he said. "As cheesy as this sounds, [the band] really is like my second family. We really do truly care about each other."

Now Schroeder is looking forward to the band's North American tour (which runs through Nov. 4) and promoting the new album. "Interestingly, now that [Oceania is] done and it's out, we're ready to go make the next record already because we've seen what this band is capable of," he said. "You start thinking, wow, if we're capable of this, let's set the bar even higher."

Source: KoreAm

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