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Edmonton Journal Interview - 2012-10-03
Edmonton Journal
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Billy Corgan is a journalist's dream. He's smart, feisty and not afraid to say what's on his mind ? about the music industry, his former bandmates, and rigid fans.

Oh yeah, he also likes to talk about wrestling and Canadian girls.

Corgan and his latest incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins will perform Friday, Oct. 5 at Rexall Place. They'll play their 2012 album, Oceania, during the first half of the set, then some of their '90s classics during the second.

The foursome, also featuring bassist Nicole Fiorentino, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and drummer Mike Byrne, recorded Oceania after shelving their Teargarden by Kaleidyscope experiment, which was supposed to involve the release of 44 free songs online.

Here's an excerpt of my Aug. 29, 2012 phone interview with Corgan:

In hindsight, are you glad you tried the Teargarden experiment?

The difficulty in the music business today is that very few people can tell you what success looks like. In the old days, it was pretty simple. You get on MTV, sell a lot of records, it was literally that simple. Now, you can do these weird tree-falls-in-the-forest shit and you think you're doing well and you're going somewhere, and you realize: You're not anywhere. You gotta hear people talk about this hype thing, this and that, and then they come to town and they can't even sell out the House of Blues. So what is the new success? Is it fame? Is it what they used to call a Q rating? In essence, if your Q rating is high, does that mean you're going to get the cosmetics campaign that pays your bills and it doesn't matter if you sell any records? And even if you're successful in terms of mainstream justification — you're on the Grammy awards, everybody freaks out — and then you look at the numbers and the numbers aren't actually that big. So is fame the new success? Well, I'm famous already, not necessarily for good reason, but I can generate media.

Magazines and radio stations will call me for shit, because they need something and because my name means something. But when I turn around and go, 'Hey, will you play my new record?' They go, 'Uhh, sorry.' When somebody dies, you call me up because you want a quote, but I'm not good enough to be in your magazine as an artist. So, it's really weird. It's really weird. And nobody can tell you, nobody can sit in a boardroom and tell you: "Look, this is what it is." So it becomes this weird hodgepodge of running around the world, trying to get paid what you're due, then going over here and having someone dis you because they don't think you're worth anything anymore.

So we'll come off a plane ride and we'll have just played in front of 60,000 people somewhere and tore the place up. Great reviews, everything. Then we go to the next place and they're like "Yawn." And you're like "OK .." Who's right here? Nobody is. I'm sorry, that's a long-winded way of putting it, but it's very confusing.

Obviously, you've thought a lot about success, fame and the music industry ? but can you put these subjects out of your mind when you're on the road or creating music?

You have to. I did the tech conference at South by Southwest (in Austin, Texas) and I said a lot of controversial things. I mean, I knew what I was saying. At the end, they wanted to do a Q&A and this one guy stand up and says, "I'm a huge fan, blah, blah, blah, but by the way, you sound like a whiny fuckin' bitch." Basically, the feeling is: "Well, you had your day, and now you're hacking away at the new bands, you're just being a bitter old man, get out of the fuckin' way." I said: "I don't really care about your memory, I care about surviving."

Surviving the music industry for over 20 years is an accomplishment, I don't care who you are. So, it's this weird thing where people are constantly putting their values on me. Let's start with the fan base. They're in love with 1994, OK? That's when they lost their fuckin' virginity or whatever. And so, they want me to keep pressing the 1994 button. Well, what's funny about that is even if you consciously think, "Well, I'll toss them a few bones," they're never satisfied, because that's not what they really want. They want you to be as breathtaking as they remember you in 1994. When you can't take their breath away in a modern context, they default to 1994. So, going back to your first question, that's where something like Teargarden is valuable because it went right at the mythology of it all. I've got to hear every fuckin' day somebody rhapsodize about a B-side that I did in three minutes and "How great it is and can't you get back to that?"

Well, OK, with Teargarden, I threw out some pretty amazing B-sides and they shit all over them. I was like, "Wait a sec ? it ain't like that." So it allowed me to distance myself psychologically from the mythology that surrounds me everyday. Which is, you know what, you're all talking a game that doesn't have anything to do with what I'm really about. And how about this? I'm going to go away, I'm going to shut my mouth and with my band, we're going to make a really strong record and then we'll see what you have to say. What was interesting was there was the really quick embrace (of Oceania): "Wow, OK, this is really good record." What was interesting to watch was the snarky people who couldn't piss on it because it wasn't bad, so then they're fumbling for metaphors. (They) can't come out and say it's a piece of shit because it ain't a piece of shit.

How do you go about starting your own wrestling league?

Learn a lot about the business. Different business dynamics. It's more like a theatrical troupe, you've got a lotof moving parts, a lot of egos. It's like trying to keep everything at a low boil. Everybody is pretty much an independent contractor, so as they say in wrestling, you have to keep people from going into business for themselves. We've had people who've gone out in the ring and have basically done the opposite of what they've been asked, because as far as they're concerned, it's their gig over yours. Those people don't get invited back. There's some heartbreak, you want people to do better than they're capable of. Some people don't have the talent to connect with the audience, even if you see it. There's a lot of interesting dynamics. Definitely more family-oriented. I definitely feel more a part of something in wrestling than I do in rock 'n' roll.

You don't wrestle yourself, do you?

No, no. I occasionally involve myself in story lines, like a figurehead, but I don't want to do anything physical. Now we have an angle going where my special-needs brother is actually part of the wrestling organization and he's a bad guy. He loves being a bad guy. My brother's been picked on his whole life so he's found empowerment in being a bad guy. My brother as a bad guy is just something to see. He's a little too into it.

There's talk of a reality TV series. How close is it to getting off the ground?

We're working on it. The guy I'm working with said, "Five years ago, you could basically walk in and say, 'Here's our idea' and get it made." He said the competition is really fierce now and, of course, we want to do something quality because there's so much shit out there. Most reality TV isn't real. It's basically fake scripted. To want to make a real show about real people not saying fake things — but still guaranteeing whatever network is in business with you that you're going to have enough drama that epople are going to watch — is tough. We're working on it. There are new opportunities, like Netflix and people like that are starting to open up the TV market. Who knows? We might end up doing a Netflix series, where we have free reign and not feel constrained to typical network programming.

Are there any similarities between the world of music and wrestling? Have you been able to use any of your knowledge of the music industry to build your wrestling league?

I think where it's most helpful is that I understand crowds. I actually pace our wrestling shows different from most wrestling promotions. Most tend to go from not as good to best. I'll pace a little bit differently, make sure the show starts out strong, make sure there's a strong middle and ending. That really helps. It involves juggling sometimes, but ? the crowd psychology part really helps.

The Smashing Pumpkins haven't played Edmonton since 2000, but the last time I saw you was in Vancouver and you were playing with New Order. (As part of Moby's Area:One festival in 2001.)

I remember that show. I met sort of a girlfriend at that show. We're still friends. I have distinct memories of that show because I met her. She was actually in the crowd. It's probably the only time or one of the only times where I met somebody out of the crowd.

How long did it last?

A few years. She lives in Vancouver. She's a very successful jewelry designer, a really great person. We're still in touch. Talk all the time. It's very funny, it was one of those things where I looked out in the crowd and I saw this face smiling and I thought, 'Is she looking at me?' I've had my heart broken by Canadian girlfriends, too.

Awww. Apart from meeting this girl, what do you remember about the New Order tour?

I learned so much about music, just by watching them. I'd always assumed they'd be super pretentious. Not. The complete opposite. They're total rock 'n' roll rebels. It's a shame now that Hooky's (bassist Peter Hook) not playing with them. Believe me, I'm one to talk about internal band politics. Watching them work, they're just naturally rebellious — but in the right way. They take it out on the music and it's always based in excitement.

Are you now pickier with the musicians you work with?

Absolutely. Character is a big issue. In the old days, I tended to default to "I like what you do musicially and I'll put up with you as a person" to often disastrous results. Character really does count in that kind of intimate proximity. They are like love relationships, you have to nurture them and when they go bad, they go really bad.

What was it like to record Oceania?

It was actually a really pleasant experience. Everybody worked really heard. We were basically like "This is it. We either make a really great album or we pack it in." Because the talk of the past or what it should be or "Why isn't it this way?" was so oppressive, everywhere we went. We'd go play a good show in I don't know, Kansas City, and you'd read the review the next day and the guy would be like, "Well, it's not the original band. Therefore, it's not good, therefore, it sucked," discounting the 2,500 people who had a good time. Next time you play Kansas City, you ain't going to be playing to 4,000 people, you know what I mean? There's nothing you can do.Oceania was meant to be a game changer, but we had a lot of fun. You can see we weren't too serious about anything, we just let it be.

At what point in the Teargarden project did you start working on Oceania? And why did you peg the project at 44 songs?

I just kinda made that up. I wanted to try to rouse the fan base back into an energized point of view. The first bunch of songs that were released off of Teargarden they just wouldn't fuckin' get off it. I like to think of myself as an armchair psychologist and my take on it was — and I'm talking about the hardcore fan base, the 5,000 fans who pay attention to everything — I think their unspoken desire was that the band would fail miserably and I would be forced to bring back the original band. It's almost as if you broke up with somebody and there was somebody else and you almost kinda hope that it goes horribly so they'd either have to admit that they were happier with you or they have to come back to you. Like, "C'mon Corgan, you know you have to," and I still get these tweets once a week, "C'mon, just get off it and go back the original band, you were better with them." Yeah, OK, I'll dial the rehab facility and find one of them ?

I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you haven't put up your hands and said, "I'm done with music."

I'm a very spiritual person. There's a spiritual lesson in all of this that is far greater than whether or not I succeed. I had to learn true humility as opposed to the fake Grammy speech version. I've had to learn what was great about the old band and also in appreciation, it's allowed me to get out of certain ways of thinking about the old band, allowed me to let it go, which allowed me to embrace the band I'm in. You know, I can go on and on ? I'm not a big guy on the Whatever-doesn't-kill-you-will -make-you-stronger thinking ? but it has made me stronger. Being in the band and the challenges that I incurred in the band and just brought on naturally due to the force of my personality, has made me a stronger person in the world. Not everyone in alternative music goes on Piers Morgan and talks about politics. I have to have a certain conviction within myself. Being convicted in your belief doesn't mean you're convicted to a set of certain ideas. That's why I can go on a show like that and talk about those things because I'm flexible, I'm not rigid.

Source: Edmonton Journal

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