Rocktropolis, 1998 - 1998-??-??
(lookup on archive.org)
Rocktropolis Interview, 1998
Billy Corgan doesn't need to consult his business manager on a regular basis or gaze at walls full of platinum awards to be reminded he's made his mark in popular culture. He just has to answer the phone. An invitation to induct Pink Floyd into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is not the sort of opportunity that presents itself to just anybody every day. After all, Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is one of the biggest- selling albums of all time. But the honored Corgan was anything but tongue-tied by the significance of the moment when he took the podium.
"I spent half my speech chastising the music business for being lame," he says. "Pink Floyd, which never really had hit songs, somehow managed to make one of the biggest- selling records of all time. Go figure."
The Pumpkins themselves are no strangers to the process of kicking against the pricks, and the latest installment in that maverick history is Adore, which is more a collection of lullabies or hymns than alternative rock of any particular description.
"That's very good, because that's what I was telling my friends," says a clearly pleased Corgan. "It's almost like a kind of prayer music or mantras or something. Some people have picked up on that — not a lot of people, but that's how I feel, and that's the way we're approaching it when we play it. It has a certain shimmering spirituality to it. It's about as close as I'll probably ever come to gospel music.
"We had this meeting where we decided, 'Is Mellon Collie going to be the last kind of rock Pumpkins album, or are we just going to leave it behind right here?'" he continues. "We all felt very strongly that we needed to make, in essence, our quintessential Pumpkins album, so that when we're old and grey it's all there on tape."
Hence the vastly different feel of Adore. "When we made that decision, we knew that the album subsequently was going to be a huge departure," adds Corgan. "Then, when we came off tour from Mellon Collie — it was 16 months or whatever — the first thing we did was, we went into the studio. I'd written all these new songs, which were acoustically- based kind of piano songs, so we just started there. It seemed evident that that was the direction we were going in. Then, once we went in and started tinkering," he laughs heartily, "the folk thing went right out the window."
The Smashing Pumpkins have deserved a few laughs over the last year or two, after the heartbreaking departure of friend and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and, bleaker still, the overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. Chamberlin's departure could have meant Billy Corgan had to rethink the band's chemistry and internal balance.
After all, the creative interaction within the outfit and between the individual Pumpkins was firmly rooted in the fact they were four very separate individuals. "The way it's worked out is it's just like he's not there," reflects Corgan. "It hasn't really shifted the politics or the energy at all. It's like we're missing something, and for a while I think the missing feeling fucked with our heads. It's like waiting around for someone to show up. Then after a while — I think about halfway through the album — we just said it's not going to happen. There is going to be no glorious return and we're not going to find anybody, so this is what we have."
But once the band focused on recording, says Corgan, the mood improved. "It seemed like the moment we hooked up the drum machine everything got better," he continues. "We just accepted that that's the situation, and we literally went back to where we started, which was just the three of us and a drum machine. It was kind of poignant in a way, because when you find you've gone full circle and you accept it, you're no longer resisting the idea of it or the feeling of it. And everything's been fine since."
For some, the entire episode may have marred the band's somewhat pristine — even virginal — image. Perhaps that's why there's something warm and comforting about Adore, although Corgan isn't sure whether the album is about the sound of love or the seeking of it. "That's a good question," he laughs. "To me, it's the first record we've made that's, in a weird way, unsentimental. It has a kind of picture feeling, like you're peering into the past, you're peering into the future, but for the first time it's with a plain sight. I don't feel like it's sentimentalized, and it's not as idealized. There's fractures in the music, there's an ugliness to it as much as there is a beauty. It's strange. It just worked out that way."
The Smashing Pumpkins' Adore album title is not some light-hearted or tongue-in-cheek reference to the band's public standing. The thought behind the moniker goes much deeper than just hearts, flowers, and fans.
"I was just looking for something that seemed to symbolize the intensity of love in all its positive and negative aspects," says Billy Corgan. "The concept of adoration is like the word 'fanatical': there's a positive energy and there's a negative energy in adoration, and in looking at love there's a good side and a bad side.
"I was trying to look at it from all ends," Corgan continues. "What makes a person want to kill for their country, what makes a person want to kill the person they love, what makes a person want to drive across the country to see someone for five minutes? That kind of intensity seemed to sum up the whole thing for me."
When the Pumpkins played two shows in Australia recently — in Sydney and Melbourne — those conceptual notions were supported musically by the physical presence of not one but two percussionists, a keyboard player, and Corgan's own sinewy lead work. But rather than filling in the breathing spaces in the musical landscape, the additional personnel somehow opened everything up and underlined the possibility that Adore is more of a blues or folk album, albeit with certain Corgan- prescribed preconditions.
"I spent a lot of time listening to old folk music and old blues," he says. "When I tell people they just don't believe me, because they can't necessarily hear it in the music. But I really went back and tried to pinpoint in myself what's the true source of music of the soul. That was my foundation.
"But at the same time," he adds, "I didn't want to make this kind of folk album that harkened back to the old days. I guess I'm trying to make a folk album for the future, a folk album that seems to suit our times. As much as Bob Dylan's 'Blowing in the Wind' was very 1964, maybe 'To Sheila' or 'Ava Adore' or one of those songs is very 1998.
"It's like facing a technophobia, and the distance between human beings and machines. There's a relevance in there, just as much as the folk singers who sang about [fear] of losing their jobs because now there was machines that work. It's that same kind urgency, energy, and fear. It all seemed to mix in for me."