FlipSide Interview with Jimmy Chamberlin - 1994-01-??
(lookup on archive.org)
Well, this one's kind of short because the lady from Virgin records told me on Monday that I would be interviewing Smashing Pumpkin's bassist, at 9 a.m. So, I wrote out 30 questions for her and then was awakened by the phone on Wednesday by drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin. So I was forced to try and pick out some questions meant for D'arcy that could also be asked of Jimmy and at the same time think up some new ones.
Anyway, Smashing Pumpkins are perched on the brink of success as this interview takes place before their sophomore album, "Siamese Dream," hits the stores. But, Jimmy Chamberlin seems to be taking it all in stride as does the rest of the band.
It's a common myth in rock music that the drummer of the band is just along for the ride, but if anyone breaks that stereotype, it's Jimmy. He is just as concerned about the direction the band is heading in as is Billy Corgan, the main songwriter and helmsman of the Pumpkins. But, also apparent from talking to Jimmy is that Billy is not the "man in charge" as he is so often made to be in the press. As a matter-of-fact, after reading the recent Alternative Press interview with the Pumpkins, one would think the band is on the verge of breaking up, but it is obvious from talking to Jimmy that the band is happy with the way things are going and excited to see how the world reacts to their latest piece of art.
So, with a little help from MTV and a major label, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D'arcy and Jimmy Chamberlin may just step up into the mainstream music scene, whether their current fans like it or not.
Karl: Why did you decide to record down in Georgia?
JC: Basically for the warmth. (laughs). We made the last record in Madison (Wisconsin) and it was so freezing. Being cold and having to run from a van to the studio in the morning all the time is not very conductive to creativity. For one thing, we were like, the next record we're doing it somewhere warm. And another reason is we didn't want to do it in L.A. or New York because obviously it's too close to the industry and we'd have people out everyday; different record people. And Chicago being home, there's just way too many extraneous distractions so…
Karl: Are there a lot of record company people putting pressure on the band to do things their way?
JC: No, absolutely not! We actually… our A&R guy was in the studio one day out of the four months. It made us so uptight that we told him not to come back. The great thing about it was when we did Gish, everybody had low expectations. The record company was pretty much predicting that, "Well, if this record sells 30,000 then we'll be fine." (actually it sold around 650,000 copies.) So the fact that the record did so well gave the record company confidence that we could pretty much put a record out on our own and make a decent record.
Karl: You spent three months down there?
JC: We spent four months recording and one month mixing.
Karl: What took so long?
JC: There were a lot of problems with the fact that we had to write most of the record on the road. So we pretty much went down there at the last possible minute and we were still pretty much half cocked. So we were doing a lot of arranging in the studio and basically we would do things like record a track and then move on to something else and then go back and listen to the track we had recorded and just go, "Man, we gotta do something about this part." We're very meticulous when we record, so we don't really let anything slide by. Plus we recorded 20 songs.
Karl: Are you all individually particular about recording or is it just Butch Vig and Billy? Are you all perfectionists?
JC: I have my rules when it comes to the drum sound. I won't deal with anyone who's gonna put a lot of reverb on my snare. I like drums really dry and natural. I like it to sound like drums. And as far as execution we're very particular. It's gotta be perfect. You're paying all this money and you have the opportunity to do things perfect so why not do it perfect? As far as production, those two guys are nuts… We have songs on the record that there are 40 tracks of guitars on.
Karl: I was reading the Alternative Press interview with you guys and you spoke about it there.
JC: Yeah, it's pretty crazy. It's really stressful. It's hard to be in a studio and know you're spending all this money and go, "o.k. Turn on the creative machine, now."
Karl: Are you really happy with the way the album has turned out?
JC: Oh, absolutely.
Karl: Do you like it better than Gish?
JC: No, I don't like it better. They're each beautiful records in their own way. It's like: "Do you hate your life when you were 18 or do you hate your life when you were 24?" It's hard to say because it's still you.
Karl: Do you think that your sound has changed a lot?
JC: I don't think that it's really changed. I think maybe it's become more centered. It's a little bit more niche oriented now than it was. There might have been a little more schizophrenia on Gish than on this record. Even though I think the diversity in as far as the strings and the slow songs is different and even thought the diversity as far as the parameters of the music is different, I think the over all sound is much more centered.
Karl: It feels a lot heavier to me. But, that's what the B-sides from Gish were like…
JC: Right. You could kind of see it if you listened to the B-sides and then the "Singles" thing. It was kind of like a natural progression.
Karl: Drown was a really cool song.
JC: I listen to Gish now and I can't even hear the bass. And it used to be such a kicking record. We actually went back and remastered it.
Karl: Oh really? Are you going to re-release it?
JC: Not in a re-release fashion per se. We're just going to make it so that the records that come out now are slightly different. The discs that are printed now are a little more beefed up. But it's not going to be like a, "Oh remastered," so that everyone has to go out and buy it. It's not really that different. It's more like if you recorded it and heard it as many times as I have, you'd be able to tell the difference.
Karl: It's more important to you.
Karl: One of the things my friends and I have noticed is that you're drumming has moved to a more straightforward type of… it's more downbeats and not a lot of syncopated fills and stuff like that.
JC: Yeah, well the thing I did… Gish was everybody's chance to say, "Hey, I'm a good musician," And even in spite of that I always try to play in terms of the song. To be a good drummer is not just to be able to play songs like Geek or Tristessa. I think playing songs like Spaceboy and Soma are just as important if not even more important. So, it wasn't really a conscious thing. It was more like, "let's at least try and trim some of the self-indulgent fat off the drumming." There's a lot of perdisms on Gish and some of the stuff to me sounds pretty ridiculous now so I…, It wasn't really something where I went and said, "I'm going to play more like John Cougar's drummer on this record." It was more like figuring out what is more important for the song. A lot of times just a couple snare flams will accentuate a lot more than if you did some blazing fills.
Karl: That's funny, because for Gish, I never got the feeling anyone was trying to show off. It all seemed to fit and it was so different from what everyone else was doing.
JC: Yeah, it does all fit, but when I hear it now it's like, "God damn. There's so much going on." Even though there's a lot going on this record, I think it's a little bit more mature.
Karl: I think that's kind of fun though, sometimes with bands you keep going back to the album and listening and each time you discover something new buried deep down in the production. There's something new that you notice each time you listen to it even if it's a really obvious drum fill that you never noticed before.
JC: Oh yeah. We really concentrate on putting touches like that on our records. There's things on this record that I don't think people will hear for 6 months down the road. That's always good. It keeps it fresh.
Karl: Who are some of your influences? I've read that you're into the big band stuff.
JC: Let's see… Lately I've been into this stuff like the drummers of Burundi. But, as far as influences… I don't know… I'm kind of beyond the influencing. I'm more influenced as I get older by the way I feel on any given day than… I remember being 20 years old and going to rehearsal and whatever record I had listened to that day, that's who I sounded like. Those days are pretty much gone. I think now I have the technical proficiency to convey my emotions more so than saying, "I want this song to sound like Jodi Stevens."
Karl: I don't know if you want to go into this, but according to the Alternative Press interview, you got out of drug rehab.
Karl: So how did that go?
JC: Cool. That was basically a gift from the band. The band had lost sight of why we were in a band. What happens is that at some point it doesn't matter what you do, people are going to treat you the same and people don't know what's going on in the band. So people treat you as if though everything is going great and they don't know… They don't know that things are going wrong with the band. The pressure of the record and all that other crap. It's the same old story. But, basically what happened was the band, finally after two years of me being a total fuck-off… all I would do, because I've been playing (my instrument) the longest in the band and I had lost sight of the fact that this band really needs to practice and all this other shit. So I would just show up and I would be able to play all of my parts but nobody else would be into it. So after awhile the band had the guts to come up to me and say, "Look man, you're fucking wasted out of your mind and we love you and we don't want this to happen. Maybe you don't know it, be we know it." And I knew it but, at some point when you don't acknowledge somebody's self-destructiveness you are kind of condoning it. So that's kind of how I felt and when they finally sat me down and said, "Listen, we really love you and we care about you and let's make a great record, let's try and put some merit and some value on the rest of our lives," it all became very clear. So I went to L.A. and went through a detox thing and came out and I've basically been clean since then and the band gets along great. Things have changed so much that I look back on those days and it seems so fucking silly.
Karl: I think that's cool that you looked at it as a gift, that you care about each other. A lot of people would be so offended about being approached by other people about their problem.
JC: Right, and maybe a year ago I would have been. I would have been like, "Fuck you guys. I can play circles around you guys," or whatever. Some attitude or ego thing. At some point you realize that these people love me and they're being sincere. And the great thing about the pumpkins is that people misconstrue the band all the time and they think this band is this thing that constantly fights and constantly is on edge. But the fact is, we're probably four people who don't love anyone else in the world more than we love each other. And the fact that we fight like boyfriend and girlfriend a lot, it's just all part of a relationship.
Karl: Do you think that the press tries to promote those issues about you? Because the whole feel I got with the AP interview (which was the only recent interview out at the time) was that you are four individuals and even though they tried to downplay Billy as the leader, they made it sound like everybody was just there for the ride and the three of you all go your separate ways…
JC: That's dumb. The press is so into scandal and they want me to be a drug addict. That's what I mean about people wanting to perpetuate the rock myth. Not only do I have millionaire drug dealers wanting me to hang around and be cool with them, but I got to read interviews and realize that an interview that says I'm a drug addict will sell more records than if I say that I'm a boring person and I stay home and clean my house all the time. So, yeah, I think they totally try and capitalize on that. There were things in that interview that were said in confidence…
Karl: That's the feeling I got.
JC: That sucks. It's not like I trust journalists anyway so… We've had a lot of troubles with that. We just had a Sun Times interview come out where this guy totally construed everything we said and made it sound like we were arguing with each other when in actuality we had all done the interview separately, so he would print a question and then give all of our answers and if they were conflicting it sounded like we were sitting around a table and we did the interview a week apart. So they try to capitalize on it.
Karl:: Well that's a good thing about being in Flipside; it's all Q&A so I can't throw anything or take anything away so… you can trust me.
JC: (sarcastically) Yeah, I've heard that before. (laughs)
Karl: Well I'm still 22 and I haven't been jaded by the world yet. And I'm doing this for free.
JC: Oh, then that's o.k.
Karl: Are you excited about becoming really successful? You've had a great deal of success already but this album could put you over the edge.
JC: It's hard for me to gauge it. Everything that's happened with the band has been so slow. When you get signed it's like you get signed and then you wait for nine months and than you go on tour and then you wait and then you rehearse. It's such a gradual process that it hasn't affected anybody and I don't think any of us really thinks about it. I've had people come up to me and say, "You guys are going to be huge!" And I'm like, I'm never going to be like, unapproachable. I refuse to not be able to socialize with people because I love people a lot. So, I'm not scared by it. I'm more scared at the magnitude at the leverage the media will have at us being in the spotlight so much more. The leverage they'll have to maybe manipulate and print falsehoods and construe this bad picture of us. When we were an indie band, nobody gave a fuck if somebody was gay, not that anybody is, but shit like that. It seems like the fact that you might wear women's underwear (I assume D'arcy does-Karl) becomes a big deal when you get famous.
Karl: How long did it take you guys to get off the ground and really get things rolling? To pull everybody together and get songs written?
JC: The band came together very slowly and we played for about three years. What we did is we got together and said let's give this a try because Billy's a good song writer, we've got some good player's in the band, we've all got a general direction, we all want to make music, we all want to play our own music so let's see what's going on. We kind of got together, started playing some shows and all the money we made from shows, we put in the bank. We didn't take any money for ourselves over and above traveling expenses and stuff like that. So by the time we did get signed, by the time we recorded Gish we had already started to record the record before we got signed because we had saved up enough money to do it. I hear so many people say, "Wow, you guys came out of nowhere," and that's so untrue because we had this great broken down van for three fucking years…
Karl: I remember seeing the thing when you played out here in LA. It looked like an old ice cream truck.
JC: Yeah, exactly. So, people can't say we didn't pay our dues. We drove to Seattle one night just to play one show for SubPop. You can't be in a band and not suffer at some point because when you're starting out you're dirt poor.
Karl: That was one of the things that I thought was so cool, I hadn't heard the album yet except for once, and I saw you at a little club out here called English Acid, and it impressed me that when the show was over and the lights turned on, you all just started taking down your own equipment. You were your own roadies.
JC: (laughing) Yeah! Well here's the great thing about that show; we had a guest list with REM and all these famous people waiting to get in and then I was late, I was with our manager. So I was trying to get in and the bouncer won't let me in. He didn't believe I was in the band. (laughing) I'm like, "Really, I'm the drummer," and he's like, "Yeah, and I'm the bass player".
Karl: I remember the show started really late and they turned the house lights on you wouldn't stop playing.
JC: Yeah, it was fun. Those were the good ole days.
Karl: So have you always had a general direction you were going in? Did you always have an idea or goal of where you were going?
JC: It can only be planned so much. I'd say that we've always tried to maintain an intelligent perspective. We've always… When we knew we were going to get signed we decided we weren't going to be some dumb rock band who gets fucked over by their management or gets screwed by a record label. We're going to do our homework. So everyone in the band is very much aware of what goes on in the business side of it. That's really conductive to our maintaining our creative control. We know the business end so well that nobody could really put anything over on us. It's so sad that there's so many bands out there that get overlooked and don't take the time to research their career enough to look into the business side. Because half of the coin is very much a business. You can be an artist. It's a great life being an artist but the great thing about being on a major label is that so many more people get to hear your record. That's a great thing.
Karl: So do you think it's good to follow the path that you did by signing with an indie first and then moving on up to a major?
JC: Oh absolutely. That was another gift for us because if the first record didn't do so well, then we still have another chance to make another record. That's basically why we did that.
Karl: So many bands start out on a major label and don't do so hot…
JC: Well yeah because major labels put maybe a month of promotion into it and then just forget about the record. We didn't want that to happen. The thing with Caroline is they were… at some point we were pretty much the biggest band they had so we got a lot of attention. There were some really great, great people working there who really did their jobs as opposed to if we were on Virgin right away, who knows… It's like, "Sorry, the new Lenny Kravitz record just came out so we don't have enough people to work your record anymore."
Karl: Getting back to the recording, how do you like working with Butch Vig?
JC: Butch is great. For one thing, Butch is a drummer…
Karl: There's a bond there.
JC: Yeah, we got the bad drummer bond going. Butch over the years has pretty much become a member of the family. He knows all of us individually. We've all gone up to his house and we know his wife. We've known him for so long that it seems ridiculous to work with anybody else now… Not that we didn't think about it. But, the bottom line is that Butch is such a great producer and to start with a new producer and to have to take a month to even get to know the guy before things got cooking in the studio. it seemed really stupid.
Karl: How responsible is he for the sound that you get on the record?
JC: He's a great… He's very responsible for some of the sounds. But, the great thing about Butch is he isn't a manipulator. He's an interpreter. If you tell him, "This is where I'm going," then he'll take it in that direction, but in the Butch way. So he is definitely responsible for the natural sound of the drums, but I think he and Billy are pretty much an equal team.
Karl: So he pushes you to find your own sound as opposed to trying to create something.
JC: Oh yeah. He can be a total slave driver in the studio. Especially to me, being a drummer. He's like, "Oh, I think you're a little behind on that." He's really, really meticulous. And we did that song Mayonaise and he kept going, "I just want this song to flow all the way through. No thorns on the bush." I'm going, "Jesus fucking Christ! How smoother can I play it?" I played that song more than I played any other song on the record. I swear I did 15 takes on Mayonaise. And it's such a long song. After awhile I just wanted the thing to be over.
Karl: Do you ever overdub any drum parts?
JC: No, never… I never do. Maybe percussion, tambourine and stuff like that.
Karl: I don't pay that much attention to it but my friends that play drums hear your stuff and say, "God, I swear he must overdub some of that stuff."
JC: No, I never have. For one thing, we always fight over how many tracks we have anyways… So there's never enough drum tracks to do drum overdubs. All the drum kit stuff is live. But, some of the stuff, like on "Today," I played the loud part with one snare drum and then we stopped and we got out my Radio King, 1940 Gene Kruppa model snare, and for the quiet parts I used this real old big band snare and we edited that.
Karl: Is your drum set, set up differently than normal? A double bass or two snares?
JC: No, well, I've got a weird tom configuration, but that's about it. But, this record is the first record… I bought one of those DW double bass drum pedals and I'm totally inept at it, totally horrible but I used it on that song "Quiet." I think I used it in one part and if you listen to it, it sounds kind of fucked. (laughs).
Karl: Well, I guess that does it.
JC: Alright, Karl. Take it easy. Maybe I'll see you when we play in L.A.