Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan Talks ‘Monuments to an Elegy,’ His Book Plans + More
Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is one of the busiest men in rock, often balancing a number of projects. At present, he's promoting the group's 'Monuments to an Elegy' album, but behind the scenes he's also working on a book. Corgan spoke with 'Loudwire Nights' host Full Metal Jackie about both projects, as well as the perception of his group, in a new interview. Check out the chat below.
How does a musician keep from feeling conflicted with fans' want of familiarity in order to grow as an artist?
You don't. [Laughs] In the ubiquitous Internet age there is no compromise in that. You're dealing with an ever disappointed fancies that is stuck in an era and because of the changes in the business it's hard to get traction on new music and it just goes in a big circle from that.
On paper, Tommy Lee is an unlikely drummer to play on your song. What about his playing appeals to your musical sensibility?
I like anyone that crushes the jesus out of the drums and Tommy plays with a lot of spirit and passion. So, he has a way of elevating a simple song to something that has more of an epic upside and he just brings whatever it is that you need. I'm not a drummer, I wish I was, but whatever it is he's got it in spades.
How has your musical taste changed most over the course of your career? What do you pay attention to most when you listen to music as a songwriter rather than a fan?
It's part of the problem of being a songwriter. Once you go there you hear every song from the point of view of how the songwriter that you're listening to is engaging you. It's a little bit like going to Disneyland and looking at all of the rides from the perspective of the construction as opposed to joy. I don't know. It's hard for me to listen to songs clearly anymore. I feel like that ship has sailed a long time ago. In many ways I don't listen to popular music like I used to. I mostly just listen to classical music.
Without music as your communicative tool, what other means of self-expression would suit you best?
Music is my preferred form of communicating, although I'd probably prefer to make instrumental music and I've been doing more music with synthesizers lately. I've been writing a book, which is very frustrating but I've been working on that for a few years. I probably should have taken up painting a long time ago, but I never did that.
Can you tell us more about the book and what it's about, plans for it?
I started writing the book about four years ago. A few attempts but finally got traction last year. I'm probably about 75 percent of the way through, it's kind of my life but from the perspective of a myth and that's meaning I don't try to worry about whether or not things happened or didn't. It's more based on the idea of memory and how it changes the perspective of one's life. So it's written more like a fable. It's pretty honest in a way, but it does not talk about the things that most people would figure it would. It talks more about the inner relationships of my life as opposed to the public relations in my life.
Do you have any plans for when that will be released?
No because unfortunately it's so long and unwieldy it has yet to be edited and a publisher hasn't yet set a date. I know they're keen to get it out and I'm keen to get it out. It's just been a really long process having never written a book before. I've published poetry but a book is a completely different undertaking.
Billy, you've stated that the next album will conclude the conversation that began by bringing Smashing Pumpkins back into 2006. Why is this new album 'Monuments to an Elegy' indispensable to setting up that conclusion?
For me, it's been a long eye-opening process. I think when Jimmy [Chamberlin] and I brought the band back in 2007 with the album 'Zeitgeist,' we expected to carry on what was the original conversation with fans that had ended with the album 'Machina' in 2000. We were very surprised, I think, and kind of hit from the side by how much fans had changed and their expectations of bands in terms of playing their catalog, greatest hits type of thing. It really changed in the 6-7 years we had been away.
Previously, we had been a band that just basically played live, whatever we wanted to. We never necessarily focused on our hits. We were really celebrated by our fan base for being adventurous. So coming back and realizing we were now facing what was essentially a greatest hits crowd, that wasn't going to change, then the changes in the music business and all that boring stuff. It's been an exploration to whatever it even means to be the Smashing Pumpkins anymore. Considering everything that happens with the band is always in the shadow of a past that isn't, from my perspective, isn't even real. It's more of people's impression of the past than what actually happened. So, no argument that I could make or nothing I can say even as the songwriter of the songs they're talking about can be made. So you're either a difficult artist who won't get in line or you're a compromising artist who's going along with the party line of the day, which is just make the fans happy. It's been a very strange and difficult journey, so 'Monuments' is just part of that process of making peace with those expectations in a way that it embraced the band's musical life without a negative cloud over it.
Can you talk about the creative process of writing the new album?
It was a long process in that I did about 80 demos, which is a lot. But I didn't full songs, I'd do about a minute and a half of each idea. Then we kind of sifted through all of those things and picked up what we thought fit together best and seemed to have a positive upside to them. Then just went about working, and halfway through the process we asked Tommy to be involved and that really made it a little heavier and clearer to what we were doing and then after that it was pretty simple.
There's obviously a lot of radio hits that the Smashing Pumpkins have had over the years. Which of the tunes surprised you the most in terms of how they've succeeded?
Probably 'Bullet With Butterfly Wings' was the first because I didn't necessarily think it was a hit song and the record company at the time pretty much begged to release the song first. It kind of staked the whole double album concept of 'Mellon Collie' on that song and it went on to be a huge success. It really surprised me because in my estimation the song was too dumb. It was supposed to be ironic [Laughs] about the whole idea of a rat in a cage -- was me making fun of what fame asked of me and the band. So the fact that it only added to the fame and the cage we were in was sort of the joke of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Thanks to Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan for the interview. You can pick up 'Monuments to an Elegy' at Amazon and iTunes. Tune in to Loudwire Nights With Full Metal Jackie and Tony LaBrie’ Monday through Friday 7PM through midnight online or on the radio. To see which stations and websites air ‘Loudwire Nights,’ click here.
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