Billy talks to a San Francisco newspaper about going through the archive and much more.
Peter Hook from New Order was just talking about how he first met you as a teenager, pre-Pumpkins. True?
Yeah! I met him at a burrito stand in Chicago when I was 19 years old. And he’s a special person, because rare is the musician who can create music of incredibly high aesthetics and understand that it’s not precious, like everybody else wants to make it.
He’s rare like that, and I’ve learned so much from him — that in a weird way, the way you go deeper into the aesthetic is to not be so precious about it.
Assembling these reissues, is it clear to you now, the stylistic quantum leap between “Gish” and “Siamese Dream”?
Well, that’s called “fear of poverty.” I found this weird mix of rage, self-expression and fear of poverty, and it vaulted me to the top.
I was so angry at the way we were being treated by the indie world that it really fueled me to embrace my classic-rock roots. It was almost like thumbing your nose at somebody, like, “Oh, we’re not cool enough? Well, here’s some Boston for ya!” And there was a lot of beauty and joy in that.
What are you discovering, digging through your vaults?
Well, it’s kind of healing, you know? It brings back memories, for sure. And it’s one thing to listen to “Siamese Dream” every once in a while, but another to sit there and really pay attention, like, “OK, is this the right mix?” Or “Is this rough mix worth releasing?” And I’ve found some weird making-of-the album stuff, earlier versions of songs like this really schlocky version of “Disarm” where I did what I was thinking on synthesizers.
What’s the theme of “Oceania”?
It’s grappling with the existential crisis of “Holy s—! I’m alone!” There’s a sad, dark aspect to that, but also a spiritually enlightened one. Which is, I come into this world as a singular entity and I go through this whole construct finding out what’s valuable. And in the end? I have to know what I’m taking with me.