In two separate posts today, Spin has posted about the band’s epic album Siamese Dream. First, with a revisit of their November 1993 article, Billy, Don’t Be a Hero. Secondly, with an interview with the music video directors. Here are some highlights.
Cherub Rock director Kevin Kerslake:
The video is super indie. It’s Super 8, I processed the film in my bathtub. In terms of production elements, there was a whole lighting design that was pretty sophisticated in terms of it being big, but I didn’t want the video to look big, commercial, and polished. I wanted the video to have a really gritty, reckless feel to it, which was the spirit of indie rock and the alternative scene. That was something subversive that I was up to, but I don’t think it reached the level of consciousness within the band. I didn’t say it overtly, but for me, it’s pretty obvious. Everything that Super 8 represents is down-and-dirty and pretty nasty in terms of the aesthetic. I heard some comments from Billy later on about, “We were in this forest and it was raining and you can’t even see us,” and it was like, dude, that’s the whole spirit of what we were up to. It became obvious in some of the videos that followed that were polished and beautiful…they had an approach that was radically different from what “Cherub Rock” looked like.
Response to the video:
I remember there were some questions about the b-roll stuff, like the statues and things like that, but for me that was texture. When you’re doing a performance video, it’s really tough to just see performance. If they don’t have another element that offers some sort of relief or bounce, then they tend to be sort of yawners. I tried to think of something that had some of the texture that the film had in terms of the grain, because when you process film in your bathtub, you’re really giving it up to chance what can happen. You dump the whole reel in and you’re basically doing everything that the instructions tell you not to do. When you start to peel the film away and scratch it, you don’t even know what you’re getting until you start transferring it and messing with it. You are basically ripping parts of the film off. I’m sure you’re ripping a lot of beautiful stuff off too, but that’s just the way it is. All that stuff, the band was super stoked about. It wasn’t until later that I heard about Billy complaining about the rain and not being able to see the faces.
Today director Stéphane Sednaoui:
Speaking with the band before the treatment:
I spoke with Billy, and out of all the videos that I directed, this was the only one where I had a request from the artist that I followed. He wanted to be an ice-cream-truck driver. He said, “Whatever you do, whatever you come up with, please make me a guy who sells ice cream.” I loved it and I molded it to him as a little bit surreal. In my mind, I mixed it with the 1960s and decided to make a psychedelic road movie.
Someone the director was dating was kissing someone else in the video
Yes, but it was my gay friend. I made sure it was nobody else in the cast. The main thing was that on the set, Billy was not a very warm person. I had more fun with James [Iha]. He was more giving.
Was the band happy with the final video
I did a DVD compilation of my videos [for the Directors Label series] and the reason I didn’t put on this video, which I like, is because when I spoke with Billy when I was doing the post-production [on “Today”], he was so not nice on the phone. He didn’t like the psychedelic moment where they paint the truck. I couldn’t make it the way I wanted, the colors are a little muddy. He was just not nice on the phone complaining about this — nothing else about the video, just complaining, not one positive word, and I never heard back from him. So I was like, “Fuck you.” I like that video, but I didn’t put that on my thing because I only put on videos where I had a good experience. Madonna was the most commercial of all of the artists I worked with, and she completely trusted me. I got that kind of trust that I wanted from everybody but Billy. Now I would probably put it on, but it was still fresh, even 12 years later. I just wanted good vibes, and I don’t remember him having good vibes.
Disarm director Jake Scott:
Before doing the Disarm video:
I was doing a lot of alternative rock, and “Everybody Hurts” cemented that. In fact, it was quite hard to shake it. After five or six alternative-rock videos, I started getting frustrated. In my memory, R.E.M. was held back from release after we filmed the video because of how they wanted to build the record and how they were going to run the singles. I was in the edit for a long time finessing it, a lot longer than you normally would be on a video, like months.
About the treatment
Obviously, I was drawn to the idea of a child and something seen through the eyes of a child. It was either a memory or a dream. My treatments could be quite artsy-fartsy at the time and pretty pretentious, but it was sort of perfect because it was a melancholy song with a lot of rage in it. It was based on the idea of a child who couldn’t be heard or seen. It was about childhood isolation, or something like that. I had seen a photography magazine, and I cannot remember the name of the photographer, but there was one page of these photomontages. They were these slightly surreal photographs of rooftops with things montaged over the top of them. There was something sort of Eastern European about them.I spoke to Billy and he wanted to bring in some Super 8 footage of the kid, so we did that and had him running around in the garden.
We went and found this place in Echo Park where there’s this famous, historic street with these amazing old Victorian houses. We couldn’t get the crane high enough [to film the roofs], so we put one crane on top of another crane. We shot the band against green screens or blue screens and then we overlaid them. The effects were done very roughly by a company down in Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was as good as you could do it at the time. Now I look at the video and I’m like, “Fuck me, we didn’t really match the lighting on the band to the background lighting.” But how could you? I think we even shot the band before we shot the rooftops. But it still works, it’s surrealism.
Rocket directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris:
When you were coming up with the concept for “Rocket,” was there any aspect of the band you wanted to highlight that you felt was missing from the other videos?
Faris: Not that the other videos didn’t do this, but I think their sense of humor was something that we were attracted to. Doing the “Geek U.S.A.” live performance [for Peep Show], they were just funny. James Iha had this great sense of humor.
Dayton: We did this interview with him backstage and he was just so funny.
Faris: Very dry. So it was just coming up with this ridiculous concept. We really liked the idea of the old Pumpkins.
Dayton: The idea is that these kids get this transmission from outer space and seek out the Pumpkins, but by the time they get there, they discover they are really old.
Faris: It’s so stupid, but it’s always great to see a band that has a sense of humor about themselves. The Pumpkins could have been perceived as being a very serious band, kind of self-serious, but I think all of them have a great sense of humor about themselves and in general.
What do you remember about the shoot itself?
Dayton:We got a friend of ours, Ric Heitzman, who was one of the designers on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, to do the rocket ship and the clubhouse. We didn’t have enough money to rent all the gear, so we thought, “Why don’t we go to where all the gear is?” So we rented a location that essentially came with all the stuff.
Faris: It was kind of a salvage yard of the aerospace industry.
Dayton: That way, we could just move stuff around.
Faris: And the rocket was built in the backyard of a house in Santa Clarita.
Dayton: That was the first time we used CG, when the rocket actually goes into space and lands on the planet. That was a big deal to find a place to do that.
Faris: It all has a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse quality.
How did the band respond to the final version?
Dayton: I think they loved it. They really thought it was funny when their alter egos appear at the end. We made these spacesuits and asked each of them to design their own logo. There are patches and those are based on their own thoughts on what they wanted. Those suits were all bought by the Hard Rock. They’re in some Hard Rock Cafe somewhere.
Of all the directors who did videos for Siamese Dream, you’re the only ones the band worked with again. Once “Rocket” was over, did you feel like you had made a connection with them?
Dayton: It was great collaboration that lasted for three albums. You develop a tone and a shorthand. Our sensibilities just mixed well. We like to do very different things each time, and they appreciated that. We’re collaborative and Billy always had very strong ideas, and we like that. We didn’t want to impose our vision on the band.
Faris: There were a few bands we worked with multiple times, and we really valued that relationship. When you have that, there’s not a lot of interference. When you have that, nobody gets in the way.
Dayton: Nobody at the record company ever made changes. If we liked it and the band liked it, it was done. That was not always the case in those years.
For more information about these music videos, check out the Smashing Pumpkins 1991-2000 Greatest Hits Video Collection.