Billy Corgan talks to Uncut magazine about Gish to Oceania (including Zwan)

uncutIn the latest issue of Uncut magazine, Billy Corgan gives a little background on each Pumpkins’ album (and the Zwan album).  Corgan says, “Like any life, there are good and bad years. But I would point to Buster Keaton, or Tarkovsky – I’m in that mode, targeting something that only I understand. And in that way I’m an idiot to even play the pop game. I just do it because I’m sort of a sick fuck who enjoys it.”

The following are highlights of the interview. You can buy a digital version of the magazine on iTunes or Google Play.


“…Our focus at that time was getting noticed in clubs…  We were playing to 300, 500 people, in working-class Chicago or Milwaukee on a Thursday, and if people are there, they’re drinking and they’re talking, and the music has to be really focused…

“…With Butch Vig we said “Can you make this have a kind of kinetic power?” Jimmy and I would drive up from Chicago and stay with these people for a week, and we’d work 12 or 14 hours a day. Mostly me. Butch Vig is a very exacting producer, and suddenly I’m singing a song eight hours in a row.

“Reaction to the recorded were visceral. People loved it, or hated it. We’d come into one town and there’d be 100 people and you’d be super-bummed, we’d go to the next town and there’d be 800 and they were climbing off the walls. So something was happening…. You can feel it coming.”

Siamese Dream:

Billy delves into the pressure he felt to sell millions of records and how the album was recorded mostly by just him and Jimmy.

“I was so focused on not wanting to go back to the record store and being a nobody.

“Making it about drove me crazy. Made me deaf because all the guitars were with fuzz, and fuck, hours of fuzz will kill your ears. I would go home nauseous from the volume… In the middle of that Jimmy disappeared. You’ve got the label guys going, ‘when are you guys going to finish this thing?’ You’d play it to him and he’d go, ‘OK, keep going.’ Then a month later he’s back complaining about the money again. [laugh]”mcis

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness:

“The record was so ambitious. It has a lot to do with having Flood as a producer. He’d teach you to confront your own fears of why you won’t go into something. So he’d say ‘Let’s go try this song like it’s a reggae song’, and we’d go ‘Wha-at?’…

“I think I threw around a lot of conceptual language about the record because it was sort of convenient. But when I listen to it now, I don’t see it that way. I see it as willingness to talk about everything I was seeing. So many of those lyrics were written so fast and on the fly, I couldn’t even tell you what I was thinking. I’d been non-stop for four years…

“The record company had a fucking conniption: ‘Double-albums don’t sell…’ ‘You’re going to kill yourself.’ I fought them five to seven times. Then it went to No 1 in America… to speak like an American, you can’t fuck with No. 1! I was raised in a home where nothing was ever good enough, and when I got to the top, I expected that finally it’d be like ‘OK, Billy you’re in the club.’ But it doesn’t work like that…”

The Aeroplane Flies High:

“…To do 28 songs for an album and then follow it up with 28 B-Sides. [laughs] It’s me waving the flag of insanity! I sacrificed a lot of my personal life at the time to do it, because I was hell-bent on proving whatever point it was that I wanted to prove…. I was working three days and then going straight back out on tour…

“Once I realised that the triangle of band, fans and media was not going to align for the Smashing Pumpkins, there’s a point where you go ‘Fuck you all,’ because if you’re not going to give it to me now, when are you going to give it to me? Like I’ve done all this, and now what do I do? It feels kind of hallow, I didn’t get out of it what I wanted. I’m going to a therapist twice a week going, ‘How do you keep me from jumping off a roof?’ Because the thing I thought should happen now isn’t going to happen, and that sets the stage for everything that follows”


“…So the record is rife with this desperation of somebody who needs to take a break mentally, spiritually.


“I just hear a lot of loss in my music. My argument at the time was, ‘I’ve made some good music, it ‘s futuristic.’ But what I didn’t realise was that the album also lacks joy. What you’re hearing is basically a funerary march, and usually people only want to listen to those when they’re at a funeral. Then, boom, here come the shit reviews, it’s not selling, and the label’s bailing on the band. I felt burned and spurned. Without Jimmy, I was lacking the other resource that I needed to make it work. I didn’t try to replace him on most of the tracks, and it gives the album this weird hollow feeling.”


“I was so determined to sink [the ship] my way. So I reached out to Jimmy, we hadn’t spoken in – three years? I said, “I’d like you to return to the band for one album. Let’s get the four of use in a room, make a good album, tour, and then put it to bed.” He was open to it, the others weren’t so keen….

“The production on the album was so dense. I think people scratched their heads, like, ‘what trip are you on?’ So by the time Melissa joins, it was like, how do we get to the finish line?..When it was done, I was like ‘Good, it’s over.’ The depression kicked in a couple of months later. ‘Wow, I don’t know where I am, because my whole adult life has been this band. Now what do I do?”


“First of all, I started making a solo album in Salt Lake City, which I have some tracks for which have never been bootlegged. so I hmary-star-of-the-seaave half a solo album somewhere. Then Jimmy flew out to hang out with me, and we started working. Next thing you know we’re talking about having a band, It starts to take shape… and.. I’m having fun. I haven’t had fun for years.. So it was like, ‘Maybe I should have a band where I can have fun. It’ll be low-stress, I can write some good pop music.’…What Zwan should have been was a band that got together for a couple of gigs, and that was it. Or like The Basement Tapes. Once it became a serious endeavor, that was the fatal error.”



“….With Zeitgeist, I thought ‘I’ll just reintroduce this, with a cleaner, simpler, more direct, metallic musical statement, and then we’ll begin a new jouryney.’ I thought there was some good work on there. All you heard was, ‘Oh, It’s not Siamese Dream. Next.’ I was like, “Huh?’ Because in seven years away from that higher level, I didn’t realizse the culture had turned into Greatest Hits land. I didn’t think it’d happen to us….”

Teargarden / Oceania:

“What was most illustrative about the beginning of the Teargarden By Kaleidyscope process was not the music I was making- which was decent, not great- but the reaction to it. Because I put out pretty good songs that the average Pumpkins fan should have loved, and they were just shitting all over it. I thought, ‘OK, now I see your game. You want me to go back to something.

Teargarden poster given out at Record Store day in LA
Teargarden poster given out at Record Store day in LA

“Pick your fantasy- that the original band’s gonna reform, that Billy’s going to make Siamese Dream-type melancholy music. Either I’m going to sell out everything I’ve ever stood for to satisfy you, or I’m going to break this hypnosis. Teargarden became about that. Once I’d done that, then I was able to make Oceania. You see, the funny thing is, if people would just let me do what I want to without giving me shit all the time, they’d probably get more out of me that they liked, and familiarity. It’s just the way I’m wired. So with Oceania I’ve relaxed and gone, you know what, I don’t have to play to any crowd any more that I don’t want…”