James Iha talks about past, future and present

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In a new interview with James Iha on alternativenation.net, he talks about his work with A Perfect Circle, his recent album “Look to the Sky”, and his time with the Smashing Pumpkins. Here is some of the conversation covering his solo work and his time with SP.

It’s been a little while now since you released Look To The Sky, what have you been up to recently and what are your plans for this year?

I’ve been working on writing, and co-writing. I have plans in the middle of the summer to play with A Perfect Circle. Basically that, yeah.

When it came to your solo tour, a lot of people were surprised and happy to see you play “Mayonaise.” Are there any other old tracks that you’d consider playing from those days? “Go” is one I’d like to see fromMACHINA II, that’s my favorite song you wrote in the Smashing Pumpkins.

Cool. There’s no plans of touring right now, I just wanted to do a song from the Pumpkins, a song I had a hand in the writing in. As far as another song, I hadn’t really thought of it (laughs). I thought of a couple songs when I was trying to figure out doing an old song, and I guess I just ended up on “Mayonaise,” probably being the most well known Pumpkins song that I had a hand in the writing in.

You could have always done like a minute of “Mayonaise,” and then gone into [“Bugg Superstar”].

I could have, but I don’t think that would quite translate. It’s funny.

But talking about “Mayonaise” and also your solo songs, “Mayonaise” is one of the songs where you collaborated with Billy Corgan and co-wrote it. So when it comes to your writing process, does the riff or melody come first? How did you know with a song like “Mayonaise” that it’d be something that you’d bring to the band rather than just write yourself?

That was a really long time ago, I don’t remember exactly. The song has a special tuning, or at least the main rhythm guitar does. I think I just came up with that tuning and came up with those chords and did a demo of it, it was an instrumental demo of the song. I played it for Billy and he liked it, he came up with the vocal melody and the lyrics. We worked on the arrangement together. [But] as far as how I write now, it’s different. It depends really, sometimes it can be chords which is what “Mayonaise” was, or it can be coming up with music on the fly in the studio. It can be different instruments, it could be a keyboard, it could be a beat. It happens in all different ways.

But onto the other Billy, Billy Corgan. Billy’s been more positive towards you in the press recently, he actually said that he wishes you two had written more songs together back in the day. He was looking back fondly on those days, which is quite different than when he called you [one of the] worst people he’s ever met a few years ago. But what are your current thoughts on Billy, and have you had any communication with him regarding the Smashing Pumpkins reissues and the inclusion of some of your tracks?

Every couple of years people will ask me stuff about the Pumpkins, honestly I don’t really want to bring out the negative. I’d just like to highlight the positive things with the band, the good things that happened with him. All of the private stuff is private, to me it is. I don’t really feel the need to talk about that stuff in the press. I don’t know what good it does, honestly. That’s all I can say about relations and stuff. I just want to keep people’s memories about the good things in the band when I was in the band. As far as the reissues, I haven’t had much input on it. I was sent some bonus tracks that I wrote just to check out, to see if they were okay for my approval, but that’s about it.

Now when it comes to writing songs, talking about the Pumpkins and now, you wrote a lot of songs back then, some of them ended up on The Aeroplane Flies High box set. How would you compare writing songs now compared to back then?  Do you think the scrutiny of being in that band helped push you as a songwriter, or did it shake your confidence a bit? You did the solo record when you were with the Pumpkins, how would you compare writing to then?

If you’re in a band and you have a place to put out songs, yeah sure you want to do stuff. I think everybody’s creative and wants to do something, but what’s different today? I don’t know, you’re older (laughs) and in a totally different place in your life with different people different work, it’s just different I couldn’t really point out specifics of it that are really obvious.

I remember Courtney Love saying that you did some production work with her in the last year or so. How was it working with her?

She did stuff at our studio before, we were supposed to work on something but it didn’t happen (laughs).

So she said it happened and it didn’t happen? (Laughs)

It’s not to say it won’t happen, everybody’s busy. I know her manager, and we were talking about doing something and it didn’t quite happen, not to say that it won’t.

Now I asked about Billy earlier, but something a lot of people don’t really ask you about is Jimmy, D’arcy, and Melissa. Do you keep in touch with them?

(Laughs) I talk to Melissa once in awhile, I talk to D’arcy once in awhile.  I haven’t seen Jimmy in a long time.

You’ve worked with a lot of great producers like Butch Vig, Flood, and Alan Moulder. What producer would you say has pushed you the most, and what have you learned from them over the years especially getting into production work yourself in the last decade?

All three of those people are really talented producers, they know how to make great records. They know how to get the best out of the band, help the band, and become the 5th band member. They can all see the big picture, every one of those three people that you mention do all of that.

We talked earlier about your solo stuff and you said you don’t have any touring plans coming up, so when do you think the next James Iha solo record will come out? Will it take another 10-15 years, or maybe in the next few years?

I don’t think it’ll take 10-15 years. Hopefully in the next couple of years, I’m working on a lot of different things right now. Hopefully within the next couple of years, that would be my best guess.

Read the full interview here