INTERVIEW: Billy Corgan on Epic Smashing Pumpkins Career, Cyr & Mellon Collie Sequel

Photo Credit: Jonathan Weiner

Twenty-five years ago, the Smashing Pumpkins released Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, an epic double album packed with ferocious industrial-style rock like “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” but also with nostalgic, sentimental tracks, fuzzy with youthful romance, like “1979” and “Tonight, Tonight.” It entranced a generation of teenagers seeking escape from the daily ordinariness of their lives.

Mellon Collie, released in October 1995 – the third album for the foursome, following 1991 debut Gish and 1993 breakout Siamese Dream – debuted at number one on the US Billboard charts, still the only Pumpkins album to do so. It would go on to be certified Diamond by the RIAA, meaning it has sold more than 10 million copies. Produced by Flood and Alan Moulder, the sound was – as Flood is known for – anthemic, authentic and huge.

“We were just so focused on being successful on our own terms…we weren’t seeing much past 1995, honestly,” recalls Corgan, 53. “The label had pushed other people, more ‘successful’ rock producers, and I turned them all down. Flood was my personal choice. His work with Depeche Mode, U2, Nitzer Ebb, PJ Harvey – he’s a great human being and a great producer. He’d suggested Alan Moulder, since they were very close friends, so that’s how we ended up with the triumvirate of me, Flood and Alan.”

Corgan had announced to the label, Virgin Records, that he intended on recording a double album; they immediately tried to talk him out of it. Unsuccessfully, obviously. The fame that followed the success of Mellon Collie was a surprise to the band, which then consisted of Corgan, guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and bassist D’arcy Wretzky.

“I don’t think we were really prepared for that level of attention,” says Corgan. “We’d come from the indie world. To be famous in the indie world, you’d play to a thousand people and your friends knew who you were. Suddenly, you’re on the cover of the most mainstream magazines and they’re asking you the dumbest fucking questions. Anyone who’s wise goes along with it because they want to get more famous, but we, of course, thought it was all kinda stupid, so we resisted it and probably made it more complicated for ourselves.”

Touring behind Mellon Collie created strain for the band; Chamberlin was fired after suffering a heroin overdose in New York City with the band’s touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, who died. Though Chamberlin returned to the band in 1999, Wretzky was replaced by Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur that same year, before the Pumpkins broke up “for good” in 2000. Various reunions and side projects in the years since have reconfigured the lineup with some original members, though Corgan has been the group’s only constant.

While Wretzky has rejected offers to reunite with the band, Corgan and Iha have remained especially close. “We were friends early on and connected very deeply on music,” Corgan explains. “As we’ve grown into very different types of people, it’s more like brothers. You don’t totally understand your brother, and I don’t think he totally understands me, but the thing we really connect on – the music – is the thing that’s always brought us back to the table.” Rather than the excesses of rock stardom, conversations are tame these days. “We mostly talk about family,” says Corgan. “He has two children, I have two, and Jimmy Chamberlin has two. It’s mostly like ‘elder dad talk’, or something.”

I saw Mellon Collie performed live in Melbourne in the late 1990s, where the album songs translated effortlessly to the live environment, I tell Corgan.

“It was actually Flood who insisted that the band who made Mellon Collie was more like the live band than the studio band,” Corgan says. “He wanted the live ferocity on record. He insisted that we try to capture that and we went out of our way to try to do that. Performances of the Mellon Collie album were an extension of that philosophy, which was: the darker and heavier we were, the better.”

The cost of the darkness and heaviness was a burden though, which Corgan can reflect on in the clarity of time.

“I think if you go out in front of ten thousand people and you create chaos, just because you stop playing the concert, it doesn’t mean the chaos in your head ends,” he says. “I do think it opens the door to a lot of bad behavior. You end up self-medicating to try to control something that really can’t be controlled. To go into that kind of energetic chaos on a routine basis makes for good art, but it’s definitely not healthy.”

Corgan admits he was in therapy for years, took “many spiritual journeys,” and yet maintains that there’s no way to truly understand what that kind of fame does to you until you’ve been through it.

“Human beings, at least in the 20th and 21st centuries, have come to worship fame as the ultimate currency,” says Corgan. “There’s no psychological manual for that, so only God can translate that, in my experience, into something more powerful and potent and less dependent on whether or not you’re being approved of or loved.”

To that end, the newest Smashing Pumpkins release, Cyr, has received mixed critical responses.

Corgan’s intention for Cyr was to invite listeners further into his imagination – beyond purely music-enabled communion – via a visual and animated dimension to the album. The album’s 20 tracks were released in increments over three months.

Notably, Cyr is the first Smashing Pumpkins album since Mellon Collie that unites the trio of Chamberlin, Iha and Corgan. Far from the angst-fueled, exploding hormones and extraordinary dream-like world of Mellon Collie, Cyr is almost a throwback to ’80s synth-glam pop. It’s not quite the darkness and romance of Depeche Mode, nor does it recall the gothic influences Corgan loved as a teen. What it’s not matters, because it seems to have cut off the limbs of a body of music that Corgan and Iha grew up obsessed with: Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Cure. Cyr is sugar-coated in digital wizardry: The synth samples, the handclaps, the perfectly aligned tempo, melody, and harmony that is made easy when watching a timeline on a computer. It is the sound of Corgan discovering and delighting in technology, so that some of the tracks sound like old Apogee games.

In comparison to the vulnerability, the clashing and contrasting beauty and rage of Mellon Collie, Cyr is glossy, glitchy surfaces that, while catchy, fall a bit short of the brain-tingling, synapse-exploding miniature universes that Mellon Collie surprised us with 25 years ago.

But fear not. Corgan and the two remaining members of the Smashing Pumpkins are currently in the process of recording a double-album sequel to Mellon Collie, that, like the original, offers 33 songs. Iha is recording his parts in Los Angeles, while Corgan and Chamberlain are recording theirs in a studio near Corgan’s home just outside Chicago.

What will the double album sequel to Mellon Collie reveal? Does Cyr give an indication that the next iteration will be digital, algorithm-driven and animated? Or is Cyr a red herring, designed to lull listeners into a safe place before Mellon Collie 2.0 smashes all our assumptions and predictions? We won’t know until it arrives, likely some time in 2021. But Corgan is at peace with how fans respond to his work, past, present, or future.

“If I create something that you love, and the next person hates, it’s kind of the same thing to me,” he says. “The human mind always wants approval, but I don’t operate on those precepts. Of course, I’d prefer you to like the record and what I’m doing, but it doesn’t have anything to do with why I do it.”

That’s between Corgan, his guitar and his God.

Follow The Smashing Pumpkins on Facebook for ongoing updates.

NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Tom Petty, The Las Vegas Tragedy & More

  • RIP Tom Petty

    The well-loved songwriter passed away on Monday after suffering from cardiac arrest. He was 66, and less than a week before, gave a final interview where he discussed his recent 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers, a new band he was producing, and more (read the full interview via the LA Times). Many musicians who cited him as a huge influence paid tribute to Petty, including Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes, Miley Cyrus, Wilco, Kesha, Emmylou Harris, and more.

  • Shooter Opens Fire on Country Music Festival in Vegas

    On Sunday night, as Jason Aldean played the last few songs of his headlining gig at Las Vegas’s Route 91 Harvest Festival, a shooter opened fire from a suite at Mandalay Bay (located across the street), killing some 58 country music fans and injuring hundreds more before ending his own life. While the incident is still being investigated, the debate on gun control rages on, and many have pointed out country music’s glorification of gun culture. Some stars have spoken out despite the genre’s tendency to stay silent on political topics. Caleb Keeter of the Josh Abbott Band (which performed at the Fest earlier that afternoon), posted a heartfelt statement on his changing views surrounding gun control, while Maren Morris released “Dear Hate” the day after the shooting to benefit victims.

  • Other Highlights

    Happy World Guitar Day, watch St. Vincent on The Late Show, Marilyn Manson was injured during his NYC show, the Needle Drop guy is very problematic, new videos from The Breeders and Tove Lo, Billy Corgan’s Ogilala is out now, updates to Oakland’s Ghost Ship case, Other Music will be replaced by a juice store, and read this: “Should Women Make Their Own Pop Music Canon?

NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Charles Bradley, #TakeAKnee & More

  • RIP Charles Bradley

    Though he was able to tour up until the very end, even after battling stomach cancer, renowned soul singer Charles Bradley passed away over the weekend. He was 68. Nicknamed “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Bradley was inspired by James Brown from a young age but didn’t release his first album until six years ago. He made a living as a handyman and by impersonating his idol until being discovered by a Daptone Records founder. Watch him perform below.

  • Musicians Take A Knee To Protest Police Brutality

    After Trump insulted football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against our country’s police brutality, encouraging NFL owners to fire them, many musicians expressed solidarity with the players. Stevie Wonder was one of the first, kneeling before his set at NYC’s Global Citizen Festival. Other artists who participated include Pharrell Williams, Eddie Vedder, John Legend, and more. Read more a complete account of the situation here

  • Other Highlights

    Watch new videos from Princess Nokia and William Patrick Corgan, Spotify knows your musical secrets, Justin Timberlake will get a second chance at a Superbowl performance, a holographic Frank Zappa is going on tour, Thurston Moore made a techno record, listen to new music from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Angel Olsen, collaborations from Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile, Michael Cera/Sharon Van Etten, and Radiohead/Hans Zimmer, a concert hall created by an algorithm, and it’s way too early for these artists to release Christmas music

APPROVAL MATRIX: 2/16/14 thru 2/22/14

Kurt Cobain Statue

Here’s our take on the best and worst in music this week.



[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″][box type=”shadow”]William Corgan Teacup

Mark your calendars: on 2/28, Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman William Corgan (as he’s billed himself for this event) is improvising an 8 to 9 hour ambient musical interpretation of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha at Madame ZuZu’s, a tea-shop he opened outside of Chicago last year.  Your soul is the whole world, which is a vampire.[/box][/fusion_builder_column] [fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″_last][box type=”shadow”]

Fiona Apple Bio-Frau

Fiona Apple will appear in a French Sci-Fi spoof called H-Man as Bio-Frau, an environmental activist held captive in a German power plant.  It’s highbrow because it’s French.[/box][/one_half_last]

DESPICABLE <<—————————————————————————– >>BRILLIANT

[fusion_builder_row_inner][fusion_builder_column_inner type=”1_2″][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][box type=”shadow”]Kurt Cobain Weeping Statue

Bill Simpson, Mayor of the City of Aberdeen, has unveiled a controversial statue of Kurt Cobain in the grunge star’s hometown (a place he hated, BTW) and it’s so embarrassingly rendered that even the statue is weeping.[/box][/fusion_builder_column_inner] [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″_last][box type=”shadow”]Coachwhips Seance

After announcing the indefinite hiatus of Thee Oh Sees a few months ago, frontman John Dwyer is scheduled to re-unite his old band Coachwhips for some SXSW appearances.  Can we get in line tomorrow?[/box][/one_half_last]