Billy Corgan’s Smashing new album ..........
Oceania marks a return to creative form for an older and wiser Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, writes Greg Kot
BILLY Corgan calls Oceania, The Smashing Pumpkins’ first studio album since 2007, ‘‘an anti-midlife crisis album’’. Whatever it’s called, the new album represents Corgan’s best work since the 1990s, when the Pumpkins were among the most successful bands of their time.
The group split in 2000 and to hear Corgan tell it, he’s spent most of the past decade figuring out how to create fresh music from under the shadow of that legacy without fully letting go of it.
He says that after reuniting with original Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 2005, he realised he was holding on to an idea of the band caught between unrealistic expectations (repeating the success and sound of The Pumpkins’ 1993 breakthrough, Siamese Dream) and his own nostalgia-loathing intentions.
As he prepares to headline the closing night of this weekend’s Splendour in the Grass music festival, Corgan is in the midst of writing what he describes as a ‘‘spiritual memoir’’, and it’s causing him to ‘‘dredge up stuff from the past I wish I had forgotten’’.
‘‘This album is basically my way of saying I don’t want to carry this stuff any more.
‘‘I don’t want to carry (original Pumpkins members Chamberlin, James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky) forward anymore. It’s done,’’ he says.
‘‘I couldn’t have made Oceania if I didn’t let go of that band.’’
Chamberlin and Corgan parted ways in 2009, soon after a tumultuous tour that found the singer verbally tussling with his audience. For a 20th anniversary Pumpkins tour, many fans were expecting a greatest-hits retrospective.
Corgan instead presented a deep dive into his music, in which the beloved ’90s singles were balanced by deep cuts and plenty of new tracks.
The often-hostile reaction led him to ‘‘blow up the band’’ so that he could start fresh.
Corgan rebuilt the Pumpkins with young guns: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne.
The imperative was not only to reenergise the audience, but ‘‘to reconnect with that part of me that made me want to make music in the first place’’.
Corgan and company headed to a studio in Sedona, Arizona, with producer and engineer Bjorn Thorsrud.
‘‘It was small steps,’’ Corgan says. ‘‘I can write songs, I can always write songs. That’s been part of the problem. Maybe I write too many songs and put them out loosey goosey. So let’s get down to it and challenge ourselves. It takes so much psychic energy to do this.
‘‘I did this album for a year, 12 hours a day. I understand how it gets tough for people when they reach a certain age and you just don’t want to work that hard because it’s easier not to.
‘‘We could’ve made a lot of money playing the nostalgia shows. I cut that road off. It was do it this way or die.’’
Corgan says he isn’t trying to get the feeling of 1995 back with new music.
‘‘I want the new feeling. Picasso did some of his best work in his 90s. Neil Young is making some of his best music now,’’ he says.
‘‘I don’t want to be 25 again. There are people out there who are older who are cool. I want that.
‘‘Music is your guide. At the heart of Jimmy Page is the 14-year-old playing skiffle and trying to figure out Scotty Moore licks in his bedroom.
‘‘The year 1995 for me was miserable in some ways. I just dream of having a voice in the conversation. Not being written off by the bloggers as some grandpa who keeps showing up at the buffet table.’’
Corgan says he rediscovered that feeling after finding a ‘‘peacefulness’’ in himself ‘‘where I found I didn’t have to be more than or less than’’.
‘‘Be yourself moment to moment. Go left, right, and in between,’’ he says.
‘‘You like keyboards, guitars, loud stuff, quiet stuff. Just go with it. Stop overthinking it. It’s very similar to the way I worked in the 1990s.’’
Corgan believes Oceania marks the first time he’s made a record where he hasn’t boxed himself in: ‘‘If it sounds like Frank Zappa one minute and Vangelis the next, OK.’’
Billy Corgan and his 2012 Smashing Pumpkins headline the final night of this weekend’s three-day Splendour in the Grass music festival.