Why a double album?
After Siamese Dream, I really felt that we had no future, that it was the end of the line as far as the band went, emotionally and creatively. I felt that I had completely stretched my abilities beyond the beyond. Also, I started to feel my age. And I could sense other band members starting to root down. You start to lose just that little bit of edge. I think about the attack posture that the band had in the early days, the hunger, and then you see people getting more worried about mortgages and stuff like that.
The third thing was that we were reaching the end of a creative cycle. Or at least I was, where the basic format of up-and-down rock guitars, pounding drums – all these elements that are classic Smashing Pumpkins was reaching its end point. It's become such a formulaic thing and not just by us. People don't even bat an eye anymore. You start to lose at your own game just from sheer imitation.
So I said, "Let's approach this like it's our last album." Because it either will be our last album, or it will be our last album as people know the Smashing Pumpkins. And it was a very freeing decision to make. It was just a matter of pushing it as far as we could go – in harmony.
"Harmony" is not the first word that comes to mind when people think of the Pumpkins.
People who know us find it hard to believe that we are a band: "You guys don't have the weird glue that other bands have." But somehow within the context of that, we've found a way to be a band. We've been able to turn that weakness into a strength.
For example, how does D'Arcy add to that strength?
She's the most rooted person in the band. I think D'Arcy has more to do with the band staying together than anybody else because D'Arcy has a weird strength. She's been the bridge of communication between me and James. Because me and James formed the band, it was the problem in that relationship more than any other that really jeopardized any future we had.
The band was formed out of naiveté: "OK, we're going to make this super-rock, this fucking heavy-duty music. But we're not going to assume the posturing." People want their rock stars to be beautiful and perfect, drug addled and mysterious. They don't want the reflection of normal people. And we've insisted on being normal – to the point of probably hurting ourselves and then getting beat over the head for it.
The reality is, you write nearly all the songs, and you're the sonic doctor in the studio. In a band of equals, you're far more equal than the others.
It's an agreed-upon way of doing things. I'm not taking anything from anybody, and no one is giving me anything grudgingly. To an outsider it looks incredibly uneven. But D'Arcy would probably tell you that she doesn't understand why I spend two days on a mix. I'm not assuming responsibilities that I've taken away from someone else.
How well do you take criticism?
Not well [laughs]. That goes with the control-freak image.
I'm a really honest person. I know what I can and can't do. People criticized Siamese Dream for being long-windy. That's a criticism I completely agreed with. And I responded to it in some way with this record by trying to keep the sound a little leaner. On the other hand, you have malicious criticism. It attacks my music through me. It's the kind of criticism I can't handle. I wouldn't be putting out this music if I didn't have some belief in it. And I often don't respect the source of the criticism – because they haven't walked in these shoes.
There's certainly been criticism of my demeanor, which I have very mixed feelings on. Like somebody said yesterday, "The word I see most associated with you is whining." And I thought, yeah, I could understand that. But every person I've ever met in a rock band talks just like I do. But is the mistake in that I'm whining or is the mistake in me not being sophisticated enough to do it at the right times?
On Siamese Dream, you relieved Iha and D'Arcy of their guitar and bass duties and played most of those parts yourself. Do you regret that decision now?
If I had to do it all over again, I would do basically what I'm doing with this record, which is create the opportunity to either do it or not do it. But not snatch it away, assume it away. Musicianship and technical vision are fine and good. But at some point you cross a line. No matter how good an album you've got, you've cut away the gut of your band.
It's pretty hard to go over this old ground. [Very long pause.] Things were so fucked up that it's hard to say what anyone was thinking. I mean, we were cast into a really difficult set of circumstances. We put out Gish. It was a huge success. We were on tour, selling out everywhere we go. Everything went cool, fine, dandy.
Suddenly, boom, Nirvana. We went from being seen as future stars almost to has-beens, people saying, "Well, if you were so good, this would have happened to you." I think the external pressure of that, the internal pressure of not really having toured before. . . . Before Gish came out, the most we'd been together on the road was 10 days. And suddenly we're on the road for four months. We were pinching pennies, arguing about who was going to order what at breakfast because it was expensive. It was really down to dumb, dumb shit.
So by the time we rolled around to Siamese Dream, all those insecurities put immense pressure on the band. And couple that with my severe depression. I don't mean to make light of it, but I was really in a bad way. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it different. I really would. But it is what it is, and we've come out the other side.
How authoritarian are you about a new song when you bring it to the band?
That's really the wrong word to use. The basic rule we've always had – which obviously sounds self-serving – is if it's your song, it's your call. You understand better what works and what doesn't.
It's a tough thing. Because if I'm writing 90 percent of the material in some way, shape or form, my agenda is going to take a certain precedence. But there are some B sides that James did that are really good. They just don't fit in the context of the album. And part of me feels bad. But over the seven years we've been together, the least uptight part of the band has been the music.
Maybe I'm blind; maybe I don't see things. But I'm a pretty objective person, and I've tried to be somewhat sensitive. Four years ago I wasn't as sensitive. But I also had other things at issue. I was dying to get us out of Chicago. Chicago was like the graveyard of all bands. There was the whole thing of James still being at school; D'Arcy was still working. And I was trying to convince everybody: "We can do this. We just have to really focus on it." I'm sure during that period I was more of a dick. But if they really explored their feelings, I think that's what they wanted, too.
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