When did all the songs on Mellon Collie start pouring out?
The only thing that kept me going through all the touring for Siamese Dream was making another record. It was like setting myself some kind of weird goal. It sounds crazy: "When you get done with all this work, here's more work."
I came home from Lollapalooza, I took three days off, and then I started. It was literally six days a week, at least four to five hours a day. Which doesn't sound like a lot of time. But in terms of emotional time, it's a lot.
How much of you is in "the death-rock boy" of "Here Is No Why"?
There's a lot of me in that lyric. There's certainly an acknowledgment of that self-absorbed woe-is-me thing. The chorus says a lot: "In your sad machines you'll forever stay." It's a wink back at the overly dramatic 18-year-old me.
How overly dramatic were you at 18?
If you can imagine, I was more emotional than I am now – with nowhere to put it [laughs]. Imagine that same kind of twisted heart locked in this 18-year-old body with nothing to do. It wasn't pretty.
Who is the "you" in the song "Fuck You"? The subtitle ["An Ode to No One"] seems like an attempt to throw us off the scent.
The basic thing is just fuck everybody. It's that feeling where no one understands: "Who the fuck are my friends? Fuck you. Fuck everybody. Fuck everything." It's just that thought – pure frustration.
The tendency of most people is to be lazy and not pursue their dreams, to let life slip by. That's why people freak out when they're 40 and start buying Porsches. That's pretty indicative of what's wrong with everything. How can you live your life like that? It doesn't mean, "Form a rock band." It just means do something. Stop living vicariously through something else. Although I suppose if everybody did that, I'd be out of a job.
Based on many of the songs on Mellon Collie, you seem to have very mixed feelings on the concept of love. For example, "Muzzle" has a strong sense of ending to it – resignation, acceptance, farewell. But a muzzle is also an instrument of restraint. You put it on somebody to shut 'em up.
I'm a confused person. It's that simple. I'm certainly battling my own idealism. With love, there's a lot of issues: respect, intuitive love, attraction, shifts in nature. It's such a complicated thing, I don't know what to make of it. And what complicates it even more is that the goals two people have are not always common ones. You end up dealing with these hidden agendas.
Do you think if you'd had a more stable family environment as a child that you would be less confused about what love is?
Yes. If you don't have good examples, you don't know what you're shooting for. That's why I deal with idealism, because I don't have real solid examples to work from. I grew up with my stepmother. My parents were nowhere to be found. There's no getting around that. It definitely makes you go, "What is love?" They say they love me; love me means don't live with me. I don't understand.
It's not the complete excuse, because I'm old enough now to understand certain things that maybe I couldn't before. But I'm still having trouble getting it to sit in the right place. I'm sure I'm a big part of the problem.
Are you cynical?
I think that's an element of it. I still spend a lot of time thinking about what a 15-year-old must be thinking right now. Because that is the predominant audience that you're going to be relating to. And there are still a lot of issues from that time of my life that are unresolved.
I don't trust people for shit. It's a sad thing to reach a point where people genuinely like you, approve of you, are coming to your concerts and basically reinforcing what you're doing – and you can't feel it. There's no way to penetrate it. You're looking for the absurd, the anomaly, to prove something to yourself. Real-life affirmation is that you're a good person, but that isn't enough. You need bigger, grandiose ways.
How much of that do you trace back to your childhood?
A lot. Not all. There are a lot of issues that would have been there no matter who I grew up with. But it exacerbated it. I'll say this: I did not know how to protect myself from the world. I went out in the world, made some good, shot my mouth off and got my head beaten in. If you're a desperate person, an insecure person, and go to such great lengths as to have a rock band to satiate those insecurities, something is not right.
A lot of that stuff is resolving in me now. I hope you don't misunderstand. I'm so much more positive than I used to be. I'm just saying that we're living in a world that is projecting fantasy at every step of the way, and the sad thing is that the fall from that is a lot harsher than the reality itself.
You've talked a lot about your parents' divorce, the way you were shuffled around among relatives. But do you remember anything good about growing up?
I remember a lot of freedom. The lack of the family structure certainly gave me a lot of freedom. I did have responsibilities. I did have to take care of my little brother. But within that, I could just do whatever I wanted to do. I remember reading a lot, playing a lot, doing a lot of dumb things.
What did you read?
I read Rudyard Kipling, escapist kinds of things: The Jungle Book, The Diary of Anne Frank. Books on philosophy, Nietzsche. I read a lot of crazy shit. Maybe it was some kind of weird preparation to take on the world [laughs].
It's hard for me to talk about those times because it's like they almost don't exist. I've negated them. It's very painful.
What was the first record you bought?
The first one I can remember buying was Meet the Beatles! at a garage sale for 5 cents. We had other records lying around when I was 5 or 6. Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds, [Stevie Wonder's] Songs in the Key of Life, Jimi Hendrix albums. And weird stuff like the Delfonics. Al Green.
I was never into punk rock. I liked Blondie, but all that other New York stuff like Talking Heads never rang true for me. I grew up on '70s radio. Cheap Trick were the ultimate band. I think the Pumpkins just picked up from where that left off. The retro tag has always been way off to me. I want to punch people.
You've also cited Black Sabbath as an influence.
That's the sonic obsession. Those are some of the best-sounding records ever made. You can argue about the ethics behind them, but that doesn't matter. Masters of Reality sounded pretty awesome to my wee ears, with the doubled Ozzy vocals. Right there you pretty much have the Pumpkins' sound: that voice cutting through the thick guitars.
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