Billy Corgan Opens Up to Lars Ulrich on Pumpkins Reunion, Metallica Love
Billy Corgan discussed reuniting with Smashing Pumpkins bandmates James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, the zen wisdom of producer Rick Rubin, the “punk” attitude of former Pumpkins bassist D’Arcy Wretzky and his undying love of Black Sabbath in a wide-ranging interview with Lars Ulrich on the Metallica drummer’s Beats 1 on Apple Music radio show, “It’s Electric.”
Ulrich opened the interview with a series of questions about Rubin, who recently produced eight new Smashing Pumpkins songs featuring the recently reinstated Iha and Chamberlin. Corgan recalled first meeting the acclaimed producer around 1997 or 1998, as he was struggling to find a creation for the band’s fourth LP, the more electronic and gothic Adore. “I played [Rubin] a couple songs, and he looked at me and was just like, ‘Far out,’ which meant, like, ‘Oh, my god, you’re off the planet,'” the guitarist said. “It was too weird for Rick, what I was doing.”
Almost two decades later, Rubin went on to co-produce Corgan’s second solo album, 2017’s Ogilala – and the collaboration once again helped the songwriter find an inner peace. “I give Rick a lot of credit because I was very down at that moment in my life,” he said. “He really picked me up, his encouragement – I was like, ‘Wow, Rick hears something in what I’m doing.'” This led Corgan to an “epiphany”: “Rick only works with people he thinks are great.”
Ruminating on his relationship with Chamberlin, the versatile drummer who’s played on numerous Smashing Pumpkins LPs, Corgan compared the dynamic to Ulrich’s connection with Metallica frontman James Hatfield or former Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Bonham.
“I think you guys are great listeners,” Corgan said of Ulrich and Chamberlin. “There’s an empathy for the song that most drummers I’ve played with don’t have. It doesn’t mean they can’t play the beat or play the beat well. But a listening drummer really hears something in the song – I don’t know. It’s strange … To Jimmy, the song is king. I would try to get Jimmy to do all this splashy stuff, and he would just shrug the shoulders. And he could do it all day. To Jimmy, it’s always about, ‘Is the part I’m playing supporting the song?'”
Corgan described Chamberlin as having a “photographic memory or as close to it as possible,” with an uncanny gift for remembering arrangements.” He noted that Iha often operates on the sidelines, adding “colors” and subtle suggestions when needed.
The songwriter described Wretzky – who is not participating in the band’s reunion recordings or their highly anticipated Shiny and Oh So Bright tour, after months of headline-worthy drama – as having a “very dismissive, very punk rock” attitude toward Smashing Pumpkins’ more commercial material. “To her, if something didn’t have an internal integrity, it was worthless,” he said.
“She saw music as more of a lifestyle thing – I play when I want to play; I show up when I have to,” Corgan continued. “Where I ate, left, died music 24 hours a day, took drugs to listen to music … because I wanted to learn more. You’d see her [when] we’d come off a tour, and you could tell she hadn’t picked up a bass in two weeks. It was just different lanes of commitment in my mind, but I’m more appreciative as time has gone by that everybody approaches music completely differently.”
Corgan revealed that Chamberlin, after years of not writing any songs, has started to contribute on that level – bringing in ideas on guitar and piano to the band’s recent sessions. “He probably played me eight ideas … Not surprisingly because he’s so incredibly gifted, but he can write. It’s weird because he’s 53, and he just started writing. And one of the eight songs that Rick picked is a song that started with Jimmy.”
Throughout the interview, Corgan gushed about his love of both Metallica – including a transformative concert as a teenager – and Black Sabbath, whom he first encountered while exploring his uncle’s record collection at age eight. “The first thing I ever hear from Black Sabbath is fucking ‘Sweet Leaf,'” he said. “There’s that guitar, which I’m still trying to get, right? And then here comes the Ozzy voice, the doubled fucking Ozzy voice. And I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever fucking heard in my life. And I’m eight.”
But the Siamese Dream mastermind noted that his tastes quickly expanded beyond hard rock and metal: As a teenager, he revealed, he used to deliver pizzas while listening to a cassette featuring Metallica on one side and Joy Division on the other. “That pretty much sums up my sort of aesthetic,” he said.
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