Billy Corgan is kicking back for the first time in two years. Just a week ago his band, Smashing Pumpkins, was headlining Lollapalooza after spending 14 months on its own tour. At present he is planning the Pumpkins’ next release, a double-album opus that is bound to delight the fans who snatched up his band’s last release, Siamese Dream, just as much as it will inflame the detractors who view the Pumpkins as a pretentious ’70s knockoff. Corgan is friendly, smart and contradictory. He hates rock. He loves rock. The fans mean everything to him. The fans just don’t understand. Three days later, Corgan phones up. “I’ve been thinking,” he says. “I forgot to say thank you. I always forget that.” He pauses. “It really has been a pretty great year.”
First things first: Do you still have a band?
I can honestly say that we have not had a serious row in about a year. You have your little tiffs like “Who stole my water?” but no full-on screaming. We were playing the last show of Lollapalooza, and I thought, “I am really, really glad we’re still together.” It was really emotional.
Did going on Lollapalooza give you a good sense of musical community, or did you still feel like outsiders?
Some would say I fed into that outsider thing. I feel less and less of that. Come on, it’s 1994. Everyone’s out selling millions of records. Everyone’s making videos. The issues of integrity are really blurred.
Things changed drastically in ’91 or so . . . .
We can pretty much judge things by pre-Nirvana, post-Nirvana. At least for my generation and for my peers. That was the absolute turning point. Now it’s grown up to the point that the carpet’s not going to be yanked out, and we’re not going to go to disco any time soon. This is not born of fashion. This is not born of fads.
Are you more of a ’70s guy than your contemporaries?
Unfortunately so. I can’t tell where the Boston ends and the Bauhaus begins anymore.
You seem honest about the fact that a lot of your influences aren’t what most people would think are cool.
Yeah. Boston, ELO. If you know you’re never going to be considered cool, you might as well tell the truth.
What groups have you used as building blocks for your band?
Eight years old, I put on the Black Sabbath record, and my life is forever changed. It sounded so fucking heavy. It rattled the bones. I wanted that feeling. With Bauhaus and the Cure, it was the ability to create a mood and an atmosphere. The air gets heavier. With Jimi Hendrix, it was the ability to translate this other level of guitar. Cheap Trick — it was a vocal influence. Although Tom Petersson once told me that Rick Nielsen called us “tuneless and nonmelodic.”
Why are most rock stars today trying so hard to let everyone know that they don’t want to be rock stars?
I think what a lot of people mean by that is that they don’t want to buy into the already established system of what that means. I don’t think anybody truly wants their privacy invaded. But anybody who consciously decides “I’m going to start a band, I’m going to lead a band, I’m going to write these songs,” at some level they want that thing. Whatever that thing is.
What do you bring to this generation?
I’m certainly not a voice for political change or to pat you on the back. I’m just a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of person. But in doing so I think I push some buttons that are kind of intangible. I’ve sat in bed and thought about this, but then I think, “Wait a second, this is a ridiculously huge band. This is not an accident.”