About three years ago, Billy Corgan made a decision about Smashing Pumpkins.
The group had broken up 2000, but Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin began using the name again, amidst much fan and media criticism, six years later. But when Chamberlin opted out in 2009, Corgan decided to stay the course -- and defiantly so.
"Part of that decision was I'm just going to go at this head-on," recalls Corgan, 45, who co-founded the Pumpkins in 1988 and guided the band to sales of more than 30 million albums worldwide, a pair of Grammy Awards and hits such as "Cherub Rock," "Today," "1979," "Tonight, Tonight" and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings."
And he feels like the current edition of the band, which includes members who were born after the Pumpkins started, has every right to maintain the good name that was established by that success. "I'm not going to try to dance around the name, who's in the band, the music I'm making," Corgan explains. "I'm going to go straight at it, right up the middle, and it's either going to invigorate this thing or it's going to kill it."
He chuckles as he notes that "an argument can be made either way," but the Chicago-based group has been particularly active and vital during the past few years. Corgan and company first launched an ambitious virtual music release project called "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope," albeit with mixed results. The Pumpkins then shifted gears to release a traditional album, "Oceania," in June, which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart
At the same time, Corgan has been ensconced in a comprehensive reissue campaign of the Pumpkins' older albums, mining through the vaults for unreleased material to include in the sets.
"It was weird, because I found myself back in the emotional field of the old band -- but I also think that helped me," he notes. But Corgan doesn't feel that digging in the past has had a significant effect on the Pumpkins' new music.
"That implies that somehow the old sewage seeped into my brain and I got a clue," he explains. "What I heard was someone who was just swinging for the fences and didn't mind wiping out, didn't mind striking out, didn't mind being made fun of. My ambition was greater than my humility.
"That's the way it always was before in this band. I had to get back to sort of breaking it all down again. I felt like, 'Why am I being such a baby about it. Just do it. It's not a big deal. It's rock 'n' roll. Have fun.' There's something about it that just reinvigorated my spirit in it."
Corgan says the benefit of bringing out "Oceania" was that it "provided the credibility for people to recognize us as an intact musical unit. Before the conversation was about who's in the band, why's in the band, how's in the band? When I saw the hardcore fan base get off that and go, 'Y'know what, he's onto something. Who cares what he calls it, he's making music we like...,' once I saw that shift I knew everything else can follow."
More new music is in the immediate offing. Corgan -- who recently opened a tea house, Zuzu, in Chicago's Highland Park suburb and is working a "spiritual memoir" -- has "already started writing songs for a new album" that will be released in the standard form, like "Oceania." "It definitely seems like it's going to be more of a rockin' affair," Corgan predicts. He hopes to have the set out by December of 2013 but cautions that "that's really ambitious, because we're still touring, and I've never been successful writing on tour. I don't even try.
"So even if we went into the studio in November when we come off of this tour, it's still pretty ambitious to have it out by then."
But even though the Pumpkins are back to making standard albums, Corgan isn't giving up on the Internet-based "Teargarden" concept.
"I think (albums) are a lot of energy for not a lot of return," he explains. "I mean, what are great sales today? At least back in the day, it was like a million, two million -- at least people were listening to it. Now you sell 100,000, and for all you know two million people are listening to it but you don't see it.
"And then you don't get the reward for it. The business treats you (poorly) if you don't do certain numbers. You can't get played on the radio 'cause the guy in the nameless band is outselling you. I really wish someone had come up with an (alternative), but I don't know what supplants it. It's all very mystifying -- and frustrating."
Smashing Pumpkins and Morning Parade perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $39.50 and $25. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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