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Billy Corgan calls Smashing Pumpkins an "open concept" now
HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. -- Billy Corgan is keenly aware, and even happy to participate in, all debates about Smashing Pumpkins.
The Chicago native formed the group during 1988 and is its sole constant member and creative force. Over the years eight other Pumpkins have made their way through the ranks -- original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin has even returned for this summer's tour wtih Marilyn Manson -- which has led some to question how valid it is for Corgan to keep the name alive.
And they might be surprised to find out he agrees.
"Personally I would be willing to call it something else, but it was the public that wouldn't let me move on," Corgan, 48, says as he sits in Madame ZuZu's, the boutique tea cafe he owns in this Chicago suburb -- and where he also sells some of his own used vinyl, along with other nicknacks. He did shutter the band for a period between 2000-2006, forming another group, Zwan, and also releasing a solo album, "TheFutureEmbrace," in 2005.
Neither of those took off in the same way, however, so Corgan says he's come to peace with Smashing Pumpkins being his province.
"I think you just shrug your shoulders and say, 'Cool. Who cares what you call it? It's still me. It's still my music...' If (Smashing Pumpkins) is what you need to call this, then fine. It's such an open concept at this point."
It has a successful past, certainly.
Starting with "Gish" in 1991, the group reeled off four straight platinum-or-better albums and has sold more than 30 million records worldwide along with winning a pair of Grammy Awards. The two-CD epic "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" alone was certified 10-times platinum in the U.S. and earned seven Grammy nominations.
Pumpkins songs such as "Cherub Rock," "Today," "1979," "Tonight, Tonight" and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" were staples during the early- and mid-90s heyday of alternative rock, and the group headlined the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. Nevertheless, Corgan says, "At some point I had to personally redefine what it meant to be in a band."It's the vehicle by which I transmute a certain type of approach -- in my case sort of, like, rock 'n' roll -- that exists everywhere between the Beatles and Led Zeppelin or something, and anything outside that I don't think is really Smashing Pumpkins, although it dabbles in that occasionally.
"It's my rock 'n' roll dream, basically, and the fact that I've shared that dream with other people has at times been a pleasure -- and a pain in the ass."
Like so many of his musical Colleagues, what Corgan is mostly trying to do now is look towards the future. As album sales began to decline, he launched a large-scale project in 2009 called "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope," a continuing series of music released in small doses online, though it's also spawned recent Pumpkins albums such as 2012's "Oceania," last year`s "Monuments To An Elegy" and the forthcoming "Day For Night."
"I've never been shy about my populist bent," Corgan explains. "The problem for me in making albums is that I just don't see where other people are interested in making albums. The music business is still built around albums and the moment of release, but as we've seen, there's this big splash for a couple of days and then it vaporizes. It's very hard to sustain.
"And as an artist, I find it very hard to commit to the long, winding process of making an album -- I mean, one or two years -- to know that it's going to vaporize into thin air in roughly two days or two weeks based on a whim or a social media current in a given moment that decides you're in or you're out.
"So maybe there's a way to build a new form."
Corgan, who shed his interest in another side project, Resistance Pro Wrestling, last year even has a vision for what that can be.
"I would hope that you could build a new form where maybe it's a living form like theater or something," he says, "where it can move and it can groove and you can perform it for awhile and then record it at the end or when it gets sorts of good, so you can live the beginning, middle and end of the process and have this end-line thing that's (definitive)."
Corgan made "Monuments To An Elegy" and "Day For Night" with guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who grew up a fan in Silver Lake, Calif., and joined the band in 2007, and producer Howard Willing, who worked on the group's 1998 album "Adore." They also brought in Motley Crue's Tommy Lee -- who crows that "Billy hasn't rocked like this since back in the day" -- to play drums, although Corgan says the return of Chamberlin for a fourth stint with Smashing Pumpkins is both inevitable and appropriate.
"I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Jimmy, because it was that relationship between Jimmy and I where he was able to kind of mine out of this emotional quality of my songs and sort of an orchestral kind of swooping up," Corgan says. "It was really playing with Jimmy Chamberlin that I learned there was this range in the music."
Where the Pumpkins go from here, however, is another issue. Chamberlin has said he's on board for this tour only. Schroeder says he's in it for the long hall, but Corgan, reading the tea leaves in his tea house, feels another shift on the horizon.
"Symbolically this is perhaps the end of the Smashing Pumpkins album cycles, if cycle one was '91 to 2000 and this one would be 2007 through 2015," he says. "It's not to say the Smashing Pumpkins would be done as a band. I just think the idea of making albums is a really strange thing at this point. So from there it kind of ambles into uncertainty and obscurity, and we'll have to decide what makes the most sense."
Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson
7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5.
DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.
Tickets are $29.50-$99.50 pavilion, $30 lawn with an $80 lawn four-pack.
Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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