The Smashing Pumpkins: The Great Pumpkin
GW Did you have any overall approach to the music on TheFutureEmbrace?
CORGAN The main goal was to avoid all the things that I know how to do, because we know where that will go. That means drums and rock and roll guitars were out. The songwriter comes first with me, and the style of guitar playing I did in the Pumpkins has been so copied and so overdone by this point that it’s a dead end from a songwriting point of view. The question was how to be reinvigorated by the guitar; the only way was to take away all of the things I knew how to do: doubled vocals, big walls of guitar, intense drumming—which means no Jimmy—and when you take all of that off the table, what are you left with? You are left with this other palette of stuff that I’ve only dabbled in but don’t know how to integrate into a vision. I spent four months just getting the sonics right, doing guitar tests, electronics tests…it was like being in a laboratory for a long time. I felt we needed a primary set of tools—specific sounds and tones—that we could always go back to so that we wouldn’t get lost in the wilderness of production and knob turning. Once I had our tools, I could go from there.
I also learned a whole new way to write songs, which I won’t divulge; it’s a good secret. That yielded different results, too—a different production result, a different sonic result. Slowly, a new picture started to emerge from all of this, largely because I had yet to record the guitar parts. I wanted to make songs work without any guitar, and then put a single essential guitar part into each of them based on what was already there. On every song but the last, there is just one guitar track; the last song has no guitar at all.
Guitarwise, this record contains some of my most challenging guitar playing, because I had to approach it as if I was a hired guitarist. Using a “Jimi Hendrix live” analogy, I wanted to be able to say everything in a single, well-conceived guitar part. When people dig into these guitar parts, it’s going to fuck them up. Can I pull all of this off live? I’ll have to, because I can’t imagine anyone else playing my guitar parts.
GW This is really the opposite of the way you worked in the Pumpkins, where everything in the songs stemmed from your guitar playing.
CORGAN Right. But once I got this whole new process straight in my head, then I went back to writing songs the way I used to, and they were different. I had learned a new approach to the songwriting craft. Good examples of the results are “The Hybrid,” “Walking Shade”—which is the single—“Dia,” “I’m Ready”… These were all of the last songs written for the record.
GW There is something in the feeling of the song “Dia” that reminds me of “Perfect” [Adore].
CORGAN Really? Hey, no fucking way! [laughs] When you get up to the point where you’ve written about 350 songs, you always think, Have I written this one before? With Zwan, the band members were self conscious about the music sounding at all like the Pumpkins. But Jimmy and I were there—the two guys that defined the sound of the Pumpkins—and we were trying not to do what we do naturally; it was weird. It became a negative thing: Why am I listening to a band called Zwan if it sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins? It made me realize that unless I made a clear musical statement that could stand on its own, I would continue to hear this type of criticism. I feel like I’ve accomplished this now, but it wasn’t easy. In the process, I was able to realize a side of my musicality that was only hinted at before.
GW Any artist who has achieved a high level of success has to compete with his past.
CORGAN That used to feel like an albatross around my neck, because the success of the Pumpkins set the bar so high. But now I am really grateful for the experience. I am all for personal resolve, but when you mix it with fear and insecurity, it’s a recipe for disaster. You can get tweaked way too high. There are some insane contradictions when success brings you new cars, a new house. You are making money faster than you could spend it, but you are still trying to get blood out of the same stone, creativity-wise. There is actually something of a letdown when you hit Number One, because then there is no one left to beat. Who do you set your sights on next? Yourself. And once you get there, it’s hard to keep the band pulling together in the same direction. The drug issues in the band seem the most obvious things to point to, but they were really just one element in the overall picture. When things start to unravel, it’s no longer about being the best band in the world; it’s about survival. But I’m not a victim of my former self; I have a personal vision of my life now that is strong, and that’s where I take solace.
GW TheFutureEmbrace features a cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” with the Cure’s Robert Smith. An interesting twist is that you transposed the song to a minor key, which completely changes the vibe.
CORGAN It’s definitely a postmodern take on the tune, one that seems pretty appropriate at the moment. [laughs] I always loved the song. I tried the Motown technique of flipping the bass line to a minor key while keeping the chords major, and suddenly it was a different song. I had been speaking with Robert about being on the record, because we are old friends, and it seemed like the right tune. But when I called him and suggested it, there was an incredibly long transatlantic pause on the line before he responded, “The Bee Gees? Are you sure?”
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