On October 23, 2023, Jeff Schroeder, an anchor of the Smashing Pumpkins guitar squad since 2007, announced that he was departing Billy Corgan’s iconic alt-rock outfit, saying, among other things that he planned to "explore a slightly different path."
Fans who witnessed the Pumpkins rise in the '90s often cite Corgan and James Iha as the band's primary guitar talent, but from 2007 onward – especially with Iha out of the band until 2018 – Jeff Schroeder was nothing short of essential.
It's not a stretch to say that without Schroeder, the Pumpkins might not exist, as he didn't only provide virtuosic chops but safe mooring in an era that was anything but stable.
"I joined the band during a major transition stage within the music industry," Schroeder says. "I don't think that any of us realized what it would really be like out there."
Thinking back on Corgan's plan for the Pumpkins new lineup-led relaunch after going dormant in 2000, Schroeder recalls, "When I joined, the idea was the band was going to pick up and carry on what it started, or from where it left off. That would be making new music, doing tours focused on the new music and some of the stuff from the defining era."
Of course, it wasn't going to be as easy as they'd hoped: "What we came up against was an industry that said, 'If you're going to be a successful band from the past, you're going to have to become a greatest hits band,'" he says. "That wasn't something we were interested in doing, so things fragmented and fell apart. People left the band, and at one point, it was just Billy and me until we found [drummer] Mike [Byrne] and [bassist] Nicole [Fiorentino]."
Though Corgan had spent the entirety of the Pumpkins' first run navigating choppy waters, this time, the world wasn't as receptive to the resultant music, making Schroeder's even-keeled temperament an essential element to the band's survival.
But survive they did, with a 2018 lineup shuffle reuniting old guard members Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) and Iha (guitars), and cemented a triple-guitar lineup for five years of good times, classic tunes, and massive tours.
"It was tough," Schroeder says. "But we kept working through it, trying to figure it out and rebuild. At the core of the Smashing Pumpkins is the music and the musicality in being good musicians, playing well together, and exploring new spaces. So, even when the band wasn't as 'successful,' it was still a lot of fun musically. We put on a lot of good shows, made good music, and made a lot of people happy along the way."
It couldn't have been easy to walk away from something so huge, let alone something he helped rebuild, leaving a wound that, though necessary, is still raw. And so, Schroeder is in no rush, ensuring he digs deep to find what will feed his desire to explore that "slightly different path".
For now, though, he's looking back on what's been a soaring journey: “I got to play with top-level musicians like Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, and James Iha," he beams. "Situations like that are a gift."
"All of that allowed me to become better," he concludes. "I definitely would not be the musician I am today without it. I learned how to practice, sound good, and perform in front of people. I mean… it's like every aspect of my musical life has been influenced by my time in the Smashing Pumpkins in a very positive way. It was paradigm-shifting for me. I'll never forget it."
In this exclusive interview, Schroeder expands on his reasons for quitting the Smashing Pumpkins after over a decade-and-a-half, what lies ahead, and his proudest moments as part of the rock icons' lineup.
What led to the decision to leave the Smashing Pumpkins after 16 years?
"Well, it certainly wasn't an easy one, and it's something that I thought about for a long time. A lot of it has to do with the circumstances of my joining the band; I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I grew up in that music scene. And I was always in my own band, not someone else’s. Many musicians come to L.A. to go to Berklee College of Music, find work, try and join a band, and get hired by other artists.
"But that was never my thing. I never auditioned for bands, so being in someone else's band wasn't something I ever thought about. But when the situation with the Pumpkins happened, I was such a fan of the band, and it was something I was super-passionate about doing, which made it great."
Did James [Iha] returning to the band in 2018 impact your decision? I imagine it must have been difficult having less space to play.
"I mean, yes, and no. Of course, on stage, there's only so much sonic real estate, but his rejoining, strangely, was interesting because I always go into things with an open mind. I know that from the outside looking in, you would possibly think it could have been a negative experience, but, in fact, James's joining was a very positive experience.
"I've loved playing with him, and for what the band is trying to do, especially on the live side of things, it was necessary to have three guitar players. There are so many overdubs on the records, and it's still hard; you still have to combine parts and basically amalgamate what's there. So, maybe in some ways, but overall, it didn't really feel that way."
It was more a matter of getting back to doing your own thing, then?
"At the end of the day, you end up in a situation where you're joining something that already has a history. And even though I was a part of the history that carried that book onward from 2007 and forward, it's still something different [from the established history]. And that being the case, and with me reaching a midpoint in my life, it felt right.
"Even though it was a good time, and I love the guys, I felt like with a bit of time off now and no shows until next summer, now felt like the right time to create some space and do something different. And I don't want to say that I wasn't being challenged in the Smashing Pumpkins anymore. It's more that I feel like it's time for me to do something different artistically that is a bit different from what I've been doing."
And what will that sound like musically?
"Well, I'm in no rush. And the thing is, before I was in the Smashing Pumpkins, I was finishing my doctorate at UCLA in literature. So, on one hand, there's a desire for me to get back into that side of my life, the academic side. I'd like to do some things that bridge the gap between literature and music.
"But I've also been producing other bands, and I'll continue to do that, along with some writing. That aside, for the most part, what I'm most interested in is beginning to do more solo guitar work. And what I mean by 'solo' is performing actually by myself and things like that."
It's essential to avoid the dreaded rebound relationship!
"Yeah! [laughs] In the short term, I am open to whatever. I'm not trying to be too prescriptive about where I will go in the future. I think, for now, it's too soon, you know? It would be easy to say, 'Oh, I want to do this,' or 'I'm going to do that.' Being in the Smashing Pumpkins was such a big part of my musical life, and I think the most important thing for me to do is decompress and clear this space.
"I've worked hard for the last 16 years to give myself some time. And so, really, what I want to do is spend some time with the instrument, spend some time with music, and spend some quiet time recording, exploring, and just seeing what naturally occurs.
"I'm very wary of doing anything that would be reactive to the situation that I just left. I don't want to end up in that rebound relationship, so I gotta be careful. And I should be cautious to allow things to settle and let myself have some fun."
Did your leaving come as a surprise to Billy, James, and Jimmy? Did they take it well?
"I think… maybe they did. Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm not quite sure about anybody's real feelings about it. And to be honest, it wasn't something I'd expressed outside of my own thoughts. I hadn't discussed it with anyone else in the band, so maybe, yes, it was a bit of a surprise to them."
Like you said, there was an established legacy when you joined the Pumpkins, but you've brought a lot to the table since. What are you most proud of?
"What I'm most proud of from when I joined the band in 2007 to when I left here in 2023 is the journey. With Jimmy, James, and Billy still there, I feel like the band is in a better place than when I joined, which feels very good and positive. Even though we went through some really rough and confusing years while trying to figure out how to be a band in this modern era, it feels positive."
What will you miss most about being in the Smashing Pumpkins?
"I'll miss the guys every day. It might have been time for me to do something different, but that doesn't change the fact that it was so much fun! It was incredible. Where I grew up, you could go up to Hollywood, start a band, and try and do all these things, but still, most of the time, you never get to do all those things for real.
"So, to play arenas, make videos and records with huge producers like Rick Ruben, play on late-night TV and headline festivals, I mean, that's the stuff you can only dream of doing. So, I feel thankful that the guys gave me the opportunity. And up to the day I left the band, Billy and I were still talking about the Mission U.K. and how Wayne Hussey's guitar sound is amazing."
It sounds as if the friendship will endure regardless of your band membership.
"Business stuff always creeps in, but at the core of everything have always been friendships. And so, I will really miss that, and the stuff based on music, and being friends in that way.
"I will miss that a lot, but honestly, as an artist, I didn't really feel like I had much of a choice. I was just like, 'Okay, this is the time of my life where if I want to do something different, I'm gonna have to do it now.' It wasn't easy, but I had to decide to lead with my heart in that way."
How has the experience of being in the Smashing Pumpkins changed you as a guitar player?
"Fundamentally, it changed me in every way. Up until the point of my joining the band, I was a musician and an academic who was trying to figure out a way to live in the world. But joining the Smashing Pumpkins allowed me to be a full-time musician. It completely changed my life in that I could wake up each day, connect with my instrument, learn, and expand. I'll always be so thankful for all of it."