By Kelly Dearmore
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Billy Corgan and some incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins have been part of each turn of the pop-music tide, good or bad, for a solid generation. The group's founder, mastermind and sole remaining original member has now been playing under the Pumpkins moniker for more than 20 years, releasing eight albums of varying success and cultural heft.
It's been almost three years since Corgan was promoting an album or doing extensive touring. Instead of releasing sprawling double-albums like 1995's magnum opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Corgan's new-age Pumpkins put out songs independently and one at a time through the band's website. The project, titled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, flashes a new psychedelic side to the Pumpkins' signature sound.
After such a long time in the music business, Corgan has plenty to say these days, and in a recent chat he told us all of it, including a few dire warnings for an industry that he sees as less worried about artists' maturation than crass marketing and social-media wrangling.
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We're surprised you're doing press this time around.
Billy Corgan: To be honest, the reason I didn't want to do press before was because I already knew what the questions were going to be, and I didn't want to answer them. I felt confident that I was going to have a future, and so I felt if I could at least indicate the future I was working on, then I could at least talk about the future and not the past. That's the case now, and it's really refreshing.
Is it harder for you to use newer tactics in marketing and social networking than it is for newer artists? When you do it, you get called a sellout.
I'm not OK with being called a sellout, but I'm OK with the fact that, in our paradigm, I am around to challenge those things. You have an enlightened opinion about it, and most people don't. The funny thing is that as time goes on, it just becomes so comical that the argument solves itself. The other day, I was discussing with someone why I continued the band name and just didn't start another band. And I said, "Look, I'm still here. I'm still on the cutting edge of new paradigms. I'm still making somewhat challenging music at times." I'm a living testament that this integrity system still has different things to say. The people who shake their head at me, their value system isn't at all reflective of mine. It doesn't have anything to do with music. They are much more concerned about web pages and blogs, and more of their social-networking world. Meanwhile, I'm still here, chucking songs out.
What bands are exciting to you right now?
I like the band that we [toured with], Bad City. They have a go-for-it kind of quality like Journey or Def Leppard did. It has an overt need to please. They are into it, and that's the best part. It's not some sort of hipster Vice magazine pose. When I listen to a lot of alternative bands these days, I just hear the pressure that they are under and the way it is constricting their music, and it breaks my heart. When I listened to Dinosaur Jr., I felt like J. [Mascis] was inviting me into his weird, wacky basement world. Now it feels like there is too much of an awareness of trying to be in the basement. There is a great irony when you know a band is using ProTools and plug-ins to sound more like Pavement.