By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Alternative rockers The Smashing Pumpkins have had huge hits - "Siamese Dream" and "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" - as well as well-publicized in-fighting and drug use that led to the Chicago band's break-up in 2000.
But after some false starts, lead singer Billy Corgan recently reformed the Pumpkins with new musicians and embarked on an ambitious 44-song project titled "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope."
Their new album, "Oceania," which entered the Billboard 200 charts this week at No. 4, is part of that project and the always-outspoken Corgan talked to Reuters about the new music.
Q: What sort of album did you set out to make?
A: "(Laughs) We thought we'd better make a really great album or we'd have to blow this business up. The necessity of an album has pretty much gone by the wayside. It doesn't seem to have the cultural impact anymore, and people aren't waiting around for the next ‘Sgt. Pepper' or ‘Pet Sounds.' In our case, we saw where my musical legacy and the band's abilities were being marginalized by a culture that celebrates a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with bands. So you can sit and whine, but if you believe you can make strong band music, then it trumps all other arguments - even sales. So either get out of the business or do something. As for ‘Oceania,' I don't even know where the title came from. It just felt right."
Q: You weren't seriously thinking of quitting, were you?
A: "No, but I felt, you have to morph the intention. OK, so the album's dead - what does it morph into? Maybe 3D projects, like a movie you do the soundtrack for, which you also self-finance."
Q: You say the album's dead, yet you're working on this massive ‘Teargarden' multi-album project.
A: "(Laughs) Yeah, well I ran my mouth and said I was doing this 44-song project, and the reason is, I picked a big enough number that'd force me to start and end somewhere, and give it an arc. So we began by just releasing a song at a time, and then an EP, and that was almost like an album. But I wasn't trying to do that - I was just trying to make interesting music."
Q: Is it true you worked in total secrecy?
A: "Yeah. Nobody heard the music - no manager, agent, publicist. Total isolation. You definitely want and long for the validation of others hearing it, but I just felt we needed to keep everyone out of the room. We had to build our own internal confidence. Sometimes, even people I've known for 20 years with the best intentions will walk in and say the wrong thing - ‘Oh, it sounds like The Beach Boys.' I love the Beach Boys, but that might be the wrong thing to say at that moment. Or the manager comes in and says, ‘I don't know if we can get that played on the radio,' and you're not even thinking that way. So we had to just trust each other."
Q: What comes first for you - music or lyrics?
A: "I'm a total song-whore (laughs). I'll do it whatever way works. Sometimes I write lyrics, sometimes I'll have a title, or steal something from myself, warp it and change it. I don't care."
Q: You initially streamed ‘Oceania' free on iTunes. Why?
A: "There was a general perception - even among our fans - that I was no longer able to make high level, credible music. It was the watered-down version of what I used to do. This is the first time in a long time where I intended the expectation they were expecting. The Stones in particular are a band I admire because they just roll it out whenever they feel like it, and when they don't, they don't. That's rock ‘n' roll. I could be in the Bahamas right now, sipping a margarita ... But I get up every day wanting to pursue an artistic agenda, and I've had moments where it's worked spectacularly and I'm a genius, and then had it miss, and I'm an idiot. I've lived it all - the good and the bad, and you just have to keep going forward."
(Reporting by Iain Blair, editing by Jill Serjeant, Bob Tourtellotte and Marguerita Choy)