The Smashing Pumpkins
|The Smashing Pumpkins|
2012 line-up of The Smashing Pumpkins (left to right): Nicole Fiorentino, Billy Corgan, and Jeff Schroeder (Mike Byrne is obscured at the drums) performing at Chaifetz Arena in St Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 2012
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Years active||1988–2000, 2006–present|
The Smashing Pumpkins are an American alternative rock band from Chicago, Illinois, formed in 1988. Formed by frontman Billy Corgan (lead vocals, guitar) and James Iha (guitar), the band included D'arcy Wretzky (bass guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) in its original incarnation. It has undergone many line-up changes over the course of its existence, with the current lineup being Corgan and rhythm guitarist Jeff Schroeder.
Disavowing the punk rock roots of many of their alt-rock contemporaries, the Pumpkins have a diverse, densely layered, and guitar-heavy sound, containing elements of gothic rock, heavy metal, dream pop, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, shoegazing, and electronica in later recordings. Corgan is the group's primary songwriter—his grand musical ambitions and cathartic lyrics have shaped the band's albums and songs, which have been described as "anguished, bruised reports from Billy Corgan's nightmare-land".
The Smashing Pumpkins broke into the musical mainstream with their second album, 1993's Siamese Dream. The group built its audience with extensive touring and their 1995 follow-up, the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. With 20 million albums sold in the United States alone, The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 1990s. However, internal fighting, drug use, and diminishing record sales led to a 2000 break-up.
In 2006, Corgan and Chamberlin reconvened to record a new Smashing Pumpkins album, Zeitgeist. After touring throughout 2007 and 2008 with a lineup including new guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Chamberlin left the band in early 2009. Later that year, Corgan began a new recording series with a rotating lineup of musicians entitled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, which encompassed the release of stand-alone singles, compilation EP releases, and two full albums that also fell under the project's scope—Oceania in 2012 and Monuments to an Elegy in 2014. As of 2016, Corgan and Schroeder remained the band's only official core members, though Corgan began working with prior members gradually as well, including Chamberlain as a touring drummer since 2015 and Iha in some guest appearances in concerts in 2016. By mid-2016, Corgan stated that they were considering reforming the band's original lineup, though no concrete plans have been revealed.
Early years: 1988–1991
After the breakup of his gothic rock band The Marked, singer and guitarist Billy Corgan left St. Petersburg, Florida, to return to his native city of Chicago, where he took a job in a record store and formed the idea of a new band to be called "The Smashing Pumpkins". While working there, he met guitarist James Iha. Adorning themselves with paisley and other psychedelic trappings, the two began writing songs together (with the aid of a drum machine) that were heavily influenced by The Cure and New Order. The duo performed live for the first time on July 9, 1988 at the Polish bar Chicago 21. This performance included only Corgan on bass and Iha on guitar with a drum machine. Shortly thereafter, Corgan met D'arcy Wretzky after a show by the Dan Reed Network where they argued the merits of the band. After finding out Wretzky played bass guitar, Corgan recruited her into the lineup and the now-trio played a show at the Avalon Nightclub. After this show, Cabaret Metro owner Joe Shanahan agreed to book the band on the condition that they replace the drum machine with a live drummer.
Jazz drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was recommended by a friend of Corgan's. Chamberlin knew little of alternative music and immediately changed the sound of the nascent band. As Corgan recalled of the period, "We were completely into the sad-rock, Cure kind of thing. It took about two or three practices before I realized that the power in his playing was something that enabled us to rock harder than we could ever have imagined." On October 5, 1988, the complete band took the stage for the first time at the Cabaret Metro.
In 1989, The Smashing Pumpkins made their first appearance on record with the compilation album Light Into Dark, which featured several Chicago alternative bands. The group released its first single, "I Am One", in 1990 on local Chicago label Limited Potential. The single sold out and they released a follow-up, "Tristessa", on Sub Pop, after which they signed to Caroline Records. The band recorded their 1991 debut studio album Gish with producer Butch Vig at his Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin for $20,000. In order to gain the consistency he desired, Corgan often played all instruments save drums, which created tension in the band. The music fused heavy metal guitars, psychedelia, and dream pop, garnering them comparisons to Jane's Addiction. Gish became a minor success, with the single "Rhinoceros" receiving some airplay on modern rock radio. After releasing the Lull EP in October 1991 on Caroline Records, the band formally signed with Virgin Records, which was affiliated with Caroline. The band supported the album with a tour that included opening for bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, and Guns N' Roses. During the tour, Iha and Wretzky went through a messy breakup, Chamberlin became addicted to narcotics and alcohol, and Corgan entered a deep depression, writing some songs for the upcoming album in the parking garage where he lived at the time.
Mainstream breakout: 1992–1994
With the breakthrough of alternative rock into the American mainstream due to the popularity of grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins were poised for major commercial success. At this time, The Smashing Pumpkins were routinely lumped in with the grunge movement, with Corgan protesting, "We've graduated now from 'the next Jane's Addiction' to 'the next Nirvana', now we're 'the next Pearl Jam'."
Amid this environment of intense internal pressure for the band to break through to widespread popularity, the band relocated to Marietta, Georgia in late 1992 to begin work on their second album, with Butch Vig returning as producer. The decision to record so far away from their hometown was motivated partly by the band's desire to avoid friends and distractions during the recording, but largely as a desperate attempt to cut Chamberlin off from his known drug connections. The recording environment for Siamese Dream was quickly marred by discord within the band. As was the case with Gish, Corgan and Vig decided that Corgan should play nearly all of the guitar and bass parts on the album, contributing to an air of resentment. The contemporary music press began to portray Corgan as a tyrant. Corgan's depression, meanwhile, had deepened to the point where he contemplated suicide, and he compensated by practically living in the studio. Meanwhile, Chamberlin quickly managed to find new connections and was often absent without any contact for days at a time. In all, it took over four months to complete the record, with the budget exceeding $250,000.
Despite all the problems in its recording, Siamese Dream debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200 chart, and sold over four million copies in the U.S. alone. Alongside the band's mounting mainstream recognition, the band's reputation as careerists among their former peers in the independent music community was worsened. Indie rock band Pavement's 1994 song "Range Life" directly mocks the band in its lyrics, although Stephen Malkmus, lead singer of Pavement, has stated, "I never dissed their music. I just dissed their status." Former Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould called them "the grunge Monkees", and fellow Chicago musician/producer Steve Albini wrote a scathing letter in response to an article praising the band, derisively comparing them to REO Speedwagon ("by, of and for the mainstream") and concluding their ultimate insignificance. The opening track and lead single of Siamese Dream, "Cherub Rock", directly addresses Corgan's feud with the "indie-world".
In 1994, Virgin released the B-sides/rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot which charted higher than Siamese Dream by reaching number four on the Billboard 200. Also released was a VHS cassette titled Vieuphoria featuring a mix of live performances and behind-the-scenes footage. Following relentless touring to support the recordings, including headline slots on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour and at Reading Festival in 1995, the band took time off to write the follow-up album.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: 1995–1997
Corgan worked non-stop over the next year and wrote about fifty-six songs for the next album. Following this spell of concentrated creativity, the Pumpkins went back into the studio with producers Flood and Alan Moulder to work on what Corgan described as "The Wall for Generation X", a comparison with the 1979 Pink Floyd two-LP concept album.
The result was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double album featuring twenty-eight songs and lasting over two hours (the vinyl version of the album contained three records, two extra songs, and an alternate track listing). The songs were intended to hang together conceptually as a symbol of the cycle of life and death. Praised by Time as "the group's most ambitious and accomplished work yet", Mellon Collie debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in October 1995. Even more successful than Siamese Dream, it was certified ten times platinum in the United States and became the best-selling double album of the decade to date. It also garnered seven 1997 Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year. The band won only the Best Hard Rock Performance award, for the album's lead single "Bullet with Butterfly Wings". The album spawned five singles—"Bullet with Butterfly Wings", "1979", "Zero", "Tonight, Tonight", and "Thirty-Three"—of which the first three were certified gold and all but "Zero" entered the Top 40. Many of the remaining songs that did not make it onto Mellon Collie were released as B-sides to the singles, and were eventually compiled in The Aeroplane Flies High box set. As a testament to the band's popularity, Virgin Records originally intended to limit the set to 200,000 copies, but produced more after the original run sold out due to overwhelming demand.
In 1996, the Pumpkins undertook an extended world tour in support of Mellon Collie. Corgan's look during this period—a shaved head, a longsleeve black shirt with the word "Zero" printed on it, and silver pants—became iconic. That year, the band also made a guest appearance in an episode of The Simpsons, "Homerpalooza". With considerable video rotation on MTV, major industry awards, and "Zero" shirts selling in many malls, the Pumpkins were considered one of the most popular bands of the time. But the year was far from entirely positive for the band. In May, the Smashing Pumpkins played a gig at The Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Despite the band's repeated requests for moshing to stop, a seventeen-year-old fan named Bernadette O'Brien was crushed to death. The concert ended early and the following night's performance in Belfast was cancelled out of respect for her. However, while Corgan maintained that moshing's "time [had] come and gone", the band would continue to request open-floor concerts throughout the rest of the tour.
The band suffered a personal tragedy on the night of July 11, 1996, when touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and Chamberlin overdosed on heroin in a hotel room in New York City. Melvoin died, and Chamberlin was arrested for drug possession. A few days later, the band announced that Chamberlin had been fired as a result of the incident. The Pumpkins chose to finish the tour, and hired drummer Matt Walker and keyboardist Dennis Flemion. Corgan later said the decision to continue touring was the worst decision the band had ever made, damaging both their music and their reputation. Chamberlin admitted in a 1994 Rolling Stone cover story that in the past he'd "gotten high in every city in this country and probably half the cities in Europe." But in recent years, he had reportedly been clean. On July 17, the Pumpkins issued a statement in which they said, "For nine years we have battled with Jimmy's struggles with the insidious disease of drug and alcohol addiction. It has nearly destroyed everything we are and stand for. … We wish [him] the best we have to offer". Meanwhile, the band had given interviews since the release of Mellon Collie stating that it would be the last conventional Pumpkins record, and that rock was becoming stale. James Iha said at the end of 1996, "The future is in electronic music. It really seems boring just to play rock music."
Adore, Machina, and breakup: 1998–2000
After the release of Mellon Collie, the Pumpkins contributed a number of songs to various compilations. Released in early 1997, the song "Eye", which appeared on the soundtrack to David Lynch's Lost Highway, relied almost exclusively on electronic instruments and signaled a drastic shift from the Pumpkins' previous musical styles. At the time, Corgan stated his "idea [was] to reconfigure the focus and get away from the classic guitars-bass-drum rock format." Later that year, the group contributed "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" to the soundtrack for the film Batman & Robin. With Matt Walker on drums, the song featured a heavy sound similar to "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" while still having strong electronic influences. The song later won the 1998 Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. Though Corgan announced that the song represented the sound people could expect from the band in the future, the band's next album would feature few guitar driven songs.
Recorded following the death of Corgan's mother and his divorce, 1998's Adore represented a significant change of style from the Pumpkins' previous guitar-based rock, veering into electronica. The record, cut with assistance from drum machines and studio drummers including Matt Walker, was infused with a darker aesthetic than much of the band's earlier work. The group also modified its public image, shedding its alternative rock look for a more subdued appearance. Although Adore received favorable reviews and was nominated for Best Alternative Performance at the Grammy Awards, the album had only sold about 830,000 copies in the United States by the end of the year, which led the music industry to consider it a failure. The album nonetheless sold three times as many copies overseas. The band began a seventeen-date, fifteen-city charity North American tour in support of Adore. At each stop on the tour, the band donated 100 percent of tickets sales to a local charity organization. The tour's expenses were entirely funded out of the band's own pockets. All told, the band donated over $2.8 million to charity as a result of the tour.
In 1999, the band surprised fans by reuniting with a rehabilitated Jimmy Chamberlin for a brief tour dubbed "The Arising", which showcased both new and classic material. The lineup was short-lived, however, as the band announced the departure of Wretzky in September during work on the album Machina/The Machines of God. Former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur was recruited for the "Sacred and Profane" tour in support of the album and appeared in the videos accompanying its release. Released in 2000, Machina was initially promoted as the Pumpkins' return to a more traditional rock sound, after the more gothic, electronic-sounding Adore. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard charts, but quickly disappeared and as of 2007 had only been certified gold. Music journalist Jim DeRogatis, who described the album as "one of the strongest of their career", noted that the stalled sales for Machina in comparison to teen pop ascendant at the time "seems like concrete proof that a new wave of young pop fans has turned a deaf ear toward alternative rock."
On May 23, 2000, in a live radio interview on KROQ-FM (Los Angeles), Billy Corgan announced the band's decision to break up at the end of that year following additional touring and recording. The group's final album before the break-up, Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, was released in September 2000 in a limited pressing on vinyl with permission and instructions for free redistribution on the Internet by fans. Only twenty-five copies were cut, each of which was hand numbered and given to friends of the band along with band members themselves. The album, released under the Constantinople Records label created by Corgan, consisted of one double LP and three ten-inch EPs. Originally, the band asked Virgin to offer Machina II as a free download to anyone who bought Machina. When the record label declined, Corgan opted to release the material independently.
On December 2, 2000, Smashing Pumpkins played a farewell concert at The Metro, the same Chicago club where their career had effectively started twelve years earlier. The four-and-a-half-hour-long show featured 35 songs spanning the group's career, and attendees were given a recording of the band's first concert at The Metro, Live at Cabaret Metro 10-5-88. The single "Untitled" was released commercially to coincide with the farewell show.
In 2005, Billy Corgan discussed an issue that impacted the band back in 1993. In an A.P. profile that was published about The Smashing Pumpkins, guitarist James Iha and bass guitarist D'arcy Wretzky informed the writer that Billy Corgan played all of the instruments on the band's recordings. According to Corgan, this represented "a cataclysmic moment" in the band's history. Although this peeved other members of the band, they held together and continued onward. Billy Corgan explained that the A.P. article was one of the principal reasons that the band decided to break up.
In 2001, the compilation Rotten Apples was released. The double-disc version of the album, released as a limited edition, included a collection of B-sides and rarities called Judas O. The Greatest Hits Video Collection DVD was also released at the same time. This was a compilation of all of the Pumpkins promo videos from Gish to Machina along with unreleased material. Vieuphoria was released on DVD in 2002, as was the soundtrack album Earphoria, previously released solely to radio stations in 1994.
Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin reunited in 2001 as members of Corgan's next project, the short-lived supergroup Zwan. The group's only album, Mary Star of the Sea, was released in 2003. After cancelling a few festival appearances, Corgan announced the demise of the band in 2003. During 2001, Corgan also toured as part of New Order and provided vocals on their comeback album Get Ready. In October 2004, Corgan released his first book, Blinking with Fists, a collection of poetry. In June 2005, he released a solo album, TheFutureEmbrace, which he described as "(picking) up the thread of the as-of-yet-unfinished work of the Smashing Pumpkins". Despite this, it was greeted with generally mixed reviews and lackluster sales. Only one single, "Walking Shade", was released in support of the album.
In addition to drumming with Zwan, Jimmy Chamberlin also formed an alternative rock/jazz fusion project band called The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. The group released an album in 2005 titled Life Begins Again. Corgan provided guest vocals on the track "Lokicat". James Iha served as a guitarist in A Perfect Circle, appearing on their Thirteenth Step club tour and 2004 album, eMOTIVe. He has also been involved with other acts such as Chino Moreno's Team Sleep and Vanessa and the O's. He continues to work with his own record label as well, Scratchie Records. D'arcy Wretzky has, aside from one radio interview in 2009, not made any public statements or appearances nor given any interviews since leaving the band in 1999. On January 25, 2000, she was arrested after she allegedly purchased three bags of crack cocaine, but after successfully completing a court-ordered drug education program, the charges were dropped.
Corgan insisted during this period that the band would not reform, although when Zwan broke up he announced, "I think my heart was in Smashing Pumpkins […] I think it was naive of me to think that I could find something that would mean as much to me." Corgan said in 2005, "I never wanted to leave the Smashing Pumpkins. That was never the plan." On February 17, 2004, Corgan posted a message on his personal blog calling Wretzky a "mean-spirited drug addict" and blaming Iha for the breakup of The Smashing Pumpkins. On June 3, 2004, he added that "the depth of my hurt [from Iha] is only matched with the depth of my gratitude". Iha responded to Corgan's claims in 2005, saying, "No, I didn't break up the band. The only person who could have done that is Billy."
Reformation and Zeitgeist: 2005–2008
On June 21, 2005, the day of the release of his album TheFutureEmbrace, Corgan took out full-page advertisements in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times to announce that he planned to reunite the band. "For a year now", Corgan wrote, "I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams". Corgan and Chamberlin were verified as participants in the reunion, but there was question as to whether other former members of the band would participate.
In April 2007, Iha and Auf der Maur separately confirmed that they were not taking part in the reunion. Chamberlin would later state that Iha and Wretzky "didn't want to be a part of" the reunion. The Smashing Pumpkins performed live for the first time since 2000 on May 22, 2007, in Paris, France. There, the band unveiled new touring members: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton. That same month, "Tarantula" was released as the first single from the band's forthcoming album. On July 7, the band performed at the Live Earth concert in New Jersey.
The band's new album, Zeitgeist, was released that same month on Reprise Records, entering the Billboard charts at number two and selling 145,000 copies in its first week. Zeitgeist received mixed reviews, with much of the criticism targeted at the absence of half of the original lineup. The album divided the Pumpkins' fanbase. Corgan would later admit, "I know a lot of our fans are puzzled by Zeitgeist. I think they wanted this massive, grandiose work, but you don't just roll out of bed after seven years without a functioning band and go back to doing that".
Corgan and Chamberlin continued to record as a duo, releasing the four-song EP American Gothic in January 2008 and the singles "Superchrist" and "G.L.O.W." later that year. That November, the group released the DVD If All Goes Wrong, which chronicled the group's 2007 concert residences in Asheville, North Carolina and San Francisco, California. In late 2008, the band commenced on a controversy-riddled 20th Anniversary Tour. Around this time, Corgan said the group will make no more full-length records in order to focus exclusively on singles, explaining, "The listening patterns have changed, so why are we killing ourselves to do albums, to create balance, and do the arty track to set up the single? It's done."
Teargarden and Oceania: 2009–2013
In March 2009, Corgan announced on the band's website that Chamberlin had left the group and would be replaced. Chamberlin subsequently stated that his departure from the band is "a positive move forward for me. I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don't fully possess." Chamberlin stressed that the split was amicable, commenting, "I am glad [Corgan] has chosen to continue under the name. It is his right." Chamberlin soon formed the band Skysaw, which has released an album and toured in support of Minus the Bear. In July 2009, Billy Corgan formed a new group called Spirits in the Sky, initially as a tribute band to Sky Saxon of The Seeds, who had recently died. The following month Corgan confirmed on the band's website that 19-year-old Spirits in the Sky drummer Mike Byrne had replaced Chamberlin and that the pair was working on new Pumpkins recordings.
The group announced plans to release a 44-track concept album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, for free over the Internet one track at a time. The first track, "A Song for a Son", was released in December 2009 to moderate press acclaim. In March 2010, Ginger Reyes officially left the band, prompting an open call for auditions for a new bassist. In May, Nicole Fiorentino announced she had joined the band as bass player, and would be working on Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. The new lineup went on a world tour through to the end of 2010. One of the first shows with the new lineup was a concert to benefit Matthew Leone, bassist for the rock band Madina Lake, at the Metro on July 27, 2010. In late 2010, all four members contributed to the sessions for the third volume of Teargarden.
On April 26, 2011, Corgan announced that the Smashing Pumpkins would be releasing a new album titled Oceania, which he labeled as "an album within an album" in regards to the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, in the fall. As with the previous recording sessions, all four band members contributed to the project. Also, the entire album catalog was to be remastered and reissued with bonus tracks, starting with Gish and Siamese Dream in November 2011. The pre-Gish demos, Pisces Iscariot, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were released in 2012, with The Aeroplane Flies High released the following year. Adore was released in 2014, and Machina/The Machines of God and the yet commercially unreleased Machina II/Friends and Enemies of Modern Music are expected to be combined, remixed, and released in the same year. The band did a thirteen-city US tour in October 2011 followed by a European tour in November and December.
Oceania was released on June 19, 2012 and received generally positive reviews. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and at No. 1 on the Billboard Independent. The album spawned two singles, "The Celestials" and "Panopticon". The band proceeded to tour in support of the album, including a US tour involving playing the album in its entirety. By September 2012, Corgan stated that the band had already begun work on their next album. However, despite this, the band concentrated on touring, playing at Glastonbury Festival, Dour Festival and the Barclays Center, where they recorded Oceania: Live in NYC, which was released on September 24, 2013, without much comment on new material.
Monuments to an Elegy: 2014–present
On March 25, 2014, Corgan announced he had signed a new record deal with BMG, for two new albums, titled Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night, respectively. In June, it was revealed that Mike Byrne was no longer in the band, to be replaced by Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe on the new album, and Fiorentino would not be recording on the album either. Monuments to an Elegy was released on December 5, 2014, to generally positive reviews. The band toured in support of the album starting on November 26, with Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk filling in on drums and The Killers' Mark Stoermer filling in on bass. The follow-up album, which will no longer be titled Day For Night, was pushed back to a late 2015 or early 2016 release as the band continued to tour.
Later in 2015, Corgan announced that the band would undertake a co-headlining tour of North America with Marilyn Manson. The End Times Tour was set to begin in Concord, California, at the Concord Pavilion on July 7, and was scheduled to end with a concert in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the Riverbend Music Center on August 8. Prior to the co-headlining dates, the band performed a series of acoustic shows with drum machines and tapes for percussion. When the time came for the co-headlining tour, plans for a drummer fell through and Corgan recruited Chamberlin to reunite for the shows. On February 1, 2016, it was announced that the band would continue their In Plainsong acoustic tour with Jimmy Chamberlin on drums and were planning to head "straight to the studio after the dates to record a brand new album inspired by the sounds explored in the new acoustic setting". On February 25, 2016, Corgan posted a video from a Los Angeles studio on the band's Facebook account, giving an update on the writing process for the new songs for the upcoming album to be released after the In Plainsong tour. The tour began in Portland, Oregon, on March 22, 2016.
On his birthday on March 26, 2016, original guitarist James Iha joined Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, and Jeff Schroeder on stage unannounced at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. He performed a few songs, including "Mayonaise", "Soma" and "Whir" marking his first appearance with the Smashing Pumpkins in 16 years. Iha also played at the second of the two Smashing Pumpkins shows at the Ace Hotel the following day, which was Easter Sunday. Iha joined the Pumpkins for a third time at their April 14 concert at the Civic Opera House in Chicago. In August, Corgan mentioned that he had been reaching out to the original lineup, including speaking to Wretzky for the first time in sixteen years, in hopes of rekindling the relationship between members and seeing if it were potentially feasible to reform the band's original lineup of Corgan, Iha, Wretzky, and Chamberlin.
Musical style, influences, and legacy
Sample of "1979", the second single from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995). The band's biggest hit and a precursor to their change in style, featuring a drum machine accompaniment to Chamberlin's drums and sampled vocal effects.
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The direction of the band is dominated by chief guitarist, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter Billy Corgan. Journalist Greg Kot wrote, "The music [of The Smashing Pumpkins] would not be what it is without his ambition and vision, and his famously fractured relationships with his family, friends, and bandmembers." Melissa Auf der Maur commented upon news of the group's reunion, "Everyone knows Billy doesn't need too many people to make a Pumpkins record, other than Jimmy [Chamberlin]—who he has on board." In a 2015 interview Corgan himself referred to the current iteration of the band "as sort of an open source collective" noting that "It's whoever feels right at the time.". Many of Corgan's lyrics for the Pumpkins are cathartic expressions of emotion, full of personal musings and strong indictments of himself and those close to him. Music critics were not often fans of Corgan's angst-filled lyrics. Jim DeRogatis wrote in a 1993 Chicago Sun-Times article that Corgan's lyrics "too often sound like sophomoric poetry", although he viewed the lyrics of later albums Adore and Machina as an improvement. Corgan responded to DeRogatis' words with "fuck the Sun-Times", at the band's 1993 show at the Metro Chicago.
The Smashing Pumpkins' distinctive sound up until Adore involved layering numerous guitar tracks onto a song during the recording process, a tactic that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness coproducer Flood called the "Pumpkin guitar overdub army." Although there were a lot of overdubbed parts on Gish, Corgan began to really explore the possibilities of overdubbing with Siamese Dream; Corgan has stated that "Soma" alone contains up to 40 overdubbed guitar parts. While Corgan knew many of the songs would be difficult or impossible to replicate from their recorded versions in concert (in fact, some songs were drastically altered for live performance), he has explained the use of overdubbing by posing the question "When you are faced with making a permanent recorded representation of a song, why not endow it with the grandest possible vision?" This use of multilayered sounds was inspired by Corgan's love of 1970s arena rock bands Queen, Boston, and the Electric Light Orchestra, as well as shoegaze, a British alternative rock style of the late 1980s and early 1990s that relied on swirling layers of guitar noise for effect. Mellon Collie coproducer Alan Moulder was originally hired to mix Siamese Dream because Corgan was a fan of his work producing shoegaze bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive.
Like many contemporary alternative bands, The Smashing Pumpkins utilized shifts in song dynamics, going from quiet to loud and vice versa. Hüsker Dü's seminal album Zen Arcade demonstrated to the band how they could place gentler material against more aggressive fare, and Corgan made such shifts in dynamics central to the pursuit of his grand musical ambitions. Corgan said he liked the idea of creating his own alternative universe through sound that essentially tells the listener, "Welcome to Pumpkin Land, this is what it sounds like on Planet Pumpkin." This emphasis on atmosphere carried through to Adore (described as "arcane night music" in prerelease promotion) and the Machina albums (concept records that tell the story of a fictional rock band).
The Pumpkins drew inspiration from a variety of other genres, some unfashionable during the 1990s among music critics. Corgan in particular was open about his appreciation of heavy metal, citing Dimebag Darrell of Pantera as his favorite contemporary guitarist. When one interviewer commented to Corgan and Iha that "Smashing Pumpkins is one of the groups that relegitimized heavy metal" and that they "were among the first alternative rockers to mention people like Ozzy and Black Sabbath with anything other than contempt". Corgan went on to rave about Black Sabbath's Master of Reality and Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East. The song "Zero", which reminded Iha of Judas Priest, is an example of what the band dubbed "cybermetal." Post-punk and gothic rock bands like Joy Division/New Order, Bauhaus, The Cure, and Depeche Mode were formative influences on the band, which covered such artists in concert and on record. Corgan also cited Siouxsie and the Banshees saying it was important to point back to bands that influenced them. Psychedelic rock was also referenced often in the band's early recordings; according to Corgan, "In typical Pumpkins fashion, no one at that point really liked loud guitars or psychedelic music so, of course, that's exactly what we had to do." Corgan acknowledged that a chord he jokingly claimed as "the Pumpkin chord" (a G# octave chord at the eleventh fret of a guitar with the low E string played over it), used as the basis for "Cherub Rock", "Drown", and other songs, was in fact previously used by Jimi Hendrix. Other early influences cited by Corgan include Cream, The Stooges, and Blue Cheer.
Regarding the band's influence upon other groups, Greg Kot wrote in 2001, "Whereas Nirvana spawned countless mini-Nirvanas, the Pumpkins remain an island unto themselves." Still, some artists and bands have been influenced by the Pumpkins, such as Nelly Furtado, Marilyn Manson, Tegan and Sara, Panic! at the Disco, and members of My Chemical Romance. My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way has said that they pattern their career upon the Pumpkins', including music videos. The members of fellow Chicago band Kill Hannah are friends with Corgan, and lead singer Mat Devine has compared his group to the Pumpkins.
The Smashing Pumpkins have been praised as "responsible for some of the most striking and memorable video clips" and for having "approached videos from a completely artistic standpoint rather than mere commercials to sell albums". MTV's 2001 anniversary special Testimony: 20 Years of Rock on MTV credited the Pumpkins, along with Nine Inch Nails, with treating music videos as an art form during the 1990s. Corgan has said, "We generally resisted the idea of what I call the classic MTV rock video, which is like lots of people jumping around and stuff." The band worked with video directors including Kevin Kerslake ("Cherub Rock"), Samuel Bayer ("Bullet with Butterfly Wings"), and, most frequently, the team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Rocket", "1979", "Tonight, Tonight", "The End Is the Beginning Is the End", and "Perfect"). Corgan, who was frequently heavily involved in the conception of the videos, said of Dayton and Faris, "I know my [initial] versions are always darker, and they're always talking me into something a little kinder and gentler." Videos like "Today", "Rocket", and "1979" dealt with images taken from middle American culture, albeit exaggerated. The group's videos so often avoid the literal interpretation of the song lyrics that the video for "Thirty-Three", with images closely related to the words of the song, was created as an intentional stylistic departure.
The band was nominated for several MTV Video Music Awards during the 1990s. In 1996, the group won seven VMAs total for the "1979" and "Tonight, Tonight" videos, including the top award, Video of the Year, for "Tonight, Tonight". The video was also nominated for a Grammy at the 1997 ceremony. Of the "Tonight, Tonight" video, Corgan remarked, "I don't think we've ever had people react [like this]... it just seemed to touch a nerve."
Shortly after the band's 2000 breakup, the Greatest Hits Video Collection was released, collecting the band's music videos from 1991 to 2000 and including commentary from Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin, Wretzky, and various music video directors with outtakes, live performances, and the extended "Try, Try, Try" short film. The band has also released several music videos to YouTube and other online sources since reuniting.
- Billy Corgan – lead vocals, guitars (1988–2000; 2006–present)
- Jeff Schroeder – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (2007–present)
- Jimmy Chamberlin – drums (2015–present; full member 1988–1996; 1999–2000; 2006–2009; 2015–2016)
- Sierra Swan – various instruments (2016–present)
- James Iha – guitars, backing vocals (1988–2000)
- D'arcy Wretzky – bass guitar, backing vocals (1988–1999)
- Melissa Auf der Maur – bass guitar, backing vocals (1999–2000)
- Mike Byrne – drums, backing vocals, keyboards (2009–2014)
- Nicole Fiorentino – bass guitar, backing vocals, keyboards (2009–2014)
- Studio albums
- Gish (1991)
- Siamese Dream (1993)
- Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
- Adore (1998)
- Machina/The Machines of God (2000)
- Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
- Zeitgeist (2007)
- Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (2009–2016)
- List of awards and nominations received by The Smashing Pumpkins
- List of artists who reached number one on the U.S. alternative rock chart
- Timeline of alternative rock
- The band is credited as "The Smashing Pumpkins" on all releases between Mellon Collie (1995) and Earphoria (2002), as well as from Teargarden by Kaleidoscope (2009) to Monuments to an Elegy (2014); and at the AllMusic database. They are credited as merely "Smashing Pumpkins" on Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), and Zeitgeist (2007), and at the Billboard database. The Rolling Stone website contains two separate databases for both Smashing Pumpkins and The Smashing Pumpkins.
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