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© Roberto Panucci/Demotix/Corbis
Billy Corgan has always been a big-picture kind of guy. For The Smashing Pumpkins’ third album, 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, he wrote so many songs that he needed two separate CDs to contain them all.
In 2000, the Pumpkins released Machina/ The Machines Of God, which was answered that same year by a sequel, Machina II/ The Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music. And for sheer mother-of-concept-album-ness, there’s no beating the 44-song Teargarden by Kaleidyscope from 2009, which expanded to include Oceania, the “album within an album,” released in 2012.
So it’s not entirely out of character for Corgan to be eyeing the release of two separate Smashing Pumpkins albums in 2015 – Monuments To An Elegy will be followed by Day For Night, respectively – but the mercurial musician did turn a few heads recently when he announced that Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee was beating the skins on all nine tracks of the first set. "Tommy is arguably the best two-and-four fuckin’ rock drummer to ever happen,” Corgan raves. “That’s where even the idea of even asking him to play on the record came from – it needed that kind of swagger, the kind of feeling that only Tommy can bring to it."
Corgan sat down with MusicRadar to talk about the upcoming albums, working with Lee, guitar sounds, and what he thinks it might take to grab today’s fickle and distracted music fans.
You've done the long-form approach to albums in the past, but why did you want to go with two albums and two titles for this new batch of songs?
“It’s a combination of things. I think in the modern world information is digested so quickly, so the problem with doing a double album is that whatever the general verdict on the new album would be, it would come within the first 48 hours of release. The other 50 percent of the material, CD 2 or whatever it is in this world... I mean, would it even be listened to? The chances of that are very, very small. That’s pretty much been proven out for me during the last seven to 10 years.
“What you hear from everybody these days is the same thing: ‘I have no time.’ [Laughs] The information age was supposed to give us more time, not less. But now we’re doing more multi-tasking than ever, and I’m included in that. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we do shorter albums that are more focused and have more punch to them?’ The idea was to spread them out within six to nine months of each other and get the kind of sustain in the world that one album just doesn’t generate anymore.
“Even with Oceania, we got a lot of good feedback on it – the sales were there and all of those things – but once we got past the 120-day mark, the public just moved on to other things. You know, it’s not personal. It’s not a rejection or a repudiation – it’s just, ‘Oh, there’s all of those other stuff to pay attention to.’”
Music has a faster burn than before.
“Yeah, so I think you can look at what pop-rock groups did in 1964: They were releasing two to three albums a year, and the public was digesting that material very quickly based on one or two singles, and then they moved on to the next. I think we’re pretty much back to that model.”
You have these new songs, these groups of songs, and you have the titles – maybe they’re change –
“No, no, I’m gonna stick to them.”
OK, so did you say, ‘This group of songs goes to Monuments To An Elegy and that group of songs goes to Day For Night’? Or is it more amorphous than that?
“You know, it’s really like fumbling in the dark. [Laughs] You know how candid I am about things… I really don’t know anymore what makes a good album. For example, you get this beautiful revisionist idea that if you’ve had success, people will say to you, ‘Oh, it’d be cool if you do that again.’ But the fact of the matter is, if I put out one of those albums in this current system – or place or whatever you want to call it – I don’t think the reaction would be the same."