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© Kristin Burns
It’s been over a decade since Billy Corgan has produced an album for another artist. Not that he’s been lacking for offers: “If I get approached 20 times to produce somebody, I probably say no 20 times,” Corgan says. “Generally speaking, I don’t like producing. I feel like artists deserve their own version of record production, and my version is pretty particular.”
Last year, however, Corgan eased back into the producer’s chair to work with singer-songwriter Sierra Swan, whom he met in 2009 through mutual friends while he was assisting Courtney Love on Hole’s last album, Nobody’s Daughter. “There were a lot of reasons for me deciding to work with Sierra,” Corgan explains, “but one of the biggest is her sheer talent. Quite simply, she has one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard.”
Swan’s new album, Good Soldier (to be released February 25), is a rarity in current-day rock, a triumph of highly personal songwriting and minimalist sonic architecture that manages to connect with listeners without telegraphing emotions or overstating musical cues. If this were the work of a debut artist, we would be heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent, but this isn’t Swan’s first trip to the rodeo: The daughter of famed country/rockabilly singer-songwriter, Billy Swan, she was briefly a member of the electronic duo Dollshead before signing a solo deal with Atlantic. Dropped by the label, she then signed with Interscope and released the 2006 album Ladyland. Two independently released albums and an EP followed before her collaboration with Corgan.
“Even though I’ve made records before, I was scared to death to work with Billy,” Swan explains with a laugh. “That sounds funny because he’s a friend. I just remember going to Chicago and feeling very intimidated. But that feeling went away just as quickly when I realized, ‘No, wait. He’s here to hold me up. He’s going to help me get this right.’ I think because he’s an artist himself, he knew how I felt. A lot of producers try to understand, but Billy really does because he’s been there.”
In an exclusive interview with MusicRadar, Corgan and Swan discuss their studio collaboration, the short list of guitars and gear they used, Swan's recent sabbatical from music making, and how the two feel about today's music business.
Billy, I know that you have some strong feelings about record labels. Would you describe Sierra’s history with the industry as being somewhat typical?
Billy Corgan: “You know, the major labels can hold down talent. It happens time and time again. Sierra’s one of those artists who, when they don’t know what to do with you, they kind of throw you into the normal meat grinder, and then they’re surprised when it doesn’t work.
“You can probably find these tales from every generation, but in the music of my generation, they take the willing and the mediocre and they push them up, and then they take the super-talented and they push them down. To me, it’s criminal that Sierra hasn’t been able to show what she can do. But she had to get to this place where she gave up one bad dream and found herself in a new place, and that’s the dream she’s in now.”