When Smashing Pumpkins make an album they go big. And bigger; while 2020's Cyr was 20--songs, their next album will be a 33-track concept album and third part in a trilogy after and 1995's Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and 2000's Machina / The Machine Of God. And if that sounds ambitious, it's certainly the same for Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder tracking it, who has revealed the band are about halfway through recording.
“We’ve been working for a long – almost, basically, the whole year on it," Schroeder told Audio Ink Radio. "But we’re in the middle of real tracking and stuff right now. James [Iha] and I are working out here in LA. Drums are basically done, so Jimmy’s [Chamberlin] done his part. But Billy [Corgan] is working in Chicago, and I’m out here in LA, and James is in LA, so we’re plowing through it. That’ll probably take most of the rest of the year, ’cause it’s a big, sprawling thing.”
It's so big, the album presents its own set of challenges to the ever-impressive Schroeder. “Even for me as a guitar player, usually you’re always kind of working on things and you have a bunch of ideas to try on these new tracks,” he said. “And then, after four songs, you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve gotta come up with some other stuff.’ So, then you work hard and get through the first 11 songs, and you’re. like, ‘Oh, wait a second. That’s only the first act. I’ve got two more acts to go!'”
“So, you’ve really gotta dig in deep," he added. "You’ve gotta dig deep in to your soul to find out what is in there. What’s this song calling for? How can I listen to this song differently than I listened to the last one? And it really pushes you artistically. Some days it’s hard, and we fail. I fail. And then you come back the next day and try again, and it’s rewarding when you go, ‘Wow, yesterday sucked, and today is actually quite good on the same song.’ So it can be fun.”
The guitarist also revealed what it's really like to work with band founder and visionary Billy Corgan.
"It's transformed the way that I work in that he is relentless for greatness," he admitted. "One thing that I always tell people is – because he has maybe a reputation for being difficult in the studio or something like that – but he absolutely doesn't put any expectations on anybody else that he doesn't put on himself, as far as quality of performance.
"He relentlessly, from an artistic standpoint, pursues his ideas, and that is the best lesson to learn. And then another one would be that he's unabashedly unique.
"And that's another thing that I've learned is that there's different types of musicians and there's musicians that will go out and get hired by a band to be a backing band guitarist or drummer, and those are very valid and great ways to earn a living and make a living.
"But then there's also musicians of a different ilk, that maybe bring a different sort of quality to the table, and that is being absolutely unique.
"I feel legends like Billy are born out of that ilk where there is only one person that can be Billy Corgan, and it's Billy Corgan. From the second he plays the guitar, from the second he sings, it's only one person.
"And that's really inspiring. And that takes a lot of courage, devotion, and dedication to cultivate that type of uniqueness - because it's scary, it's vulnerable, whereas it's easier to copy other people. But to be completely unique and be yourself is the hardest thing to do. And he's been quite successful at it. So, that's something that I definitely don't not-notice every day."
As if a 33-track album wasn't enough, Schroeder has branched out with his first solo single – a wonderfully shoegaze-y version of Haenim, a 1973 song recorded by Korean singer Kim Jung Mi and written by renowned guitarist and arranger Shin Joong Hyun. Schroeder's recording features Korean-American vocalist Heeya and he's planning to follow it with an EP.
“People like Shin Joong Hyun, basically their gigs were to play these clubs that were for U.S. military people, because that kind of music really wasn’t popular amongst the Korean population,” Schroeder explains. “It was really for, I think, a lot of these military base nightclubs where these musicians would go and play.”
Schroeder's mother is Korean and met his father when he was stationed in the country during military service.
“My personal connection as a rock musician and Korean American and this song is all interwoven in this bigger, larger sociopolitical history of the U.S. and Korea,” Schroeder explains. “So [Haenim] really felt like the right place to start this new chapter of, at least, my musical life.”