It’s fair to say lead singer Billy Corgan has an ambivalent relationship with his band – as well as with the music industry, the media, fellow musicians and his fans.
“People say, ‘Are you going to break up the band?’“ Corgan said backstage before a recent London show. “What band is there to break up? There is no band.”
Corgan may be the Pumpkins’ only remaining original member, but the non-band has just released its eighth studio album, Monuments to an Elegy. A slice of grungy pop-rock featuring guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who joined the Pumpkins in 2007, and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, it’s received good reviews – though not good enough for Corgan.
“There’s no way this is a three-out-of five record,” he said, grumbling about one newspaper’s assessment.
You might think that sounds a bit thin-skinned for the man behind two best-selling 1990s albums – Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – now regarded as classics.
But Corgan is not the type to rest on his laurels. He says he abhors nostalgia, and turned down good money to do a retro “Siamese Dream” tour.
“I know exactly where that goes,” he said. “That’s Vegas.”
Corgan is an icon of ‘90s American indie rock, perhaps second only to his late friend Kurt Cobain.
In the decades since, Corgan has revealed a willingness to speak his mind on everything from politics to astrology and a knack for nursing a grudge. He has had a public spat with Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, and recently berated Anderson Cooper after the CNN host poked fun at Corgan’s cat-cuddling cover shoot for Paws Chicago magazine.
Swaddled in a sweater and scarf backstage at a London club, 47-year-old Corgan is sensitive to the cold – and to criticism. He is alternately confident and insecure of his place in music history, which makes him both prickly and refreshingly honest.
“Imagine if every week of your life for the rest of your life somebody’d be walking down the street going ‘Here’s a picture of you when you were 18. Didn’t you have a better hairstyle then? Look at this T-shirt you were wearing. Don’t you want to wear that T-shirt again?’ That’s what it’s like,” he said.
“It’s a mirrored paradigm which you cannot escape. And if you complain, which I have, you’re not grateful.”
He’s had his ups and downs, but feels with the new record that he’s regaining his musical mojo.
“This is the best reaction I’ve had on an album, up off the street, in 20 years,” Corgan said.
He says creativity is a funny thing. “When you have it, it feels like a font that just flows through you, and everything gets real easy. And then one day it sort of slows down or it stops and you tell yourself, ‘I’m just having a bad day or a bad month.’ And then next thing you know, people start doubting you, you don’t have that magic touch. And then you start doubting yourself.”
Corgan plans to release a companion album to Monuments to an Elegy, – titled Day For Night – in late 2015.
He says he has finally embraced the philosophy of Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”
“I wish I had Robert Plant’s voice, or Robert Smith’s voice,” he said. “I got this one, OK, so go with it. But you have to go through all that to come out the other side, to find strength and power in it.”