The Smashing Pumpkins
Members: James Iha, D'arcy Wretzky, Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin
Active: 1988-2000, 2006-Present
At the age of 19, singer and guitarist Billy Corgan left his native Chicago, Illinois, moving to St. Petersburg, Florida with his gothic rock band The Marked, so called because of the birth marks on his and his drummer's hands. The band had limited success and quickly dissolved. Corgan returned to Chicago, taking a job in a record store. 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. In 1988, Corgan met bassist D'arcy Wretzky during an argument at another band's gig in Chicago; Wretzky, a bassist living with her former band member would have to sneak out to practice with the the duo. She would abandon her former group and join the band shortly after. D'arcy and Iha would eventually have a short-lived personal relationship. They played their first gig as a trio at a Polish bar. Jazz drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was brought in to the band after Cabaret Metro owner Joe Shanahan agreed to book the Pumpkins to open for Jane's Addiction, provided they threw out the drum machine and recruited a human drummer instead. The addition of Chamberlain was at first an unlikely match; Chamberlin knew nothing of alternative music at the time. As Corgan recollected 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".
In 1989, the group had recorded a handful of demo tapes, which appeared on the 1995 bootleg release Early 1989 Demos. They released their first record, a limited edition single called "I Am One" in 1990 on local Chicago label Limited Potential. The single sold out and they released another single, "Tristessa", on Sub Pop, after which they signed to Virgin Records. To give them indie credibility, Virgin matched the band with Sonic Youth producer Butch Vig and recorded their 1991 debut album Gish in his own studio, Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin. They released the album on Virgin subsidiary label Caroline Records. The music fused heavy metal guitars, psychedelia and dream pop, garnering them comparison to Jane's Addiction. In order to gain the consistency he desired, Corgan often played all instruments on the record save drums, which created tension in the band. Gish became a minor success, with the single "Rhinoceros" receiving some airplay in Modern Rock radio. The band supported the album with a tour that included opening for bands ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to 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.
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 Pumpkins were routinely lumped in with the grunge movement due to their cathartic sound and heavy metal influences such as Black Sabbath, amid their protests. In a Halloween night interview on MTV's 120 Minutes in 1993, Corgan remarked, "We've graduated now from [being called] 'the next Jane's Addiction' to 'the next Nirvana', now we're 'the next Pearl Jam.'" The group nevertheless contributed the song "Drown" to the platinum-selling soundtrack of the 1992 movie Singles, a film set in the Seattle grunge music scene.
Corgan said that in the wake of Nirvana's landmark 1991 album Nevermind, "We felt a great pressure that if we didn't come up with a record that was huge, we were done. It was that simple in our minds. We felt like our lives depended on it". Feeling enormous critical and commercial pressure, Corgan's depression deepended to the point where he contemplated suicide (Corgan has admitted on various occasions that the band's hit "Today" was written as an ironic statement about his suicidal thoughts at the time). To counteract his depression, Corgan worked overtime, saying he practically lived in the studio for the 1993 follow-up album, Siamese Dream. The album was recorded at Triclops Sound Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, mostly between December 1992 and March 1993, with Butch Vig reprising his role as producer; the band lived in Marietta during the Siamese Dream recording sessions. The decision to record so far away from their hometown was motivated partially to keep away from local friends and distractions during the recording, but largely as a desperate attempt to cut Chamberlin off from his known drug connections In this respect, the strategy failed miserably, as Chamberlin quickly managed to find new connections and often was absent without any contact for days at a time The recording environment was wraught with difficulty. The band fought constantly. Contemporary music press portrayed Corgan as somewhat of a tyrant during the recording sessions (accusations that Corgan admitted there was some truth to, although he felt the press misunderstood the situation), with rumors circulating that he had recorded all the guitar and bass parts himself. It was never confirmed exactly how much each member participated on the album; Corgan did say he performed a majority of the guitar work, but only because he could record tracks and parts in far fewer takes The production on Siamese Dream is considered by many to have reached very elaborate heights--Corgan said in a Guitar World interview that the song "Soma" alone contains up to 40 overdubbed guitar parts. In all, it took over four months to complete the record with the budget exceeding $250,000. The troubles surrounding the recording sessions did not hamper the band's chances of success, however. Siamese Dream debuted at number 10 on the Billboard charts, sold four million copies in the U.S. alone, and garnered the Pumpkins international attention for the videos for the songs "Today" and "Disarm" through heavy rotation on MTV. The album is generally considered to be one of the band's finest, and is also often compared to Superunknown and Nevermind as a hallmark album of the early 90's.
In 1994, Virgin released the B-sides/rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot which outperformed Siamese Dream by reaching number four on the Billboard charts. Also released was a VHS cassette titled Vieuphoria feautring a mix of live performances and behind-the-scenes footage. A CD version of Vieuphoria, entitled Earphoria was released to radio stations only. In 2002, Vieuphoria (on DVD) and Earphoria were released to the public.
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. Corgan worked non-stop over the next year and wrote, according to statements in interviews, about 56 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 of the '90s," a comparison with Pink Floyd's famous double concept album.
The result was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double album release featuring 28 songs and lasting over 2 hours. (The vinyl version of the album contained three records, two extra songs and an alternate tracklisting). While the idea of an overriding concept was dropped somewhere along the way, (although many would argue that the arrangement of the tracks on the album depicts the story of a disenchanted youngster going through the motions; hence, the argument made that it is a concept album) Mellon Collie debuted at number one on the Billboard charts in October 1995 and was even more successful than Siamese Dream, selling over sixteen million copies worldwide. It also garnered seven 1996 Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year. 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, for one reason or another, did not make it onto Mellon Collie were released as B-sides to the singles, eventually compiled in the now out-of-print The Aeroplane Flies High box set.
The Pumpkins embarked on a massive world tour in support of Mellon Collie. Corgan's look--a shaved head, a longsleeve black shirt with the word "Zero" printed on it, and silver pants--was an iconic image of the period. The band also made a guest appearance in an episode of The Simpsons in 1996 titled "Homerpalooza". However, the year was not an entirely positive one for the band. In May 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins played a gig at The Point Depot in Dublin, Ireland. The venue was over-crowded and despite the band's repeated requests for moshing to stop, a 17-year-old fan from Cork, 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.
The band suffered a personal tragedy on July 12, 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. Chamberlin was subsequently fired from the band.
Though the band finished the tour with another drummer and keyboardist, their profile had taken a marked downturn. Billy Corgan became something of a hated figure amongst the hard rock press following a statement in which he declared rock to be dead. He stated that Mellon Collie would be the last Pumpkins record of that type, and that rock was, for himself at least, becoming stale due to a lack of experimentation.
ADORE, MACHINA AND BREAKUP
The Pumpkins' first post-Mellon Collie material was "The End is the Beginning is the End" (also appearing in a revamped form as "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning") for the Batman & Robin soundtrack and "Eye" for Lost Highway. Both contributions relied heavily on eletronic influences and served as precursors to the group's next album.
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, trimming much of the guitar-driven sonic underpinnings and infused with a slightly darker aesthetic. The record was cut using drum machines and was distinctly experimental in the vein of post-punk bands such as Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Cure (all of whom Corgan enjoyed in his youth). Corgan also modified his public image, shedding his alternative hipster look for a dark Gothic persona. 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 lead many to consider it a failure. In hindsight, Billy realized that Adore suffered from the absence of Jimmy, whom he considered his most important influence (and best friend) when it came to shaping each song during rehearsals; not to mention Jimmy's incredibly complex and jazzy drumming that no drum machine could reproduce. All in all, Adore was too much of a muted effort for many fans; the lukewarm reception was one factor contributing to their now dwindling audience.
The band's lineup changed again with the recording of 2000's MACHINA/The Machines of God. The rehiring of a rehabilitated Jimmy Chamberlin signaled a return to a more familiar Pumpkins sound for the album, yet Wretzky departed the band after the recording sessions concluded. Former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur was recruited for the "Sacred and Profane" tour in support of the album. Auf der Maur also appeared in the videos accompanying the album.
MACHINA was initially promoted as the Pumpkins' return to form, after the more gothic, electronic-sounding Adore; however, on its release, many reviewers and fans took issue with the album's "Wall of Sound" production, finding that what was intended to have been a reappearance of the band's signature rock sound had been overprocessed ? in particular, stripping away the warmth and nuance for which Iha's and Corgan's guitar work had become known. In addition, many longtime fans became disenchanted with the conceptual nature of the album and with its mystical and spiritual themes which Corgan in particular had begun to promulgate.
On May 23, 2000 in a live radio interview on KROQ (Los Angeles), Billy Corgan announced the band's decision to break up at the end of that year following additional touring and recording. In a first for an established band, the group's final album, 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 25 copies were cut, each of which was hand numbered and given to friends of the band along with band members themselves. The album contained 1 LP and 3 EP's released under the Constantinople Records label, created by Corgan. This is the only Smashing Pumpkins album released that is not under the Virgin Records label. The reason for this decision was that Virgin refused Corgan's request to release a final double album, citing poor sales figures for the last two albums. This, combined with the fact that the band was on the verge of breaking up, and would therefore not perform the kind of extended tour necessary to properly promote a double album, led Virgin to feel that the double album would simply be a loss on their part.
On December 2, 2000, the Smashing Pumpkins played their final concert at The Metro, the same Chicago club where their career had effectively started twelve years earlier. The Smashing Pumpkins' final commercial recording was a single, "Untitled", released to coincide with the final show. A video of the entire 4 hour concert (3 main sets and 4 encores in total) has yet to be released, though a video of the final performance of "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)" is included on The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits: 1989-2000 DVD release.
2001 saw the release of a greatest hits compilation, Rotten Apples (Greatest Hits), which included various singles spanning their decade-long career. The double disc version of the album, released as a limited edition, included a B-sides/rarities collection called Judas 0. A greatest hits DVD was also released around the same time. It compiled all of the Pumpkins promo videos from Gish to MACHINA, the rare promo for "I Am One", a 15 minute short film called "Try" as well as a TV performance of "Geek U.S.A.". It also features the performance of "Fuck You (An Ode To No One)" from their final gig at the Metro, and the never-before-seen video for the final Pumpkins recording, "Untitled". (There is one notable omission, "The End Is the Beginning Is the End". This was excluded because the rights are owned by Warner Brothers, who loaned out the band from their regular label, Virgin Records.)
Corgan and Chamberlin would reunite in 2001 as members of Corgan's next project, the shortlived Zwan. Their only album, Mary Star of the Sea, was released to mixed reviews, and after cancelling a few festival appearances Corgan announced the demise of the band in 2003 under cloudy circumstances.
On February 17, 2004, Billy Corgan posted a bitter 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 by saying "No, I didn't break up the band. The only person who could have done that is Billy".
In October 2004 Corgan released his first book, a collection of poetry entitled Blinking with Fists. On June 21, 2005, Corgan released a solo album titled TheFutureEmbrace. It was greeted with generally mixed reviews and lackluster sales. Only one single, "Walking Shade," was released in support of the album.
During 2004 and 2005, Jimmy Chamberlin pursued a hobby in car-racing in Florida; he also formed a new band called The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. They released an album on January 25, 2005 titled Life Begins Again. Billy Corgan provided guest vocals on a track titled "Lokicat".
James Iha has completed his work as a guitarist in A Perfect Circle and is currently appearing 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. He is currently living in New York.
D'arcy Wretzky has not made any public statements or appearances nor given any interviews since leaving the band in 1999. On January 25, 2000, she was arrested on the west side of Chicago after she allegedly purchased three bags of crack cocaine, but after successfully completing a court-ordered drug education program, the charges were dropped. She is currently living in Watervliet, Michigan where she owns a horse farm and three antique shops.
On June 21, 2005, the day of the release of Corgan's album TheFutureEmbrace, Billy took out a full-page advertisement in the Chicago Tribune newspaper 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 appeared on Chicago morning television to discuss the advertisement and his new album, but gave little elaboration to the actual newspaper advertisement.
While performing at various drum clinics across Europe in September 2005, Jimmy Chamberlin confirmed that both a reunion tour and a new album are being planned to begin in February 2006
On February 2, 2006, MTV.com reported that Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin had signed a new management deal with the Front Line Management. Touring bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur was also quoted as saying that the pair were currently working on an album of new material. The only original members confirmed as of yet are Corgan and Chamberlin, but Auf Der Maur was quoted as saying, "my services are always there to play my favorite songs. If D'arcy is not available, I'm always happy to be second in line." It is doubtful that Iha and Wretzky would join a reunited Smashing Pumpkins, due to the fact that relations have been more than strained between the two and Corgan since the breakup of the group.
1991 - Gish
1993 - Siamese Dream
1995 - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
1998 - Adore
2000 - MACHINA/The Machines of God
2000 - MACHINA II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music
EP'S AND B-SIDES:
1991 - Lull
1994 - Pisces Iscariot
1996 - The Aeroplane Flies High
2001 - Judas 0
LIVE AND COMPILATIONS:
1994 - Earphoria (audio companion-piece to Vieuphoria - very limited promotional CD; full release in 2002)
1994 - Vieuphoria (live VHS; re-released on DVD with additional bonus material in 2002)
1998 - The Smashing Pumpkins 1991-1998 ( an 18 track compilation CD including an acoustic version of Mayonaise)
2001 - Rotten Apples (Greatest Hits)
2001 - Greatest Hits Video Collection