Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan on new music, being 'cool with' Why Don't We, and more

'We trust in ourselves enough to know that it would work out, and it generally has'
Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins
Photo credit Getty Images

William Patrick Corgan, (better known as Billy or @Billy on his long-abandoned Twitter account) of The Smashing Pumpkins detailed his laundry list of current projects and what he thinks of boy bands with host Bryce Segall this week during RADIO.COM's New Arrivals show.

Bryce, whose 15-year-old self was vibrating with excitement to talk to a true Alternative rock legend, got right into some contentious topics. Although he’s perhaps not the most famous Billy in the music world anymore (that title arguably belongs to singer Billie Eilish), Corgan says he plans to continue to claim his “wide dominion.” Billy did offer up an olive branch, however: “But God bless, she’s doing great.”

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Keeping in a pop music mindset, Bryce wondered what the 53-year-old rocker thinks his 2000s-era self would say regarding a boy band sampling his music, á la the latest from pop group Why Don’t We, which borrows the hook from his Pumpkins classic “1979.” To start, Corgan explained a joke he made back at the beginning of the millennium when he said he was tired of competing with pop acts and decided to call the band quits. Fast-forward to today, that joke has come full circle with the inclusion of the sample on the track “Slow Down,” a usage he sees more as paying homage.

Billy says the statement he made 21 years ago “spun out of control and it turned into a quote that I was breaking up the band because of Britney Spears. It’s such an absurd thing to say… but in this world that we live in now which is post-irony, people took it as serious. That said, I did find at the time that pop was a menace. It took me a few years to understand that because of the way AI works and the way the Internet works, that pop music was no longer cyclical in the way that it was when I was growing up. It had come to stay.”

He continued, “the kind of hegemonic ability of a pop star to gain attention and use that attention to drive their numbers in ways that go beyond whether or not you have a successful song. That’s kind of what blows Alternative bands out of the water, mostly.”

“So, I don’t feel so much defeated as I just kind of accepted that it was a permanent stasis,” says Corgan, “and in the case of the Why Don’t We song, I see it more as a tribute so I’m cool with it.”

Billy’s got a lot on his plate for the new year. The Smashing Pumpkins recently released their eleventh studio album, a two-fer called CYR, at the end of 2020 featuring the title track as the first single as well as the corresponding five-part animated series, In Ashes.

Also released separately as singles prior to the full album were the tracks "The Colour of Love," "Confessions of a Dopamine Addict," "Wrath," "Anno Satana," "Birch Grove," "Ramona," "Wyttch," "Purple Blood," and "Dulcet in E."

With that out of the way, Billy has been keeping busy writing a new concept record, a book, and plans to celebrate the anniversaries of the classic Pumpkins’ records Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Machina with a sequel album, re-releases, and a tour which has since been put on hold.

“When you say it like that, it makes me feel a little crazy,” Corgan admits. “Mostly I’m focused on finishing this new record that we’re working on which is the sequel to ‘Mellon Collie’ and ‘Machina.’ It’s a 33-song kind of rock musical. It’s a ton of work, so that’s my job right now.”

Regarding the idea itself of a concept record, Billy admits although the process did not come easy, it's one he now welcomes for his own sanity. “When I started in a band, I never would have thought that I would have wandered into using characters and dissociative paths to express myself, but I found the process of making records and putting them out in public so haunting to me that it was the only way that I could function."

Back in '98 during the recording of the Pumpkins' Adore record, Billy had stated at the time that he was working down the street from one of his pals and contemporaries, Marilyn Manson, and even hinted at some kind of involvement in his band's Mechanical Animals recording.

Billy explained how the two "were hanging out a lot during those times... and I kind of wandered into them working at different times, and kind of gave them some advice that they took and even helped on some songs. Whether or not I was ever credited I don't remember..."

"My memory of it," Corgan says, "they were renting this house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills and I would go over there and they would be working on something. I would just be like, 'oh you should try it like this...' or occasionally pick up a guitar... It wasn't anything particularly formal."

Corgan has been very hands-on in the visuals and merchandise the band has offered over the years. He even created the iconic SP heart and "Zero" logos that have continued on as fan favorites. The first logo came about, he says, because the full name of the band wouldn't fit on a tee shirt as cozy as, say, the NIN logo. So he worked on it until he was happy... until he wasn't. Then the "Zero" logo was born.

"It's crazy to me... almost 30 years later we're still selling that shirt," he says of the heart-shaped version. As for the latter "Zero" logo, "we don't have a patent on that shirt because you can't have a patent on a word," he explained. "Everybody's ripped it off and it's cool, it's fine, there's nothing I can do about it... In fact, sometimes people accuse me of stealing from the skateboard company," he laughed.

With all of the songs and sounds the Pumpkins have provided over their 30 years in the industry, arguably the defining lyric for the band would be "The world is a vampire," the opening line from their hit "Bullet with Butterfly Wings."

Billy offered up his memories of writing that iconic line, saying the band had already been jamming on the riff for "Bullet" in 1994, and during a lull in a BBC recording session, he slinked away to a corner with his guitar and began to get some of the lyrics down. When the "vampire" line came along is anyone's guess, but Corgan also remembers not remembering playing the song during the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. "That was pretty common for us to play songs that weren't finished," he admits.

Looking ahead to the new Pumpkins release, Billy confirms Machina 2 is completed and is out for mastering. Fans can expect 50+ tracks, with bonus songs. In all, he's looking at it being somewhere "in the 80 track range."

"It was written to be kind of like a musical," he explains, "but because it was never finished, it was like shooting a movie that wasn't fully edited. 'Machina 1' was like one edit of the footage, and 'Machina 2' was some of the leftover footage -- but there was even more stuff leftover. So, this was my attempt, 20 years later, to kind of finish the movie and in the process of trying to finish the movie, realizing the movie can never be finished."

In the end, fans will notice some finished work and some unfinished sketches. "But in the aggregate of listening to it," Corgan says, "you kind of get the sense of the movie that I was after. It's pretty wild, almost impossible to put into words. I'm going to write an essay when we release the box set to try to explain what it is."

Thinking about the future and the way fans consume music these days, Billy explains how one of the most misunderstood things about the band as a whole is the fact that they don’t concern themselves with the time they're in.

"You don't sit down and think, 'I'm gonna write a song like 'Bullet with Butterfly Wings'... it just happens. We didn't sit down and say 'let's write this alternative rock anthem.' But if you look at our work in that time, the next song we worked on would have been maybe one of the least consequential songs... We would prioritize the B songs and the C songs just as much as we would the A songs. That's just the way we worked. We didn't want to feel like we were slaves to the business or slaves to other people's ideas. We just wanted to do whatever we wanted to do and if it worked out, great. We trust in ourselves enough to know that it would work out, and it generally has."

Listen to the full interview with Billy above.

RADIO.COM's New Arrivals with Bryce Segall is your destination for what's next in the Alternative landscape. Pairing new music from the artists who define today's sound against tomorrow's voices, on a given night listeners can expect not only first plays and premieres from future favorites, but also exclusive interviews with the most prestigious of the genre's talents. Early guests include Kevin Parker of Tame ImpalaDamon Albarn100 GecsPhoebe BridgersRobin Pecknold of Fleet FoxesRomy of The xxJames Blake, and more.

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