Q&A With Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

With this ambitious three-part album being the third chapter in this larger work that includes Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Machina/The Machines of God, does this conclude the narrative arc, or is there room left for a fourth or additional parts even beyond that?

Well, as I said on the last episode of my podcast, I purposely left the door open like a good Hollywood movie. So, if we wanted to continue it, we could. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people are asking if I’m going to continue it. I think they’re sort of intrigued where it all goes.

So, I’ve left the door open, but I’ve done some exploratory work about where I would go, but I can’t say I would do it. Certainly the band kind of rolls its eyes a bit when we get into these conceptual frames, because it all gets a bit blurry in there! But I have some ideas.

And there’s another conceptual work I’ve wanted to do for over 20 years that I’ve always put in my mind like, ‘If we were ever going to do kind of a last record, it would be this conceptual work.’ So there’s some combination of factors in there that will, I think, eventually add up to something. But whether it’ll have to do with the Atum narrative back through Mellon Collie, it’s hard to say now.

There’s a theory that’s popular in some circles, and that’s that all of Frank Zappa’s output is part of a single work, the Project/Object. My question to you: might all Smashing Pumpkins works and your solo and outside projects as well, for that matter, someday be revealed to be one, big work?

I can answer that question for you now, and the answer is pretty much yes.

When I was doing Machina, I thought long and hard: ‘Okay right, I would like to stage this live,’ and I even saw a pathway at that time where the band would be able to stage it live in a theatrical setting. But then the band broke, [so I decided to do it in] the simple version: ‘Okay, if we’re playing live in front of a crowd that is aware we’re doing something theatrical, do I want to just play the new album? Or would I want to be able to play old songs within the construct of the Machina musical?’

And once I went back in time, I realized that my most comfortable frame was always to be in character. I just didn’t really understand that’s what I was doing kind of until Mellon Collie and, even then, I thought, ‘Well, it’s more of a mental concept than a real concept,’ But I went on stage during Mellon Collie wearing the ‘Zero’’ shirt, and I looked decidedly different, my head was shaved, and people – including my own father – were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? What is this?’ And I would just be like, ‘Oh, I’m just in costume,’ or something.

So when I traced it back, and I realized that I’d always been in character; being myself was the hardest thing for me to do. And the concept there being, ‘If I’m myself, I’ll be rejected, and I won’t win, so I need to find something that will help me win. Oh, here’s a pretty rock. I’ll use this rock and this costume or this concept.’ Even if you look at the clothing that I wore, it was always different every album.

I realized that therefore, going forward into the 2000s, everything was always based on a kind of conceptual frame. There are times where it gets really loose and sort of almost like a dream, like you had a dream where you’re doing something in the dream and it makes no sense but, because you had the dream, you have the experience of the dream, so therefore it changes you.

I could sit over three hours and explain to you how every piece of the journey has an intellectual kind of connection back to the narrative. But simply put, the answer is yes!

Over time, the style or the texture and the particular tools that you’ve used to create the music has changed. There have been times when the music has been very guitar-focused, other times where it’s been much more electronic. Would you consider yourself creatively restless?

That’s a great question! I don’t know if I have a good answer.

The way I see it is – and I’m saying this with respect to you as a journalist – I always start in an investigative phase. I read a lot of books, and I find myself going obsessively down particular rabbit holes. For example, before I was writing Atum, I was listening to everything from Wagner and Bach to… gosh, I can’t even remember, but really deep dives.

Oh, here’s one that strikes me: I listened to every Elton John song from the beginning until, say, ‘78; every song, and all the way through. I can’t even explain it to you, you know? My future wife will come in, and I’m in the bath listening to some album I don’t even like! I love Elton John but, you know, there’s some interesting cocaine work in there.

She comes in the bath, she’s like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I’m like, ‘Well, this is this weird Elton John album when he was on a lot of cocaine,’ you know? I just learned something, and so somehow all that research goes into like a manila folder in my head. And it sets me up when I jump fully into whatever I’m doing.

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