Waiting for the phone to ring, knowing one of the most influential artists of the past two decades will be on the other end of the line is a lot like waiting for Santa to come down that chimney. The only difference is that I never had to ask the big man in a red suit questions. Fifteen minutes when waiting for a pizza to bake often seems to stretch for lifetimes but fifteen minutes on the phone with a genius boils down to what felt like mere seconds. Either way, I was lucky enough to be half awake and almost prepared enough to pick the brain of the one and only Billy Corgan. This is what followed:
LUD!: Let’s start with Oceania, it’s been called an “album within and album.” How did that all come about?
Billy Corgan: Well, It’s a long story and we don’t have a lot of time. I started out with this idea where I would just record songs, put them out, and not be too precious about it. It was a bit naive on my part to expect that by making the material and giving it out for free would be a way to get more people to listen without the prohibitive step of asking them to pay. Maybe I was trying to build something new, but I ran into the buzz-saw in a sense regarding other peoples sentimentality of their version of the Smashing Pumpkins as opposed to mine. So we ultimately came to the conclusion that the best way to make a statement would be to make an album. This was a way to share the work as it was being done. There has been a lot of focus on the “why?” To me it’s just trying to break the stagnation of the traditional album model which is often dictated by the record labels and doesn’t have much to do with creative cycles.
LUD!: Can you expand on that role the record labels played?
BC::If you look back into the history of Rock and Roll the record company’s biggest upside was to sell singles, albums weren’t that big of a deal. The Beatles really changed that. The Beatles made the record companies realize that the album was a better model. Then, suddenly, they wanted bands to make albums. They wanted bands to make anywhere from two to three albums every year. Which is pretty staggering given the state we are in now. Over time that turned into an album every two years which would maximize the promotion almost like a major movie release. That has all broken down and they haven’t quite replaced it with anything.
LUD!: Given the state of things, what are you doing different?
BC:: I’m in a different position. I’m basically my own record label now. It’s my own business to run and contextualize. I feel the issues today are different to talk about than they were ten or fifteen years ago. I also think there are more media outlets to express different takes on things and create a broader sense of myself as an artist and The Pumpkins as a creative enterprise. It’s a broader way to reach people and it gives more of an opportunity for people to check in with the Smashing Pumpkins.
LUD!: In that case, what affect does social media have on the relationship between artists and fans, and is it a positive one?
BC:: The jury is still out on that one. I think what sells albums, tickets and T-shirts has very little to do with access. Everyone thinks it does, but you could argue that opening your mouth can lose just as many fans as it can gain. Ultimately it has to do with the music. The problem is that in a world with so much information how do people know that the music exists if they aren’t connecting with it through traditional means? At this point we still rely on the media but I think that is going to change, and change drastically. We are basically in the death throes of the old model and the creation phase of a new one. It’s happening so fast that most of us don’t even realize it. My problem is a lot of blogging culture is that it doesn’t really sell a lot of things. I think for every one thing the blog may sell it hinders the sale of two others.
LUD!: Do you ever feel that you or others in your position have a responsibility to the public? At least as far as using your voice to influence people?
BC:: That’s more of a personal thing. What moral right or position do I have in the world to help, and what in my estimation is a better world? That is a far more spiritual thing. That deals with morality much more than it does with celebrity.
LUD!: That being said, I know you are working on a spiritual memoir. Can you talk a little about some of the biggest spiritual lessons you’ve learned?
BC:: [Laughs] It’s been a long time coming. We are often faced with choices in every way in our lives that involve either short term success or long term success. Having been in this business for over 20 years, the things I’m most proud of are where I made those long term decisions. The things I’m least proud of are where I made decisions that maybe looked good in the short term but in the long term probably hurt. The way that connects to my spirituality is that I learned we need to trust ourselves. Your life is yours to live and in the end you have to trust that you know best what that means. You have to know your dream and pursue it with incredible vigor. At the same time you have to have one eye on the big picture of what that means. You have to look at everything at the perspective that easy solutions, or the solutions that are best for you may not be best for everyone involved. The real challenges are how do we arbitrate between what solution is best for me and how does that affect the people around me, which I guess has very little to do with success.
LUD!: On a personal level, how do you manifest your daily happiness? Where does your joy come from?
BC:: That’s a really difficult question for me to answer. I have a lot of pride for where The Pumpkins are at this moment and where we seem to be headed. It’s been a really long journey. My personal life is still kind of a puzzle. It’s hard because I kind of have to oscillate between the successful band and my personal life that is still kind of a raised eyebrow and I don’t really know what any of this means any more.
LUD!: Can you briefly describe this incarnation of the band?
BC:: It’s not much different. This band plays differently than the original band. We do some things better and some things not as well. It’s about just living in this moment, appreciating that the name The Smashing Pumpkins still exists, and trying our best not to live in the shadow or people’s memory of something that was idealized or not necessarily real. We still have a healthy fan base, we still create headlines, and there is still a lot of new music to be played.
LUD!: Do you ever get bored with answering the same questions over and over?
BC:: Of course but I think that if people ask me the same questions there is no disrespect meant. They are just curious and may not have seen where I answered that same question in 12 other interviews. I try not to take it the wrong way, but with that said, there is definitely a repetition of theme. It does get a little strange to me at times, especially when you’ve been around for so long. I have to wonder why certain questions still get asked. [Laughs] Just don’t ask me what those questions are.