James Iha has a Dog Named Bugg September 1995
Interview by Paul Berstein
JI: James Iha PB: Paul Berstein
I was a crappy boy scout in my youth. I only stuck it out for about a week, and one of their basic tenets, "always be prepared," or some shit like that, seems to have eluded me. So when I got the word that I could speak to James Iha, I was most surprised and woefully unprepared. I had been expecting to speak with D'arcy Wretzky. Being a bass player myself, I thought we could do an interview about bass, bass playing, being the bass player from Smashing Pumpkins, stuff like that. Then I'm confronted with James. A phenomenally great guitar player, fantastic dresser, and dog-parent. What follows is my lame attempt to engage James in conversation about nothing really earth-shaking, specific, or terribly interesting. Then I go on to humiliate myself further with terribly inane questions, and top it off by sharing it with around 25,000 readers. What follows is my own personal journey into rock journalist hell.
PB: Tell me about the B-sides you've been working on from the new album.
JI: Well, we finished recording the record and Billy (Corgan), Flood, and Alan Molder went straight to L.A. to start mixing. So right afterwards I did about another 11 days of recording in a studio doing B-sides with Kerry Brown. We did about 6 B-sides, two of which didn't work out. On one song I did a duet with Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt. That's going to be the first B-side from the first single. That was pretty fun. She's sings really well. She can sing better than me, that's for sure!
PB: Do you have any side projects happening?
JI: Well, I have my own little studio. But there're a lot of songs I have that haven't made the bands records. I'm sort of like cataloging them...keeping them. I'll probably do my own record but I'm not really sure at what point. I don't really have any definite plans about a band or anything, just because the band's gotta tour for the next year and a half...whatever the regular alternative big rock bands do. In order to play all the places...you've gotta play America twice. We'll probably go to Australia, Japan, all of Europe. So, it's like a clichéd circuit. We see all the same bands: Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, Hole, all those people. It's like a Borsht Belt circuit. (laughter)
PB: Like you might as well be playing the Catskills?
JI: Right. It's kinda funny.
Jeremy Freeman: Isn't Don Rickles going on tour with you this time?
JI: We could use his jokes...bring some levity to our shows. We're also changing management. We've got to start practicing again. Everyone just got so burned out from the recording...although it was much easier this time recording with Flood and Alan.
PB: I really like the first single that I've heard on the radio. It's got more space in...the instruments are more distinct...
JI: That's a really good thing. I think Flood helped the band...to not repeat the way we recorded before. In comparison, the last record was a lot more produced, there's less of a live feel - I mean, it's really good, just more produced I suppose. The thing about the new record is that on a lot of songs we went for more of a live feel. Like on "Bullet"...it's a lot more stripped down than how we would've approached it before. I mean, there's a lot of guitars on there, but, they weren't done just for the sake of it, like we can overdub twenty-four guitars or whatever. It's just two rhythm guitars.
At some point there are one or two other guitars that come in...there's a lot of drop in sort of stuff. In the second verse there's this wah-wah sort of thing. It was just this mistake I made on the guitar and we ended up sampling it. We degraded the sound with distortion and I ended up playing it on the keyboard in time with the music. So there's neat things like that on the record. There's more space to do stuff like that because there isn't 24 rhythm guitars.
A lot of that is because we used a lot of Marshall amplifier distortion. It's a cleaner sound, but more powerful. It has a lot more "throw" to the sound. The fuzz pedals sound so washy, you can't tell what you're playing. You could just be fucking off and it would sound good. I think that's what a lot of bands do now. The Big Muff distortion pedals are like the DX-7 keyboard of the 90's - everybody uses it. It's like Nirvana, clean during the verse, step on it for the chorus. I mean, Nirvana were awesome, totally amazing rock band, but everyone's just stealing their formula. It's kinda lame.
PB: So are you a gear guy? Do you get into your gear?
JI: Billy's really a gear guy. I should get into it more. I just try to find something that hits me and I say, "O.K., that sounds good, let's go."
PB: So you don't have a garage full of guitars...
JI: Oh, yeah I do...we have an amazing amount of equipment. We both own tons of pedals, tons of guitars...
PB: Do you have a main ax that you play, or...?
JI: Not a main ax, but a guitar...(laughter) A lot of normal guitars. I just played a '78 Les Paul Custom. I bought it off the guitar player in Catherine. The main reason I bought it was because it stayed in tune more than the other guitars.
JF: You seem pretty gear oriented as far as your studio is concerned...
JI: Yeah. I like to buy really good stuff so that I don't have to dick with it too much to get a really good sound. I generally get a sound that I'm comfortable with and just go with it. I'll probably get more into it as I get older.
PB: Jeremy said I should ask you about your clothing...
JF: What I said was that I thought you were a truly fine dresser...I've always been jealous of your western shirts.
JI: Yeah. I'm sort of a clothes horse. It's pathetic, but I admit it to you. Some of the clothes I buy, I would never buy them if I wasn't in a band because they look so dumb.
PB: This is a Chicago question, and I seem to keep embarrassing myself over this question. You see, I'm a big Bo Diddley fan...
JI: I know nothing about Bo Diddley...
PB: You don't...
JI: I know he's got that beat, and that square guitar...glasses...suits. I've never seen him. I don't know anything about the Chicago blues scene. I have no idea.
PB: See! I did it again.
JI: Well, I don't think a lot of people know about it. I think a lot of those scenes, except the blues scene, were really underground scenes. I should know about it, but I really don't. I saw that McDonald's commercial (laughter) or was it a Nike?