By Gil KaufmanWhen former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha got an email a month ago from A Perfect Circle's Billy Howerdel asking if he'd like to audition for the group, the last thing on Iha's mind was joining another band.
"I really didn't see myself joining another band too soon after the Pumpkins broke up," said Iha, who has kept a low profile since the Pumpkins' December 2000 split. "I was recently saying to someone that it would have to be a pretty good band to bring me back -- this is the band."
Iha was also reluctant to hit the road again after his decade of regular touring with the Pumpkins, but after a few weeks of rehearsal with APC, fronted by Tool's Maynard James Keenan, he was convinced that he could bear the grind. Iha was already friendly with the band's members thanks to some 1999 Canadian dates that paired the Pumpkins and APC. It also helped that his pal, ex-Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White (a.k.a. Twiggy Ramirez), had also recently been recruited to join APC and that Howerdel was a one-time guitar tech for ex-Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan.
Iha stepped in to replace original guitarist Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails). "They were looking for someone who had some experience and a similar vibe musically," Iha said. "I really respect all these guys as a band and I'm flattered that they asked me to join them. I think it was between me and Yngwie Malmsteen. They were looking for that high-speed metal thing, but they settled for me." Iha does not appear on the group's upcoming second album, The Thirteenth Step, and says he's only a touring member of the band for now.
While former Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan quickly jumped back into the fray with the debut album from his new band, Zwan, Iha has been content to toil behind the scenes. The quiet guitarist has been busy running the recording studio he co-owns in New York, Stratosphere Sounds, as well as re-launching his label, Scratchie Records, which recently issued the debut from Swedish band the Sounds. In addition to producing an album by New York singer/model Karen Elson, Iha recorded a song for the film adaptation of Alex Garland's The Tesseract and co-wrote the score for the 2002 Canadian film Luck with bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, his former colleague in the Pumpkins.
"We were a great band," he says of his former outfit. "I have no idea if we'll ever get back together. This band is similar in that it has that kind of lightness and darkness. It has the heaviosity and it can be delicate."