By Rob Williams
Cream of the alt-rock crop band together in supergroup
The circle is complete for James Iha.
After taking a few years off following the demise of his former band The Smashing Pumpkins, Iha is once again the member of a highly successful group -- A Perfect Circle.
"I said to myself, or friends, I wouldn't play in another band unless it was something really good, and this is really good," he says over the phone from Vancouver. "It had to be of a certain quality level. It would be weird to play in a lame band after being in a really good band."
Iha was in Sweden working with rock group The Sounds seven weeks ago when he got an e-mail from Billy Howerdel asking him to play guitar in A Perfect Circle, which also features Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan, former Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White (Twiggy Ramirez) and Vandals drummer Josh Freese.
He was flattered at the request to replace Nine Inch Nails' Danny Lohner and accepted to join the band on tour for the next year, flying to the U.S. in time to join the band for the end of the Lollapalooza tour.
"I did have a life. I just moved it," he laughs.
Iha found it easy to fit in with the group -- A Perfect Circle and the Pumpkins knew each other from the cross-Canada Summersault Tour in 2000, and Howerdel used to work as a guitar tech for the Pumpkins.
Iha formed the Smashing Pumpkins with Billy Corgan in Chicago in 1988. They became one of the world's biggest alt-rock bands after releasing such albums as Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. After 2000's MACHINA/The Machines, Corgan disbanded the group.
There were no hard feelings when the band broke up and Iha says he and Corgan are still friends, even though they don't speak regularly.
"He announced we were breaking up and we still toured for six months. I think we had a good run. I wasn't missing it. I think we played for 12 years, toured a lot and made a lot of records and I guess I miss it, but I wasn't looking to reform the band," Iha says.
A Perfect Circle was formed in 1999 by Tool guitar tech Howerdel and Keenan during a break in Tool's schedule caused by a legal battle with their label. They released the album Mer de Noms in 2000 before Keenan returned to Tool for 2001's Lateralus and subsequent tour. A Perfect Circle will release their new album Thirteenth Step on Sept. 16. Iha did not play on the album and doesn't know what will happen once the year is over.
"It's hard to say. I would think it's going great now. I can't really say what I or the rest of the band will be doing in a year," he says. "It's cool because everybody has different things going on in their lives, so it's not do or die, but everyone's giving 100%."
The material Iha is playing in A Perfect Circle is heavier and more progressive than what he is used to, but he enjoys the challenge of learning a different style.
"There's a lot of detail. It's maybe a little harder because I wasn't writing the material, but it's cool. It's like a different language of learning because it's in the hard rock format," he says.
Since the demise of the Pumpkins ended Iha has released a solo album, Let it Come Down, produced other bands and revived his own record label, Scratchie Records. He also runs a recording studio, Stratosphere in his new home city of New York.
"If you're part of a label, you get to sign new bands and the only way to sign new bands is to hit the streets, so I'm up on a lot of new bands."