Cross-pollination phenom August 29, 2003
Edmonton Sun

By Mike Ross

Grunge bands morphing

It's like the Lollapalooza trade deadline came up.

Looking at the modern rock landscape, you see such odd combinations as Soundgarden Against the Machine, the Billy Corgan Experience and Queens of the Sidemen. There are Smashed Pumpkins, Pearl Jammers, Lemonheads and Chili Peppers scattered all over the place.

A number of bands successful during a very specific period in the early '90s - successful enough to have played the Lollapalooza "alternative Woodstock" festival - have since broken up.

Where are these guys now? Still playing - just in different bands.

A Perfect Circle, at the Jubilee Auditorium tonight, includes the lead singer from Tool and roadie-turned-bandleader Billy Howerdel. They were recently joined by the "new guy," James Iha, late of the Smashing Pumpkins. Billy Corgan, meanwhile, has a new band called Zwan.

From one Billy boss to another, Iha says he didn't join A Perfect Circle to be part of some '90s family rock tree - which, if you started mapping it out, would start to look like a Eric Clapton-Jimmy Page flow chart - and that this recent "phenomenon" of cross-pollination between grunge bands "just seems something that rock writers want to grab hold of."

And rock musicians frequently say things like "it just seems something that rock writers want to grab hold of." So here we are.

Another aspect to this: Some of these alternative rock elder statesmen who paved the grungeways in the early '90s have formed new bands that are in many ways superior to the new crop of grunge bands that all sound like Nickelback.

Take a test. Which would you rather listen to: A. Queens of the Stone Age or B. Theory of a Deadman? A. Audioslave or B. Three Days Grace? A. Jane's Addiction or B. Three Doors Down? If you answered B, stop reading. Put down your pencil.

Musicians change bands or form new ones all the time. Whenever a big band breaks up, there are four or five musicians perhaps still wanting to make music.

This time it seems different because it's happening in a specific generation of successful rock bands that targeted the Lollapalooza crowd. A lot of Lollapalooza-era bands broke up or became inactive at around the same time - somewhere around the time 'NSync got big. Do the math.

"People are out of work and need to find new jobs," Iha explains. "It doesn't surprise me. I think if you're a musician playing in a big band it seems natural you wouldn't want to end your musical career after 10 years or whatever. I think it's just a matter of finding the right people and keeping the bar high for your next musical thing.

"Bands like Audioslave and Jane's Addiction obviously have good things going. Same thing with A Perfect Circle. They're definitely a band I respected, or respect. I have their first album. They're nice guys and it's a really cool opportunity to play with them."

The story behind A Perfect Circle, whose spooky new album Thirteenth Step comes out Sept. 16, starts with Howerdel, who was a guitar tech for such bands as the Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N' Roses and Tool until Tool's flamboyant wraithlike singer Maynard heard some of Billy's demos and thought them swell, much in keeping with his own sinister oeuvre.

A Perfect Circle was born. The band played the Summersault Festival with the Smashing Pumpkins and the Lollapaloozic fraternity was widened.

After Billy Corgan broke up the Pumpkins - in a classy move, he made the announcement on the radio without telling his bandmates, though he'd talked about ending it several times previously - Iha was glad.

Asked if he missed the buzz of being in a big band, he says, "Naw. I'd been in the Pumpkins for 12 years, we made like five, six records and on every record, we toured for a year and every album took six or seven months, so I was kind of happy to get out of the cycle."

He did OK. Iha invested wisely and now owns a recording studio and production company in Manhattan, which has a deal with New Line Cinema. The guitarist wasn't itching to get back on the road - but here he is.

"Yeah, here I am, but it had to be the right band," he says. "I wouldn't have gone out with any group."

Right. Given all the free agents flying around, he could've hooked up with Billy Corgan again by mistake. That would've been "a full circle," which isn't the same at all.