Welcome to
JamesIha.org! An informative site about musician James Iha.

The Smashing Pumpkins
James Iha Bulletin Board


Site WWW Media James Home
Former Pumpkins guitarist helps shape A Perfect Circle
April 8, 2004, 10:41 pm

Posted on Fri, Apr. 09, 2004
Coming round again

Former Pumpkins guitarist helps shape A Perfect Circle


The Kansas City Star

James Iha was in a pretty contented place in June 2003 when he got an e-mail that looked suspiciously like just another slice of spam. Instead it was a rare, prime opportunity: ?Do you want to join and go on tour for a year?? it said.

At the time Iha (rhymes with ?yee-ha?) was traveling across Europe, taking a break from his label, Scratchie Records (home of the Sounds), and contemplating the next phase of his career, which had included 12 years as a guitarist with the now-defunct Smashing Pumpkins. Iha figured another band was in his future eventually, but beyond that he wasn't sure of anything.

Still, when he got that transcontinental e-mail from Billy Howerdel of the band A Perfect Circle, Iha, 35, paused to consider the request and whether he was up to the large commitment.

The real kicker: Howerdel was giving him only three weeks to get ready: two to prepare, one to rehearse. ?It was kind of scary at first,? Iha said recently. ?I'd really only played in one band at that point, so to have just a couple of weeks to learn another band's entire catalog is pretty daunting. On the other hand, it was too good to turn down.?

At that point, A Perfect Circle had only one album on the shelves, ?Mer de Nom,? but it was finishing up its second album, ?Thirteen Step.? Not exactly the best timing: It meant Iha would be left out of the studio process and would have to learn someone else's guitar parts on more than two dozen songs. If you're joining Matchbox Twenty or Blink-182, learning 24 songs in two weeks isn't all that daunting. But Circle is a dynamic progressive-rock band; none of its material is symmetric, primitive or by-the-numbers. Thus the fear factor.

?The first show was very nerve-racking,? Iha said. ?It's different in this band. It's really interesting how the guitars are arranged. There aren't really that many solos ? at least the solos don't sound like traditional solos. I get to do some fiddling around, but Billy (Howerdel) does a lot more than I do.?

Getting started

Iha got to know Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan in 1999, when APC opened for the Pumpkins, a 1990s alt-rock/heavy-rock band with another Billy (the alpha male Corgan) who did a lot more than Iha. In 2000 the Pumpkins called it quits, victims of the usual suspects (sagging record sales, drug problems, personnel changes, personality strains).

Between then and his courtship by Howerdel, Iha started Scratchie Records with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne (?Radiation Vibe,? ?Stacy's Mom?). He also worked on the side for a spell with Melissa Auf der Maur, who had left Courtney Love's band, Hole, to play bass with the Pumpkins for a while.

When a guitar spot opened up in APC, Howerdel thought of Iha for a few reasons: He liked his guitar work in the Pumpkins, but he also wanted someone who'd been in the business awhile and could manage life on the road with a band of veterans.

APC is only 5 years old, but it has been a steady hive and haven for big-name rock stars: Lead singer Maynard James Keenan also leads the heavy art-metal band Tool; Howerdel was Tool's guitar tech for years; bassist Jeordie White used to be Twiggy Ramirez in Marilyn Manson's band; and drummer Josh Freese also played with the Vandals (and briefly with the resurrected Guns N' Roses).

Lots of experience

White, coincidentally, replaced Paz Lenchantin, who left to play bass in Zwan, which was founded by Corgan. And the two guitar players who preceded Iha were Troy Van Leeuwen, who moved on to Queens of the Stone Age, and Danny Lohner of Nine Inch Nails.

That's a lot of experience come and gone. But one reason Iha said yes, despite the daunting responsibility it posed, was that he expected to fit in with a band where everyone had indulged in all the freshman and sophomoric temptations and moved on to more adult motivations.

?They could have gone with some young guy, which has its advantages; but he'd also be inexperienced, which has its disadvantages,? he said. ?I think they knew it would be easier with someone who had been around the block a few times, so to speak.?

Given everyone's alter egos and outside interests, no one is sure how or when APC will record and hit the road again when the ?Thirteenth Step? tour is over this year. Iha said that, at that point, Keenan will turn his full-time attention to Tool, putting APC on the shelf for a while. Given what Corgan said recently about Iha ? essentially that Iha broke up the Pumpkins ? a reunion with his old band seems unlikely.

?All I can say is I'm very proud of my work with that band,? he said. ?It was a good band, and we accomplished a lot. And that's not what happened. I definitely did not break up the band.

?I'm proceeding like this (APC) is permanent. Maynard will go back to Tool after this tour is over, so it's hard to say when we'll get back together. I still have a label going, and I'm working with two bands, the Sounds and Robbers on High Street. I'll have plenty to do.?

As for the other Billy and his other band? ?No comment.?

Sometimes the circle remains closed, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.

Source: The Kansas City Star