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James was a lot younger when he teamed with the members of the Pumpkins
May 19, 2000, 11:00 pm

Source: The Sentinel Staff

Jim Abbott of The Sentinel Staff. Orlando Sentinel. Orlando, Fla.: May 5, 2000. pg. 9

Abstract (Document Summary)

[James] Iha, 32, was a lot younger when he teamed with [Billy] Corgan, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to form the band in Chicago in 1988.
Full Text (1120 words)
(Copyright 2000 by The Orlando Sentinel)

"You know I'm not dead," singer-songwriter Billy Corgan asserts in the first line of "The Everlasting Gaze," the opening song of the Smashing Pumpkins' new album.

Yet the future of the band - which performs Monday at Hard Rock Live in Orlando - is less certain, says guitarist and original member James Iha.

After weathering death, departures and disappointing album sales in recent years, the group offers only a thin ray of hope in the new Machina: The Machines of God.

"The band has sold a lot of records," said Iha, chatting on the phone while unpacking in a New York hotel room. "At a certain point, it's really hard to maintain that sort of drive and motivation to keep making strong records and promoting the hell out of them and all that stuff."

Iha, 32, was a lot younger when he teamed with Corgan, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to form the band in Chicago in 1988.

The Pumpkins became alternative-rock darlings in the 1990s, scoring massive radio airplay with the single "1979" and selling nearly 9 million albums with 1993's Siamese Dream and the 1995 two- disc set Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

But as boy bands and pop music stole the spotlight from alternative rock, the band's somber 1998 album, Adore, sold a disappointing 3 million copies.

Is Machina the band's swan song, as Corgan has hinted?

"It's just a really strange job to do," Iha said of being a rock star. "When you're younger, you're so hungry, but now, I don't know. Every record always seems like the last one, so who knows? I honestly couldn't tell you. On every record, it's been like we're going to implode and then we've carried on."

Prone to frequent digressions, Iha breaks into a chorus of "Carry On" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young before returning to familiar territory, the tragic and dramatic events that have characterized the band.

First, there was the accidental overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the subsequent firing of Chamberlin in 1996 for chronic drug abuse and his role in Melvoin's death. In 1998, Corgan invited Chamberlin back into the band, reuniting the original lineup for Machina.

A year later, that reunion was over when D'Arcy abruptly left the band. This past January, she was charged by Chicago police with drug possession after crack cocaine was found in a car in which she was riding. Her spot in the band was filled in January by former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur.

In mid-January, as the band was departing for its European tour, manager Sharon Osbourne - wife of Ozzy - resigned after four months on the job. She cited illness, stating in a press release that "Billy Corgan was making me sick."

Corgan responded by suing Osbourne for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud.

Not to get lost in the shuffle, Corgan also endured a divorce and the death of his mother.

Yet all the drama is overblown, Iha says.

"There will be conflict if you get four people in the same band for 11 years, and you're young and have all that stuff going on. It's kind of a cliche, but I don't believe that drama is inherent in everything. I think too much is made of it.

"The big bands now, Korn and Limp Bizkit, people analyze everything they do now. It's like, `Who cares? They seem like good bands.'"

Iha, who dated D'Arcy at one time, spoke to the band's former bassist after the Chicago incident and says she is doing fine. Likewise, Auf der Maur fits well with the band, he says.

"She's crazy," Iha exclaims with mock indignation. "No, no, no. She's a level-headed, smart, with-it girl who plays bass fine. She's kind of kooky because she wears yellow scarves and red flared pants. I like her a lot. She's from the 1970s."

The band's current lineup has been well-received in concert and is keeping the off-stage antics to a minimum.

"As pretentious as it sounds, we're just trying to play music and be groovy on the road. I don't know if you're familiar with that term, but I think it was a counterculture word in the 1970s."

Yes, everyone knows about the 1970s from that fictional TV miniseries. Iha laughs when he considers how the Pumpkins might fare in 20 years when TV revisits the 1990s.

"When they interview me about the grunge days, I will be wearing a beret and sailor shirt, smoking clove cigarettes and saying, `Man, it was crazy back then. We just got back from Woodstock. See the mud on my pants?'"

Returning to his senses, Iha notes that the band was energized by Chamberlin's drumming on Machina.

"Sonically, the album is a little more textured than the others, but it still maintains that kind of live feeling. We wanted the blaring of guitars that was on Adore and the spontaneous sound of the band underneath that."

Under the guidance of co-producers Corgan and Flood, Iha created a thunderously low guitar sound by dropping the pitch on his electric guitars and wiring acoustic guitars into cassette tape recorders.

Exhibiting his disdain for analysis, Iha preferred to discuss another use for acoustic guitars in the studio.

"We used them to hit Flood with because he has such a hard head. We found out that he's part dinosaur, and his head was used to fight with other creatures at one point in time. He loves the feeling of acoustic guitars being smashed on his head."

Iha confessed that he can't get dinosaurs out of his head since watching a recent special about them on the Discovery Channel. It's no reflection on the future of alternative rock in the era of Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera, he says.

"I like dinosaurs," Iha said. "The pop stuff like boy bands, that's just eye candy and ear candy to people. I guess they were just sick of all the complaint rock of our time.

"I don't know if people really got what Nirvana and the Pumpkins and some of these other bands were trying to say, so they just got tired of it.

"Now they just want a nice tune."
PHOTO: Everlasting gazes. Members of the Smashing Pumpkins (from left) are Melissa Auf der Maur, James Iha, Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin. They will play at Hard Rock Live Monday. VIRGIN RECORDS BOX: SMASHING PUMPKINS When: 7:30 p.m. Monday. Where: Hard Rock Live, Universal Studios CityWalk, Orlando. What it costs: Sold out. Where else: The Pumpkins also perform at 8 p.m. today at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sunrise Musical Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.

Credit: Jim Abbott