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Q & A With James Iha by the San Franciso Chronicle
February 7, 1998, 11:00 pm

Source: San Franciso Chronicle

Q & A With James Iha Of Smashing Pumpkins; [SUNDAY Edition]
Aidin Vaziri. San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, Calif.: Feb 8, 1998. pg. 49

Document types: Interview
Column Name: POP QUIZ

While Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan was making the society pages last year, guitarist James Iha was locked in the basement of his Chicago home making a solo record called "Let It Come Down." What will surprise fans most about the disc, due Tuesday on Virgin, is its dramatic departure from the hazy distortion and angst of Iha's regular gig.

Co-produced with Jim Scott, who has worked with Tom Petty and Jewel, the album showcases a more sensitive side of the grunge guitarist in gently strummed love songs such as "Be Strong Now" and "Jealousy." Iha has written songs for the Smashing Pumpkins occasionally, but this is the first time he has taken the spotlight, playing, singing and producing the material himself.

It hasn't been all work for the solemn guitarist, however. Iha recently appeared in designer Anna Sui's runway shows and heads the vanity record label Scratchie with Smashing Pumpkins' bassist D'Arcy Wretzky.


Q: What got you interested in making a solo record?

A: Generally Billy (Corgan) writes most of the songs in the Pumpkins and I co-write a couple of songs per record. But I had more than a couple of songs. At the same time, I don't expect to get my record with the Smashing Pumpkins label and for it to be a Pumpkins record. That's why I did my own record.


Q: Did anyone encourage singing lessons?

A: I made every attempt to make the songs and the singing good. That's what I concentrated on the most. Every time I opened my mouth, I didn't think, "People are going to hate this." I know they're going to be surprised, but to me it's not a big jump because I've been writing these songs for a while. I just hope that people are open to it.


Q: Did you have a role model?

A: I like a lot of classic, timeless things like Neil Young and early Band records. The Beatles' "White Album" is really good. Those are things that inspire me. I never sit down and try to write a Beatles song, but I listen to them for the quality of their songwriting and the overall sound and vibe on their records. I would like to make timeless music like that and not put on a pair of bell- bottoms just because they did.


Q: There seems to be a lot of romantic sentiment on "Let It Come Down."

A: There's a lot of differences between the Pumpkins sound and this. I was in a relationship during this record and I guess I was feeling romantic and sensitive. The central idea of a song, lyrically and musically, comes to me at once. The songs seem to have this warm conversational and intimate feel. The lyrics seem to match the mood of the music.


Q: Does your schedule allow time for romance?

A: It's really hard because all I do is either tour or record. I'm not at home very much.


Q: It must be hard to get privacy after you've been a character on "The Simpsons."

A: It's not that bad. I'm not Michael Jackson or anything. Some people do stop me, but I go to the grocery store in my neighborhood and nobody knows who I am. It's just when I tour or I'm in a major city that people bug out.


Q: Do you enjoy that?

A: Just as long as they don't bug out too much. It's nice when fans say they're fans, but when someone comes up to you and just says, "You're great, you're great, you're great," what else are you going to say? I just say thanks. They're not looking at you like a regular person, it's like you're an object.


Q: Does anyone ever tell you that you suck?

A: No. I don't know anyone like that. Generally when you don't like someone, most people have enough courtesy that they don't come up to you and say, "I don't like you." So I don't really encounter that too much.


Q: Were the other band members upset about you making a solo record?

A: It's always a matter of schedule. Billy was fine with it as long as I found the right time to do it.


Q: Is everyone in the Smashing Pumpkins getting along now?

A: It's going good right now.


Q: When was the last time you got into a fistfight with Billy Corgan?

A: Whenever journalists bring up things we've talked about in the press that happened over five or six years ago we just put a blanket statement over it because we already talked about it. I hate retreading the past for journalists just because it makes good copy.


Q: Are the Smashing Pumpkins clean and sober?

A: I really don't want to get into the whole drug issue, but yes, we are clean and sober.


Q: What lessons have you learned from running your own label?

A: It's a hard road. We haven't really had a hit yet, but all the bands we work with are really great.


Q: Do you prefer being a rock star or a fashion model?

A: (The modeling) was just a friendly, fun thing. I was friends with the designer.


Q: Which is a better way to meet girls?

A: I don't know.


Q: Have you dated any supermodels lately?

A: No, no supermodels.


Q: How do you meet girls?

A: This is starting to sound like Teen Beat. OK, next question.


Q: Are you going to tour this record?

A: I'll do a promotion tour where I do face-to-face interviews and play live at radio stations. I might do a bunch of small gigs here and there.


Q: When do you plan to resume work on the Pumpkins' next album?

A: We're in it right now. There's no finishing date on it, though. It's still too early to tell.

Credit: Aidin Vaziri