|Melody Maker Let It Come Down Interview|
|February 6, 1998, 11:00 pm|
Source: Melody Maker
Anonymous. Melody Maker. London: Feb 7, 1998.Vol.75, Iss. 6; pg. 17, 1 pgs
Abstract (Document Summary)
James Iha, a member of Smashing Pumpkins, is profiled. He is about to release a new solo album that has country tinges.
Full Text (1347 words)
Copyright Holborn Publishing Group, IPC Magazines Ltd. Feb 7, 1998
What's this?! A Smashing Pumpkins member, like, smiling? Friggin' hell! We meet a happy JAMES IHA in LA and find he's gone all country yee-ha on us
ALL skinny, bleary-eyed and slightly dishevelled, James Iha lowers himself into a chair in the back garden of LAs famous Chateau Marmont hotel. He casually picks at a plate of fresh fruit, takes a sip of mineral water, brushes his jet black hair out of his eyes, the tinges of bleach standing out in the sunlight. He slowly looks up and beams a large, toothy grin. You can almost see the headline appear before your eyes: "Smashing Pumpkins Member In Smiling Shocker!"
JAMES has good reason to smile. He's just about to release his debut solo album, a laid-back feel-good record with country tinges, the type of record to cruise the freeways of California to. It's a veritable treat written in the slipstream of Smashing Pumpkins' epic album "Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness". It's called "Let It Come Down". That's quite an ambiguous title.
"I guess it is quite abstract," he says thoughtfully. "A lot of people probably expect a really edgy, hard rock album, something heavy. The title is about music coming down to a simple level with traditional instruments and different dynamics. I was reading about the weather one time, about the rain and snow being kept in the sky and then suddenly it all just comes down, it's a big release."
Is that how you feel, released?
Um, yeah, it is. My record is about music being smaller, wider, more gentle, a release because it is a solo record."
How did it differ from doing a Pumpkins record?
The only opinion I had to consider was my own. It was great to focus in on one idea, not to be swayed by other ideas or be locked into one person's playing, whatever the case may be."
So, it was more relaxing than recording with Billy and D'Arcy, recording as a "unit"?
"Well, it was recorded in my basement, it's all very James, the way my house is and the way I have my studio. I hate to say the word, but the record has a good 'vibe'. I just didn't feel the pressure of paying $1,000 a day for some studio. It was great to be able to read my books or eat out of my own fridge. We hired my roommate as a chef so it made a change from having take-out 24 hours a day. That normally changes the chemical balance of your body and you turn into this little white Styrofoam dish. It was a good food record!"
DESPITE his natural shyness and self-deprecating jokes, James seems relaxed and pretty happy, a mood which reflects the overall country feel of the album. It's not bad for a member of a band notorious for their angst, inner turmoil and a history that has seen a keyboard player die from drugs and a drummer who, although not dead, was forced to leave for the same reasons.
"I'd say that there's more pop than country on the record, but it's not pop like the Spice Girls," he continues. al think the record has a few different flavours: pop, laid-back Seventies California, yearning country, a little bit of James music. I've been leaning towards singer/songwriters for the past few years now. I want to concentrate on songs and singing. There aren't really any guitar solos, there's no distortion on it, no real loud alternative rock drums. Basically, you either like the songs or you don't, because there's nothing to hide on there."
There certainly ain't. Not when it sounds like a combination of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Eagles and Gram Parsons, yet somehow doesn't sound either derivative or retro. Just fresh. Didn't Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt (who guests on "Beauty") say that the songs on "Let It Come Down" are the type that her parents would listen to? How did you feel about that?
"I locked myself in the bathroom for a while!" laughs James, dismissing the Pumpkins-aremiserable-sods cliche. "Only kidding. . . to me, the record isn't retro, just traditional. I mean, I didn't use trip hop beats or anything. I took it as a compliment because there's a lot of harmonies, the drums are up front and the bass sounds really warm. I think Nina was comparing me to Art Garfunkel or Linda Ronstadt or something. The record was halfdone already so there was nothing I could do about it!"
It all sounds a bit too relaxed. Do you have more confidence as a songwriter now rather than working in someone else's shadow?
"The songs had to be good for them to be successful," he smiles. "I couldn't just do a watered-down Pumpkins record. There were points where I faltered and I thought, 'I can't do this!' I thought my singing was crap and the songs were horrible. It was only at the end that I felt confident. I mean, when you listen to songs under the microscope you always find faults with them." Was that you being too. . . "Overly critical? Yeah. I can be really anal about a guitar part, but my producer was laid-back and would go, 'Man! That's tighter than The Beatles ever were!" He stretches his arms, yawning as the sun beams down.
"I think that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger anyway." TAKE a listen to James' album and you may be pleasantly surprised. Like Fountains Of Wayne (whose Adam Schlesinger plays piano on the record), Lilys, Seventies megastars The Band, Neil Young and some of Phil Spector's finest production moments, James Iha writes timeless songs about timeless subjects. Love being one of them.
"I guess it's an album of love songs, it just turned out that my songs were about different relationships. Some of them are real, others are imaginary." Are you in a relationship now?
"No. I was when I was writing though. I guess some of that came into the songs. Things were going great and then it just exploded, it was pretty terrible [laughs]. . . I guess that's what the whole album is about."
I had heard that the Pumpkins weren't talking to The Maker. How do you feel about doing interviews?
"We were just being funny about interviews at the time. I don't mind interviews for this record because it's just me, I finally get asked proper questions. Over the years Billy gets asked the important ones and I just tend to make dry-witted jokes and basic wisecracks. It's natural because Billy is the singer and the songwriter, but after a while you just learn to amuse yourself. I guess I sound a bit jaded, but ultimately I'm still a huge music fan. Music is my love. I've been jaded over business things, but I still appreciate staying at a groovy hotel and making records that I want to make. Ten years ago I couldn't have done it. It's so easy to fail in music, competition's hard. I know I'm lucky." HE yawns once again, pausing before heading back to his bedroom upstairs in the hotel.
"Oh to be a child again! To be crushed by the world!" he laughs. "You know, I guess I was 10 when I joined the Pumpkins and now I'm an old man. I didn't think that I would be in a band for so long, I think it's been 10 years."
How long are you going to last, James?
"As it is, for a while. It's going OK. I think that our new record will be pretty good. It's going to be shorter than the last one. It'll be less rock, but not like the way my record is. Shall we talk about Oasis now?"
It's 11.30am as the sun beats down on the hotel California. The sky is blue, there's not a cloud in sight. Rain seems a distant memory. It's going to be a beautiful day.
'Let It Come Down' is released on February 9 on Hut. The single 'Be Strong Now' follows on February 23.