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Richmond Times Interview
November 6, 1996, 11:00 pm

Source: Richmond Times

MELISSA RUGGIERI Times-Dispatch Staff Writer. Richmond Times - Dispatch. Richmond, Va.: Nov 7, 1996. pg. D.4

It should have been their year to celebrate. Instead, 1996 unfolded as a year of survival.

When The Smashing Pumpkins released their epic, two-disc rockudrama, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" last year, some lauded it as revolutionary; others, however, viewed it as a pretentious gamble. After all, this was only the young Chicagoans' fourth release -- double albums are


Smashing Pumpkins

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (show opens with


WHERE: Richmond Coliseum

COST: $25.25

INFORMATION: (804) 780-4970

traditionally reserved for artists with palpable histories and established followings. How dare they tread their novice boot heels onto such sacred territory? But no one is taunting the Pumpkins now. Not after selling more than 7 million copies of "Mellon," making it the top-grossing double disc in history.

Pumpkin leader Billy Corgan had full permission to shoot his articulate mouth off about the band's success. They had struggled and they had made it. And then they went on tour, and things went tragically awry.

By now, most of us know the time line: In March, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's father died in Chicago, forcing the band to cancel several dates in Australia and New Zealand. They resumed touring a few weeks later, but then in May, a 17-year-old fan was crushed to death by moshers at the band's show in Dublin. That was only the beginning.

One night in July, Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Johnathan Melvoin sat in their Regency Hotel room in New York shooting up Red Rum heroin. Both OD'd. Melvoin never woke up. A few days later, after Chamberlin was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, Corgan, bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha made the wrenching decision to oust Chamberlin from the band, despite several months left on the touring calendar.

The remaining Pumpkins took a few weeks off, then announced that former Filter drummer Matt Walker and keyboardist Dennis Flemion of the Frogs would join the Pumpkins touring unit. Chamberlin pleaded guilty last month to disorderly conduct and is undergoing drug treatment.

Here was a band finally generating a solid buzz in the industry based solely on its productivity and creativity. But the band soon became even more visible because of those calamities. The understandable stress likely would have reduced weaker bands to a pile of flannel on the stage floor, but the Pumpkins have braved their misfortunes, again proving the naysayers wrong.

"It's nice to be back on tour without having 20 different things to worry about," says guitarist Iha from a tour stop in Indiana. "Matt (Walker) is a real great guy and a great drummer. We broke him in for five or six weeks, and now everything is fine."

Iha acknowledges that the Pumpkins sev- ered ties with Chamberlin, though tour manager Tim "Gooch" Lougee has had contact with the troubled drummer. There are no plans to appoint Walker an official Pumpkin, as the band is "a little gun-shy" about naming a permanent replacement for Chamberlin.

But personal tribulations aside, the Pumpkins have molded themselves into the band of the future, artfully welding nostalgic rockers such as "1979" and lush, Queen-status opuses such as "Tonight, Tonight," whose fairy-tale video scored them seven wins at the MTV Video Music Awards in September.

While many tag the band with the undefinable "alternative" label -- likely because of their success with the crunchy "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" -- they can't be penned in stylistically.

Their five-disc singles set, "The Aeroplane Flies High," out Nov. 19, isn't merely a collection of imports and B-sides -- they also revisit their pop roots with covers of tunes by the Cars, Missing Persons, Blondie and the Cure. And in case you thought the band does indeed sleep, think again -- Iha says he and Corgan have already crafted some new material, and after the tour wraps in January and a quick vacation, will write some more.

But back to their sound. Iha likes to classify the Pumpkins as "cyber-rock" -- an appropriate label given their affinity toward swelling orchestral maneuvers and layered studio work.

"The only thing we're sorta based on is riffs, which is a little reminiscent of '70s guitar rock. But if Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton were to watch us play, they'd be disgusted," Iha says. "Maybe the feeling is the same because we try to do things rhythmically and melodically, and not three-chord rock, but we use too many effects (to sound like them). I do want to play like Clapton or Page, though. In my waning adult years, I'm beginning to appreciate them."

While Corgan writes the majority of the band's material, Iha did contribute to two of the tracks on "Mellon" -- "Farewell and Goodnight" and "Take Me Down," some of the album's most somber offerings.

"I don't try to be sad," Iha says of his songwriting strategy. "I end up writing a lot in the bathtub, just turning on the water and sitting on the edge with my acoustic guitar. That's probably why you hear so much watery stuff on those songs."

In addition to his duties as guitarist, Iha moonlighted as a model for designer Anna Sui last spring, and recently turned down an offer to appear in a CK One fragrance ad. He and D'Arcy (once romantically linked, though she is now married to Catherine drummer Kerry Brown) also paired up with D'Arcy's brother-in-law Jeremy to form Scratchie records, home to the Chainsaw Kittens, Ivy, and Richmond natives, FulFlej. Another part-owner in the fledgling label is Adam Schlesinger, now recognized as the writer behind "That Thing You Do!" from the Tom Hanks flick. No, this band never rests.

So maybe now, after nearly nine years together and a mountain of obstacles conquered, the Pumpkins can absorb their success. Their tour continues to sell out arenas everywhere, and the upcoming box set is sure to become a fan collectible, despite a $30-plus price tag. Maybe now they can laugh at the critics who called them idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe now they can have some peace. Here's to 1997.


Smashing Pumpkins

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (show opens with


WHERE: Richmond Coliseum

COST: $25.25

INFORMATION: (804) 780-4970

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri