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Alternative Press Interview
February 28, 1998, 11:00 pm

Source: Alternative Press

Alternative Press. March 1998. [No Day]

Few would've pegged James Iha as a softie but, the tough minded Smashing Pumpkins guitarist opens up on his first solo record, Let it Come Down-11 refreshingly open love songs with titles such as no ones gonna hurt you. Recorded with producer Jim Scott (Tom petty, Whiskeytown) and friends such as Adam Schlesinger (fountains Of Wayne, Ivy), the album is a mixture of old and new songs, many written on the pumpkins 14 month 1996-7 world tour. "there's so many things you can do in a hotel-television, the phone, or play guitar." says Iha. In his Los Angeles hotel suite, where he's staying while recording the next pumpkins record, Iha discusses the importance of being earnest.

Alternative Press:So why a solo album and why now?

James Iha: I had some of these songs for awhile about half of them. Basically I wanted to do a whole record of my songs, in my voice, the way I wanted them to be. I generally co write a couple of songs on Pumpkins records. It would probably be weird for people to get a Pumpkins record with 11 of my songs in my voice.

Alternative Press: But people are still going to have certain expectations for a solo album by one of the Smashing Pumpkins guitarists. What did you think those expectations were, and did you try and work against them?

James Iha: I didn't really make a record to meet people's expectations or surprise them. But I think it is different from the Pumpkins. The only expectations I wanted to meet was to have good songs. The thing I didn't want was it to be one of those lo-fi bedroom things. You know typical side projects "I'm in this band and I did this record in one day in my friends garage." I wanted to make a good sounding record with good songs.

Alternative Press:...that you made in your basement with a few of your friends.

James Iha: (laughs) Right. So i did make it lo-fi, garage sounding record. No I did it in the basement with a few of my friends and a few of the producers friends. I wasn't playing to any kind of audience. I don't know how to write songs any other way.

Alternative Press: The entire record really is filled with direct love songs.

James Iha: Sue me. I'm sensitive.

Alternative Press: I was really surprised by the warmth of your voice, and the tenderness of these songs. Not only do you sing for the first time, but your singing some revealing stuff.

James Iha: The whole thing was kind of a gamble. We spent a lot of time on the vocals- a couple of weeks just singing. I got a little self-conscious at first. When I'd sing badly I would think oh god I'd rather just play guitar. After a while the voice becomes another instrument. I don't know why the album is all about love songs. It's where the songs come from. I wrote most of them on acoustic guitar. They're meant to stand with the acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement. I didn't rely on hard-rock band dynamics like gongs and fireworks. That's why I think there is an honest sound. There's really nothing to hide. You either like the songs or you don't.

Alternative Press: The Pumpkins seem to love tweaking the alterna -trendy crowd by getting bigger, grander and more epic. Double albums. Over the top videos. You've gone the way embracing honesty sincerity and melody.

James Iha: It just goes back to the songs. I don't think this is an unplugged record; there are some lush things strings, harmonies. I really thought that if I put too much stuff on-distorted guitar, over-dubs, unnecessary things-it would take away the personality of the songs. These are much more singer songwriter songs. you wouldn't want led Zeppelin backing Jackson Brown.

Alternative Press: Do you find yourself listening to more singer-songwriter types these days?

James Iha: The older I get, yeah. I really like rock music, but I also like a lot more pure singer-songwriters now. I guess I'm getting old. I've listened to (the Stooges) Fun House a million times, and I just can't play it anymore I end up playing Nick Drake.

Alternative Press: You mentioned Jackson Browne. Did those 70's singer-songwriter albums influence this record?

James Iha: Actually one thing I was inspired by was Robbie Robertson and the band. I don't really know how to write (traditional American folk) songs I've never been to the Appalachian mountains, I was trying to go for that feeling, though-a homespun, warm sounding record with good funky songs. Not that I'm too funky but for lack of a better word...

Alternative Press: A lot of he songs have that 70's country-ish feel.

James Iha: I like country-rock music. i don't want to make a country-alt record. No country rock or trip hop or Puff Daddy. But some of the songs lean that way. I love the sound of pedal steel.

Alternative Press: There's nothing like the sound of pedal steel or George Jones voice to amplify a broken heart. How about "Jealousy" do you hear a little MMMBop in that song?

James Iha: I never thought of that before. I wrote it before I heard Hanson. It's a very upbeat song. I guess it's got the Hanson thing-the upbeat thing. I didn't mind your mentioning George Jones. But a Hanson comparison? I'll have to think about that.

Alternative Press: Did you ask your Smashing Pumpkins band mates to play on the record?

James Iha: D'arcy sings some back-up. I didn't really want to go for the band feel. I wanted to go for the Band feel.

Alternative Press: How about a Pumpkins update? What plans do you have for the next album/

James Iha: We're actually recording the follow-up to Mellon Collie right now. It's going to be pretty good. We're about half way through. I have no idea how it will sound yet. It's kind of early to say. We've only done the basic tracking. We haven't really gone into the supersonic production yet.

Alternative Press: Is it just the three of you/ What are you doing with drums/

James Iha: Just the three. Different people come in. We're playing with drum machines, loops.

Alternative Press: So that will be the trip-hop record. How about Scratchie? What's happening with the indie label you started with D'arcy?

James Iha: We're still doing it, but it's a hard alt rock world. There's a million bands, and it's just hard to get them on the radio. There are just too many other bands, and so much less space on the radio and in magazines, and it keeps getting smaller.