|Rock Sound Interview|
|August 31, 1997, 11:00 pm|
Source: Rock Sound
Rock Sound. September 1997. Issue 50. Type: French Rock Magazine. [No Day]
Rock Sound: The Smashing Pumpkins have had a huge success these last two years. Now what does the word success mean to you?
James Iha: In music, success means longevity, the fact that this band still works in a satisfying way. It's also keeping this band together. But the real success is to have the privilege of doing what you like, what's in your real nature. Beyond that, it's also the fact that people like our music. It's something we wanted enough in the past to consider today that we have achieved a certain form of success.
Rock Sound: What did you learn from that?
James Iha: I think that what I got and what we all got out of this adventure is a different way of seeing the world and all things. Traveling a lot, meeting different people all the time, working with many people are things that change you forever. It's done progressively and in a nearly unconscious way, but after awhile, you realize that your view, your way to see things have changed. I can't give you examples because it's precisely about little things, not very important ones. But success allowed us to change the point of view of typical American kids we had.
Rock Sound: So you don't feel you're the same guy anymore?
James Iha: Basically I am. Biologically certainly. And I am the same guy in the sense that I have the memories of what I was. I just know that I've changed... I don't know how to say that... It's funny you know. I grew up with people, friends I had always known. When I meet them today, I still feel like one of them, close to them. But at the same time, I feel as if something is broken. I don't speak about success or money that allow me to have a more easy life than they do, but about the opening of mind. I got out of Chicago and I think that explains a lot of things. I pushed back limits. I pushed walls around me, broadened my horizon. I saw the world, I saw people living differently, learned and enjoyed different cultures. Today, the events that take place on the other side of the planet affect me, I connect things together. I see how these events can influence my own life. It's no secret that a lot of American people bury their head in the sand. Not necessarily because they don't wanna get informed, but because of the system. The American - maybe because of the gigantism of the country - is only interested in his close environment.
Rock Sound: How do you see Smashing Pumpkins today? Like a typical US band or like an artistic group?
James Iha: I never thought our music was typical American rock, in the way that our inspiration has always come from many different things, not only American ones. On the other hand, as individuals, I think we're typical Americans. When I think about it, I'd say Smashing Pumpkins is a very strange mix of universal consciousness in the American way. Something like that, I don't know if it makes sense. We are typically Yankees. But together, we manage to go beyond this reducive status. Maybe we are, as a group, the reflect of several Americas, several social classes, several levels of education, of several ways of thinking. I don't know...
Rock Sound: Do you feel like the heirs of a particular family of American rock?
James Iha: I don't see us in a particular branch. But I see little things of the past in which we can recognize ourselves. Some aspects of the Pumpkins remind me of some 60s bands, in touring a lot, in putting in a lot of work when recording; the way we behave in private, but also in public, during the interviews. All these things remind me some bands of the 60s, in the spirit.
Rock Sound: With D'Arcy and Billy, do you have ethics in music?
James Iha: Nothing very formal. It's more in the daily facts that we have this kind of principles. We know each other very well, we don't have to write the "Tables of the Law". I'd say it's nearly organic, we don't have to ask the questions. I know exactly where I am with D'Arcy or Billy, I know how to read their signals. I know what to do with them, and what not to do. Our musical dialogue is permanent, it doesn't need a decoder. It's a family, and it works like a family. When your brother tells you something, you don't need to decipher what he says. You understand immediately. With the Pumpkins, we grew up together. Many things go unsaid, with just looks, respect and not only with words.
Rock Sound: Are you a compulsive guitarist?
James Iha: No, not with guitar playing. But I write a lot, I produce an enormous amount of personal songs. Of course I play a lot of guitar. It's an everyday companion, but I'm not the kind to ruin my fingers in solos or practise all day long. Guitar solos are not my cup of tea. What I like, especially right now is to write songs, just with my acoustic guitar, work on chords, make bridges, arrange songs. (laughs)
Rock Sound: Do you feel different from other American bands?
James Iha: Let's say that there are American bands in which I absolutely don't recognize myself. (laughs) But there are people that I know only by their albums, articles in the press, and that I like. Most of the time they are bands from SoCal. Some of them seem to be good people, but California is a strange place where there is the best and the worst. I wouldn't dare categorize. (laughs)
Rock Sound: Is Smashing Pumpkins an outlet for you?
James Iha: Yes, it's obvious. Even if today the band is a big machine. We have built it in a progressive way so we still control it. I see the Pumpkins like a very important job, but with so many sides to it that I always find it interesting. Despite the business, the schedules, the technical datas, etc...
Rock Sound: Is music still a way to escape reality for you?
James Iha: For me, music is still a need, something I could call my favorite hobby. It's the way of spending my days without the feeling of wasting them completely. Yeah, that's what it is, it's the best way to describe what I feel. I don't speak of all aspects of music... I could tell you that touring is not my favorite part. (laughs) It's true, I think it is monotonous and repetitive. Tiring too, you see how I am today! But I'm able to get all my energy back as soon as I get on stage. I'm always surprised. But frankly, writing and recording are the aspects I prefer, by far. I find this very gratifying because you work on new things all the time. It's when you really create, when you face what you really want to do. You can't cheat.
Rock Sound: Are there things you haven't been able to do with the Pumpkins?
James Iha: In the Pumpkins, I don't ask myself that question, it's a collective effort. I have the ambition to work harder on my own music. That's what I'm gonna do after this summer tour before getting back with the band. I really want to record my own songs and put them on an album. I'm gonna work in a different way in solo, something more eletronic. It won't be the Chemical Brothers but I'm gonna use lots of keyboards, sequencers and computers. It will be very different from the Pumpkins.
Rock Sound: What about this solo album we've been hearing of for a long time?
James Iha: I have now a deal with Virgin America. I'm gonna start to record it after this tour. Basically, it will be more acoustic, songwriter-like: what I usually do. I think I wrote all the songs without playing once with a band! It will be a songs album mainly. A James Iha record. I don't know what to say to define it. Let me finish it first...
Rock Sound: Why did you need to start your own label Scratchie Records with D'Arcy?
James Iha: It's something that was started by D'Arcy's brother in law, her sister's husband, Jeremy and Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains Of Wayne. They told us what they wanted to do with this label. D'Arcy and I liked the idea and we started to get involved. Very soon, we thought about the kind of bands we wanted to sign and that's how things went. This idea of running an independent label is very stimulating. But at the same time, we want it to remain a fun thing to do. For that, we promised ourselves we'd have only bands we like and just because we like them. The idea is not to sign the next big thing. I don't see myself signing Celine Dion for example. (laughs)
Rock Sound: Is it a way to reciprocate to the independent music?
James Iha: Yes that is correct. We have already gotten some bands the majors had dumped. That was stupid, given the value of those artists. We're not gonna be good Samaritans, we just want to give a chance to good and interesting bands that deserve it. We are soon gonna have a Frogs EP out: "Star Job", a kind of wild pop (laughs), we also have a hip-hop album by a guy from NY, Mike Ladd. He's an urban rapper, very into trip-hop and with important texts. With a content and a message. Jeremy is a hip-hop specialist and of all black music, like dancehall reggae, etc... There is something important to know: Scratchie won't be limited to rock bands. All kinds of music that interest us as long as they are good.
Rock Sound: Do you think about the longevity of your songs?
James Iha: No, I don't have the time for that. And in fact, I think I don't want to. We make music as we feel it. We will see much later what's left of it.