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Smashing Pumpkins, On The Road Again, Hold It Together
December 31, 1995, 11:00 pm

Smashing Pumpkins, On The Road Again, Hold It Together
Gary Graff. Summer 1996. [No Specific Date]

DETROIT (Reuter) - James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins says his group's recent surprise benefit show in Chicago was "a little rusty, but pretty good."

And it was better than not playing at all.

Smashing Pumpkins are back on the road -- with two new members -- less than seven weeks after the fatal drug overdose of tour keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the subsequent firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Chamberlin pled innocent to the charge. Iha says drummer Matt Walker, who most recently toured with Filter, and keyboardist Dennis Fleming of the Frogs are, at present, temporary members of the Pumpkins.

"It's just for the tour right now," Iha says from Las Vegas, where the group resumed its tour Tuesday night. "It would be hard for us to go, 'You're a full-fledged member.' We're hoping it will work out, but we just want to get through the tour and see what happens."

According to Iha, it's highly unlikely that Chamberlin will work his way back into the band -- which formed seven years ago in Chicago and became a multi-million selling sensation with its 1993 album "Siamese Dream", which led to a spot headlining the next year's Lollapalooza tour.

Its latest release, the double-length "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness", was named best album of 1995 by Time and Rolling Stone magazines.

The drummer's perpetual problem with drug abuse has been well chronicled during the past few years. Iha says things were already coming to a head within the group before Melvoin's death.

"About a week beforehand we talked with Jimmy after a show and asked him if he was doing any drugs, if he was drinking at all," says Iha, 28. "He said he had drunk a couple of times and that was it. We had painstakingly asked him on different occasions if drugs were a problem. He said 'No.'

"One thing with a drug addict is they lie. It becomes their own little drug world, and there's nothing you can do about it unless they want to do something about it. If he wanted to do something about it, he wouldn't have bought drugs and he wouldn't have told us there wasn't a drug problem.

"You just have to draw the line at some point. It's ridiculous to stay in the same position like that."

Iha says there were no musical problems with Chamberlin -- "He's a great player" -- and that he and bandmates Billy Corgan and D'Arcy Wretzky hope the drummer takes this opportunity to make a concerted effort towards cleaning up.

The rest of the Pumpkins were determined to finish their concert tour but the tragedy came at a point when the group was looking to make some significant musical changes.

Corgan, the Pumpkins' singer and chief songwriter, declared to Rolling Stone magazine that "Mellon Collie" is "the last album as people know the Smashing Pumpkins." And Iha confirms that the musicians have tired of the Pumpkins' driving, guitar-heavy sound and are planning to pursue new creative directions.

"The way rock music is changing over the last couple of years, it seems kind of dull to be playing guitars," says Iha, who co-owns an independent label, Scratchie Records, with Wretzky and several other friends.

"There are way too many lame alternative rock bands out there. Why be part of it? Especially in Europe, rock music is so passe; kids want to dance or have rave music, something more progressive."

That doesn't mean the Pumpkins are about to become a dance band, Iha cautions, but he does think technology -- synthesizers, samplers, sequencers -- have a definite role in the band's future sound.

"I think we could be a lot more adventurous," he says. "But we're always into...a good melody or a good song, whether it's rap or techno or country music. The trick is incorporating a lot of these electronic things and still having a coherent song."

Credit: Gary Graff