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Smashing Pumpkins return unbowed
September 29, 1996, 12:00 am

Source: Chicago Sun - Times

Smashing Pumpkins return unbowed; [LATE SPORTS FINAL Edition]
JAE-HA KIM. Chicago Sun - Times. Chicago, Ill.: Sep 29, 1996. pg. 1.nc

Smashing Pumpkins, Grant Lee Buffalo

7:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday

Rosemont Horizon, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont

Tickets, $27, available for Sunday show only

Ticketmaster, (312) 559-1212 When the album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart last fall, the Smashing Pumpkins seemed destined for a stunning future. Their previous works "Gish" and "Siamese Dream" had made them superstars, but no one in the band imagined that "Mellon Collie," which has sold more than 7 million copies in the United States, would become the most successful double CD ever.

More shocking, though, is how that milestone has been overshadowed by the loss of two friends under tragic circumstances. What should have been the Pumpkins' most glorious year has been marred by tragedy that could have splintered less determined bands.

After the heroin overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the subsequent firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who has a history of drug problems and had shot up with Melvoin, the Chicago-based musicians could have canceled their world tour and hid away without being accused of being crybabies. Instead the Pumpkins weighed their strategy, implemented it and continued on. The Smashing Pumpkins play three homecoming shows Friday through Oct. 6 at the Rosemont Horizon. (The first two dates are sold out.)

Their tour got off to a shaky start even before the overdose. The band canceled some of its Australian and New Zealand dates after Chamberlin's father died this spring. On May 11, a teenager was crushed to death at a Pumpkins show in Dublin. Then on July 12, the group made headlines worldwide when Melvoin overdosed.

After firing Chamberlin, whose court date on a drug charge last Tuesday was postponed until he got out of rehab, singer-songwriter-guitarist Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy returned home to Chicago to escape the media frenzy.

Corgan unleashed some of his pent-up energy by making a shy appearance at Cheap Trick's Park West show in July.

On Aug. 8, the band announced that Filter's drummer Matt Walker and Frogs' keyboardist Dennis Flemion would finish up the Smashing Pumpkins' tour when it resumed in Las Vegas on Aug. 27.

Now, fresh from sweeping this year's MTV Video Music Awards, where the band won seven trophies for "Tonight, Tonight" and "1979," guitarist James Iha opened up to talk about the Pumpkins, their new personnel, their past and their future.

Iha - easily the quietest Pumpkin - called from New York's LaGuardia Airport at 9:30 a.m.

Q. How're the new guys working out?

Iha: Matt and Dennis are great. We're having a lot of fun with them.

Q. Is Filter mad at you for taking Matt?

Iha: I don't know. I hope not.

Q. If there was a rumble, you could take them because there are more members in your band than theirs.

Iha: This is true. But I don't know if we'd be able to count on Matt. He might fall back to his old allegiance and sucker punch us. No, Matt is a great drummer and he's such a nice guy. He's a great guy to tour with. It's working out really well.

Q. Matt is the drummer for this tour. When will you guys decide who will be your full-time drummer?

Iha: We're kind of a little bit gun shy on hiring a full-time member as of now. It's tough to walk into anybody's shoes. Jimmy played with us for so long and until now, I don't think we've ever really played with another drummer. What makes Matt really good is he's such a good musician that he is able to just sort of cop a lot of Jimmy's feel and his parts, but also put a little bit of himself into it, too.

Q. When you guys fired Jimmy, were you inundated with calls from drummers wanting the job?

Iha: Yeah, pretty much. My mother was . . .

Q. . . . auditioning for the band?

Iha: (Laughs) Well, she hasn't picked up the sticks in a while. She was taking calls from people. Basically anybody who played drums, or thought of playing drums, or didn't play drums, still offered to audition.

It was absurd after a while because we weren't just going to hire some kid or a person who hadn't toured before. We've got too much responsibility going on with a tour this big. We couldn't afford to hire anybody without any band or tour experience. So we just made up a list of people who were recommended to us - a few pro people and guys in bands - and pared it down to Matt and one other guy. We had known Matt and we liked him so much. He does his homework, too. So that's why we wanted Matt.

Getting along with someone is a big part of it because 90 percent of touring is standing in a room with somebody or getting on an airplane or on a bus. There's only basically those two hours that you play onstage with them. It's very glamorous in the (airport) terminal.

Q. Speaking of which, you're up surprisingly early by rock 'n' roll standards.

Iha: We're early risers these days. We're businessmen and woman. (Laughs)

Q. The Pumpkins have had phenomenal success with "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness." But when you were making the record, did you worry that people wouldn't spring for a double CD?

Iha: I don't know. We were dead set on doing the double CD pretty soon after we started recording. I guess we just sort of had a momentum going, so I never really thought so much about the sales. I knew it would do OK, though, just from the way the record was sounding.

Q. Did you know early on that it would be a double CD?

Iha: Yeah, actually. I remember (producer) Flood was saying about a month and a half into recording: "I can't imagine this being a single CD from the songs." Producers generally would rather have a shorter album of all the best songs. But Flood was very supportive of the whole idea and so was (co-producer) Alan Moulder. They were both great.

Q. Was it confusing having those two, as well as Billy, producing the album?

Iha: No, it was actually good because when you wore one producer down, then you had the other producer to feed upon.

Q. What's the next musical direction for the Pumpkins?

Iha: Space music. Our next (studio) album won't be as much of a rock album.

Q. Out of all the Pumpkins, you are the most fashionably astute. Are you Anna Sui's muse?

Iha: I'm friends with Anna and a few other fashion-type people, like Marc Jacobs. But they mostly do women's clothes. Men's clothes are secondary in their line. I'm just friends with them.

Q. What'll be your next look?

Iha: I'm getting sick of this hair. I'm going to chop it off soon. I'm sick of looking like a girl, so I'm just going to get a guy haircut - a short cut.

Q. I know someone who went to Elk Grove High School with you and he said that your father invented the garage door opener.

Iha: No, well, my father is an engineer and he worked on the garage door opener for a company that sold it to Sears. I'm not 100 percent positive, but I'm pretty sure he didn't invent the actual garage door opener concept. But he did patent parts to it. So he worked on the design of garage door openers that're in thousands, if not millions of homes.

Q. I've got one of those. Do you?

Iha: Uh, actually I don't know what I have.
The Smashing Pumpkins - James Iha (from left), D'Arcy and Billy Corgan - accept the MTV Award for Video of the Year. At the Video Music Awards: Billy Corgan, D'Arcy, and James Iha. See also related story.; Credit: BEBETO MATTHEWS; ASSOCIATED PRESS

Credit: Jae-Ha Kim