Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlin interviewed: ‘For the first time, the band is in alignment in every way’

The band play Wembley next week

Smashing Pumpkins‘ drummer Jimmy Chamberlain has spoken to NME in a rare interview about the band’s reunion, his relationship with Billy Corgan, and their plans for more new music and future tours.

Next month, the band will release their new album ‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun’ – the first album to feature founding Pumpkins members Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin since 2000. While the line-up also features longtime collaborator and guitarist Jeff Schroeder and touring bassist Jack Bates (son of Joy Division and New Order legend Peter Hook.), original bassist D’Arcy Wretzky is not included as relations remain fraught between her and the band.

Before the band return to the UK for a huge gig at Wembley Arena, Chamberlin opened up about the band’s comeback and ambitions from here.

“We’d been talking about it for quite a while,” Chamberlin told NME about their reunion. “It had taken on a life of its own and these things don’t really become real until dates are announced. There were never any disagreements with regards to anyone’s willingness or desire to play. It was just a matter of waiting for the market to come around to have something to sink our teeth into. The LiveNation offer came around and everything just seemed to be in alignment.

“It made sense in ever way: with the music, the setlist, the timing, the venues. It wasn’t a matter of thinking about it too much. We were like, ‘Come on, let’s do it’.”

Speaking about recent incarnations of the band existing without him, Chamberlin said: “It was never that big of a deal. We were still friends and mutually agreed that the band was not right for me at that point. I didn’t see myself fitting into that type of workload. I had young kids and just wanted to spend more time with them. That was the biggest part of it.

“I really liked the incarnation with Mike [Byrne, drummer] and Nicole [Fiorentino, bass], and thought Mike was a great drummer who represented the band really well.”

How would you describe the unique chemistry of you, Billy and James all being in a room together? How has that changed?

“It’s really the same. There’s a lot of chemistry there, but there’s so much that’ intangible that you don’t understand until we get back on stage together. When we play something like ‘Mayonnaise’ or ‘Soma’, there’s something about our interpretation of the music that just goes beyond description. The sum is greater than the parts. I don’t think anyone ever doubted anyone’s participation or importance in the music – it was personality issues that drove us apart. The music was something that we could always agree on.”

Interviews and live footage suggests a really peaceful and harmonious camp at the moment. Would you say that friendships are a strong factor in the band once again?

“Absolutely. Everybody has taken this journey in their own unique way. We all have kids, families, and the shared goals to raise our kids in a positive environment. Those kinds of relationships add to the accumulative holistic value of all of that. For the first time, the band is in alignment in every way: musically, socially and familially. The band has come together in a way that’s compassionate. There’s a lot of compassion, grace and appreciation for one another.”

Smashing Pumpkins, 2018

There was an interesting interview with Billy earlier this year where he said he was ‘done playing the heel’, and that the egoist rockstar character of ‘Zero’ did not representative of him at all. Is he more zen now?

“Honestly for me, there’s never really been one Billy versus another. We’ve always had a great relationship. When we’ve disagreed, it’s always been a peaceful disagreement. We can always see each other’s point. There’s just really no point in being that way any more. Having been around for this long is no mean feat. We’ve all reached the point that we can just stand back and celebrate this in the most graceful way we know how.

“Has he changed? I mean we’ve all changed. I’ve got kids, James has got kids, Billy has children too. If that doesn’t change you then nothing will. It puts things in a different perspective where your time has more value than it ever did. How you want to spend your time is part of the decision-making process. We all said that we wanted the Pumpkins to exist in the most celebratory way we could think of.”

And times have changed. You’ve got a legacy to celebrate. You don’t need to think about the media spectacle or the headlines. You can just be Pumpkins.

“There was a cultural component to what went on in the ‘90s. As you get older your cultural connectivity changes. In the ‘90s you’re in the culture, part of it and reflecting it. As you get older, your instincts internalise and you start to reflect your own culture. That’s the biggest difference. We’re completely secure in our own cultural environment and comfortable making music in the context of that.”

D’Arcy’s absence has been pretty thoroughly explained. Was there ever a conversation to have Melissa Auf Der Maur involved or was it always going to be Jack Bates on bass?

“No, it was always going to be Jack. He’s a great musician and that was the deciding factor. Jack played with Billy and Jeff on the Manson tour. He’s entrenched in the band and knows the songs. The way that Jack plays is very reminiscent of the way that Billy played bass on a lot of the early Pumpkins stuff because he and James were really big Joy Division and New Order fans. A lot of those bass parts were mimicking Peter’s playing.

“To have Jack, who’s obviously genetically linked to Peter, there’s a real strange uncanniness to it. I mean it in the best possible way. Jack just gets how to play that stuff, which you can only get from being Peter Hook’s son! You don’t think about it until you’re on stage, then I’m like ‘Holy cow, this sounds so good. It sounds so right’. He’s a young man but his ability and perception is well beyond his years. We just played with Peter at our 30th anniversary show. We played a couple of Joy Division and New Order songs and it was amazing. He’s obviously a legend but also one of my all-time favourite people and bassists.”

Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, and James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins perform during the band’s ‘The Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour’ at Golden 1 Center on August 28, 2018 in Sacramento, California

What about your other guests at that show? What do you think it is about Chino Moreno, Davey Havok and Courtney Love that they have in common?

“We all came from the same space, musically. Chino is an incredible vocalist. He came in and killed it. We’d played with Davey in LA before, and Courtney’s always been hanging around. When you’re thinking about ‘who represents the peripheral thing of our cultural trip in the ‘90s’, who better represents that better than Courtney? We don’t try and make too much of a big thing about, it needed to be organic. We didn’t ask a million people, these are the better we wanted to participate. With them and The Killers guys, it was one of the most fun nights.”

Smashing Pumpkins 30th anniversary show setlist
The band were joined by a number of special guests for the anniversary gig

Yeah, and you got the half of The Killers that won’t even play with The Killers.

“Right? There are those who are killing and those who have been killed! They’re amazing and super fun to play with. We’ve been friends for a long time.”

So to the new record, how representative would you say that ‘Solara’ and ‘Silvery Sometimes’ are of the album as a whole?

“They’re fairly representative of both sides of the spectrum of pop and rock, but there’s plenty in the middle. There’s some real Pink Floyd-y kinda stuff too. We never set out to make a record. The idea was to find a couple of songs that we could put out ahead of the tour, but then when Billy, Jeff, James and I got into the studio stuff just started happening. Over the course of three weeks we had 16 songs demoed. We picked eight to take to Rick Rubin, thinking that he would pick the best two for the single then he said ‘Well, all of these songs are great, we should just record them all’. I thought we’d be at the studio for a few days but we were there for a month. The songs fit together really nicely, and there’s certainly an eye to where we’re going to be going as well as a nod to where we’ve been.”

Rick Rubin said it feels like ‘classic’ Pumpkins. Do you feel that’s fair?

“That’s always a loaded question. What’s ‘classic Pumpkins’? To me it’s like ‘Cupid De Locke’ and those things more on the peripheral of what you expect. I’m sure Billy would agree that’s the ends of the parameters that define the band, rather than the stuff in the middle. If you call two guitars, bass and drums ‘classic Pumpkins’ then I guess it is.”

So it’s called ‘Volume One’, when can we hear ‘Volume Two’?

“Ha, come on man! Sometime next year hopefully. We’re talking about getting back into into the studio in January to work on some stuff. We’ve got some other projects going on. We’re going to re-release ‘Machina’ at some point, we’ve got all this unreleased material that we’re looking at too. We continue to write. Billy’s writing, I’m writing and James is too. We’ve got plenty of material, it’s just a question of logistics as well as what’s the best way to release this stuff in today’s marketplace? For a band that’s really album-centred, the market presents some interesting challenges. It’s a ‘one song streaming’ world, but our strength lies in compounding these grand bodies of work that all fit together somehow. There’s a lot of stuff coming down the pipe.”

Billy’s suggested it, but do you have visions of touring ‘Mellon Collie’ and ‘Machina’ in full?

“Again, we’re talking about it but in this day and age it’s all to easy to pontificate. It doesn’t became real until there’s a schedule, but we are talking about doing select cities with a ‘Gish’ tour, a ‘Siamese Dream’ tour. Then if that works out, yeah we’ll do ‘Mellon Collie’ and I would love to get to the point where we’re doing ‘Machina’ because that’s some of my favourite stuff to play. We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of interest in the band doing these album retrospectives. Doing ‘Gish’, from a drummer’s perspective, would not only be challenging but a lot of fun.”

Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘1979’ house party

Why do you think that is? What is it that Pumpkins represent that might be missing elsewhere?

“There’s an honesty in the music that may or may not be part of the culture today. My wife’s brother is in his mid-20s and he and his friends have all been rediscovering this music for one reason or another. I don’t question if it’s ever the right time to pull the trigger, but people will always be interested to hear good music. How much good music is out there, and how many people from our generation are able to go out there, replicate it and represent it? We’ve lost a treasure trove of talent from our generation, which has become a real tragedy.”

Smashing Pumpkins will return to the UK to play London’s SSE Wembley Arena on October 16. They’ll also be playing a show in Bologna, Italy on October 18. Tickets are available here.

‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun’ is released on November 16.