Billy Corgan thinks the whole "musicians going solo" thing is nothing if not egoistic. He's of the mind that bands, in general, work much better as wholes than they do as individual parts. Still, that certainly didn't stop the alt-rock giant from building TheFutureEmbrace, the first collection of material from a band-less Billy.
But Corgan says he was very careful, creatively, in his overall approach to the project.
"I tried to be conscious of what makes most solo records not that listenable," he said. "If you listen to a solo record by someone in a band you really like, you end up kind of listening for the band. So my thing was to sort of avoid that. If I do alternative guitar rock — what you would expect — it sounds like Smashing Pumpkins. So let's not pretend. I tried to really just do something very different. Of course, it's still reminiscent of some of my past work with Pumpkins, like '1979.' It's got those kinds of feelings in it, but I certainly think the guitar work and the lyrics and stuff, it kind of moves in this whole other direction."
Corgan recorded TheFutureEmbrace, the album he says he's always wanted to make, in his hometown of Chicago. The LP features contributions from longtime musical associate Bjorn Thorsrud as well as Bon Harris of Nitzer Ebb fame, ex-Filter member Brian Liesegang, former Pumpkins drummers Jimmy Chamberlin and Matt Walker, and the Cure's Robert Smith, who appears on "To Love Somebody," a cover of the classic Bee Gees track.
"When the Cure were in Chicago for their Curiosa Tour, Robert had come by my house and we sat up all night playing guitars and shooting the whatever and so the idea came up about stuff we wanted to work on together," Corgan explained. "One thing was about working on my solo record. So when we finished all the songs, as I listened to every song, I was thinking, 'OK, what could Robert do?' The only song that seemed really right was this [Bee Gees] cover — and my version kind of sounds like the Cure anyway. So I called him up and had to talk him into it. But he did an amazing job and it's pretty cool. When we sing together, it's weird. You can't really hear my voice, and you can't really hear his. It's sort of this other voice, which you wouldn't have figured because our voices are so distinctive."
TheFutureEmbrace, slated for release on June 21, is awash with futuristic, electronica components that, oftentimes, overwhelm Corgan's still-impressive guitar work. The disc sounds very much like an intentional homage to the bleak bands Corgan says helped pave the way for his own success — bands like the Cure, Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen.
"I've gone off on these massive Easter egg hunts, of trying to come up with a new sound," he said. "Having kind of walked away from the Pumpkins and now, Zwan, this is my way of sort of trying to get reinvigorated with guitar music. This is not a move against rock and roll. It's actually a move toward rock and roll, because I feel like I'm very excited about rock again. [With this record, I] just completely dove into the ocean and I'm saying, 'OK, I'm willing to take on whatever, but whatever I'm going to do, it's going to be new.' I can't go back to just doing what I used to do. So in a weird way, I tied one arm behind my back, and I've tried to figure out how to fight my way out of a corner."
Corgan's scheduled to play 10 dates in Europe next month, and says he'll do the same Stateside. The shows will be very specific, he says, "very future-leaning," technologically advanced productions that will incorporate, in some manner, elements from cabaret theater: "It will either be a smashing success or a complete car crash, but either way, it'll be interesting," he said.
In the meantime, Corgan said he's been writing his autobiography, which he's spent the last month or so posting to his blog in bits and pieces. He also said he's been helping Courtney Love with the material for her forthcoming album; the pair have spent a few days in both Los Angeles and Chicago "writing songs" that Love recorded with a tape recorder. "I don't know how that's going to sound, but I've been getting reports that it's going really well."
When asked about the possibility of a Smashing Pumpkins reunion somewhere down the road, Corgan chuckled to himself. He smiled for a minute as he contemplated the whole crazy idea, but quickly turned serious.
"When people ask me about a Smashing Pumpkins reunion, to me, they're asking two things," he responded. "One, 'Will we ever see the Smashing Pumpkins as we remember them onstage?' And two, 'Gee, it's probably going to sound like we remember, right?' And the answer to both questions is no. You won't see the four Smashing Pumpkins onstage again. That's not going to happen. Secondarily, even if you saw the Smashing Pumpkins, it would continue to pick up where we left off, which is an extremely progressive, aggressive and not easy to understand unit."