The Smashing Pumpkins said on Tuesday (May 23) they will break up at the end of the year, closing the door on an 11-year, seemingly cursed career that often found the band running counter to industry trends as they carried a torch for conceptual, artful rock.
"There's nothing wrong inside the band," founder and singer/guitarist Billy Corgan said on Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM. "But the way the culture is and stuff, it's hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys," he said, referring to Britney Spears and other teen pop sensations.
The band is on the West Coast leg of a U.S. tour that ends May 30. They play the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif., on Tuesday. They are scheduled to spend the second half of June on a tour of Japan.
Corgan said the band hopes to stage a farewell U.S. trek before year's end.
He added that the group knew before they released MACHINA/the machines of God on Feb. 29 that it would be their last album before breaking up but did not announce it for fear the news would overshadow the music.
"I feel like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders," Corgan told KROQ.
He called the band's decision to forge a career pursuing challenging music "exhilarating" but "wearying."
"It will be nice to let the music be now," he told the station.
In addition, there will be more music from the Pumpkins, Corgan said. The band has several songs left over from the recording of MACHINA/the machines of God that they plan to finish this summer and release with additional material. But he said he didn't know whether they would come out before year's end or "two years from now."
The band also will tape a session of "VH1 Storytellers" in August, he said.
String Of Setbacks
Though the Pumpkins were pegged early on as grunge sympathizers and later flirted with electronic music, the group largely steered clear of music trends in the '90s. Instead they crafted a grand sensibility indebted to both the ambition of bands such as Led Zeppelin and the emotion of British new-wave groups like the Cure.
But the Pumpkins suffered a string of setbacks including death, arrests, falling sales, lawsuits and departures spanning half their career. Corgan seemed to face down his group's history on the recently released MACHINA/the machines of God, which opens with the vehement assertion, "You know I'm not dead!"
Earlier this year, the singer/guitarist and songwriter gave no indication the band was ready to hang it up.
"I think when sh-- gets crazy, you just put your head down, and you just go forward," he said. "With us, somehow, you can't stop the rock. It just keeps ringing on."
(For details on the Smashing Pumpkins' many ups and downs,
Corgan and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky formed the Pumpkins in Chicago in 1989. After adding guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, the group released Gish (1991), which received airplay on college and modern-rock radio. Two years later they released Siamese Dream, which included the hit "Today" (RealAudio excerpt).
Problems began in 1996.
As the band was riding on the success of the double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) and its hits "Tonight, Tonight" and "1979" (RealAudio excerpt), touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died from a drug overdose. Chamberlin was arrested and kicked out of the band for possession of heroin in connection with the death.
The band's follow-up, the subdued Adore (1998), failed to connect with a mass audience the way its predecessor had, although it still went platinum. Corgan was outspoken in his disappointment.
"As an artist, you wish you could put earmuffs over somebody's ears and blinders over somebody's eyes and put them into a room and reveal to them and have them see whatever you've created without preconception, cultural influence," he said earlier this year. "You'd really like to know the true reaction. And in my case it seems to be harder and harder to create that, because of whatever corpse I'm dragging behind me that has my name on it."
Last year a clean Chamberlain rejoined the group, only to have Wretzky leave to pursue an acting career. In January she was arrested for crack cocaine possession, but charges were dropped last week following her completion of drug-prevention classes. Former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur replaced Wretzky last year.
While all that drama would be enough for any band, the Pumpkins also were dealing with a 1998 lawsuit filed against them by Virgin Records, a split with Q Prime Management the same year, and a split this year with manager Sharon Osbourne (wife of heavy-metal singer Ozzy Osbourne), whom the band has since sued.
Success With Fans, Critics
And yet, through the turmoil, the band has managed to land victories with critics and fans.
Despite sales that didn't match those of the quadruple-platinum Mellon Collie, many critics lauded the new sonic textures the Pumpkins created on Adore in Chamberlin's absence.
MACHINA/the machines of God, which includes the singles "The Everlasting Gaze" and "Stand Inside Your Love" as well as "I of the Mourning" (RealAudio excerpt), was hailed as the band's return to rock.
Meanwhile, the band has cultivated a relationship with fans that rivals that of R.E.M. After Adore, the Pumpkins staged a theater tour that raised $2.6 million for kids' charities.
A year ago, they mounted a club tour to showcase Chamberlin's return, and spent several months this year on a cross-country trek of autograph signings.
While the moves were appreciated by fans, they didn't silence the band's detractors, who complained that Corgan was at best overly ambitious. More often they used words like "pretentious," with arty concepts fueling the group's epic music, gothic motifs decorating albums and odd spellings such as "Appels + Oranjes" (from Adore) and "Mellon Collie."
It was criticism that Corgan often pushed aside. "In Pumpkinland nothing is ever as it seems," he said this year. "The more I seem like a goof, the more I'm playing you for a fool, and the more I seem untouchable, the more reachable I am. It's become pretty obvious over 13 years that our work has become a mirror reflecting and f---ing people's perceptions."
Corgan said he has not decided on his post-Pumpkins plans. He is, however, already co-writing a song with Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley, for her debut album, according to the disc's producer, Glen Ballard.