Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan Aims To Score Big With 'Stigmata'

His offbeat, ethereal soundtrack features new pop song, 'Identify,' sung by Natalie Imbruglia.

Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan said he realizes he's not on the top of Hollywood's A-list when it comes to scoring major films. But, then again, the music for the upcoming drama "Stigmata" is not your average film score.

Known more for the bombastic rock of the Pumpkins than for creating atmospheric mood music, Corgan said he'd steered clear of scoring a Hollywood film until he found someone he felt understood his unique vision.

"A lot of credit goes to the producer and the director for having the vision that the movie needed that kind of atmosphere to give it a different edge," Corgan said of the ethereal electronic soundscapes he recorded for the film, due Aug. 24.

"I give them a lot of credit for even giving me the opportunity," Corgan said. "Anytime you deal with Hollywood stuff, people talk a lot about how they want to do something different, but it gets funneled right back down into the same old sh--," Corgan said. "It was their vision to talk to me, and even to consider me, I think, is a progressive notion" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).

While Corgan supplied some score material for the 1996 Mel Gibson thriller, "Ransom," his work on "Stigmata" is his first attempt at creating a sustained musical soundtrack to a film.

Working with keyboardist Mike Garson (David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails) — a recent collaborator who last year toured with the Pumpkins — Corgan created a 40-minute suite of instrumental songs that range from the electronic burble of "Of Square Waves/ Random Thought" to the nearly industrial throb of "Reflect (Gray)/ Of Sine Waves."

The Chicago band, best known for its evocative rock songs, has never scored a film, although it has contributed several pop songs to films in the past, including "The End Is the Beginning Is the End"

(RealAudio excerpt) for the 1997 "Batman and Robin" soundtrack.

"Stigmata" (Sept. 10) is a religious-themed drama starring Patricia Arquette ("True Romance") as a hairdresser who spontaneously receives stigmata, marks resembling the wounds on the crucified body of Christ. Gabriel Byrne ("The Usual Suspects") plays a member of the clergy who is sent to investigate the claims prior to a visit by the Pope.

"We were thinking about what the music should be for the movie," director Rupert Wainwright ("Blank Check") said, "because it's the sort [of film] most people will go see and think is an 'Exorcist' rip off."

The director, best known for his work on music videos by such hard-core gangsta rappers as Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, was referring to the popular 1973 film about a demonically possessed girl.

"But, my God," he said. "It's totally different."

Wainwright said the film's producer, Frank Mancuso Jr., suggested getting someone like Corgan for the score, to which Wainwright asked, "Why not get Corgan? He writes great music that's not just three-minute pop songs."

Once the pair had tracked Corgan down and shown him the rough cut of the film, the Pumpkins leader agreed to do it — but only on his terms.

"What he really wanted to do was be in charge of the total sound of the music, not just picking songs, but writing the score, which made us doubly excited," Wainwright said.

Wainwright said the music Corgan recorded not only heightens the drama of a film he termed "challenging," but also helped define Arquette's character by giving her a voice that he said allows the audience to bond with her character even when she isn't speaking.

Corgan said that even when he felt the director was trying to get him to take the music in a more typical Hollywood direction, the Pumpkins frontman stayed his ground. While he said he was upfront about his lack of experience scoring films, he remained focused about his vision for the movie.

The results bear more of a resemblance to the moody, electronic-tinged songs from the Pumpkins' 1998 Adore album, such as "Ava Adore" (RealAudio excerpt), than they do to the more straight-ahead rock that preceded Adore. The exception on the "Stigmata" soundtrack is an ethereal pop song, "Identify," featuring vocals from Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia, best known for her hit 1998 single, "Torn" (RealAudio excerpt). The film also features more traditional score pieces from composer Elia Cmiral ("Ronin").

Corgan was attracted to the film by the dark, unconventional nature of the script, as well as his feeling that Mancuso and Wainwright were willing to let him wield control and take chances with the music, he said.

"They pretty much kept their word on not asking me to do things that I didn't want to do and be things I didn't want to be," Corgan said.

The more difficult task, Corgan said, was adhering to his singular, strong vision and bending to that of the filmmaker. "I was not naive. I knew those things were going to happen," Corgan said about power struggles. "I don't think anybody likes to be told what to do or what to change. I'm certainly not used to that"

(RealAudio excerpt of interview).

Mancuso said while the balancing act was at times tricky, after seeing the finished project, he thought it was worth it.

"Working with a guy as unique as Billy — where he is in a world in which he controls the absolute nature of his music — is hard because you don't want to stifle that creative part of him you want engaged," Mancuso said.