The Smashing Pumpkins (previously known as simply Smashing Pumpkins) were a critically and commercially successful American alternative rock band of the 1990s and early 21st century.
Less punk influenced than many of their contemporaries, their distinctive sound featured a dense, guitar-heavy sound and combined elements of heavy metal, psychedelia, power pop, acoustic music, shoegazer-style production and, in later recordings, electronica. They produced a series of critically and commercially successful records between their formation in 1988 and dissolution in 2000.
Early years: Foundation and Gish
At the age of 19, singer and guitarist Billy Corgan left his native Chicago, Illinois, moving to St. Petersburg, Florida with his Goth band The Marked. The band had limited success and quickly dissolved, and Corgan returned to Chicago, taking a job in a record store. There he met guitarist James Iha. They began writing songs with the aid of a drum machine. In 1988, Corgan met bassist D'Arcy Wretzky at another band's gig in Chicago; Wretzky would join the band shortly after; Wretsky and Iha would eventually have a personal relationship. Though they played their first gig as a duo at a Polish bar, jazz drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was brought in to the band after Cabaret Metro owner Joe Shanahan agreed to book the Pumpkins, provided they threw out the drum machine and recruited a human drummer instead.
In 1990, they released their first record, a limited edition single called "I Am One" on local Chicago label Limited Potential . The single sold out and they released another single, "Tristessa" on Sub Pop Records, after which they signed to Virgin Records. To give them indie credibility, Virgin matched the band with Sonic Youth producer Butch Vig and released their 1991 debut album Gish on Virgin subsidiary label Caroline Records. Named after actress Lillian Gish, the record fused heavy metal guitars, psychedelia and Dream pop and went on to become a minor success. During the Gish tour, Iha and Wretsky went through a messy breakup, Chamberlin became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and Corgan entered a deep depression, writing some songs for the upcoming album in the parking garage where he lived at the time.
Siamese Dream: Mainstream success
To counteract his depression, Corgan worked overtime, saying he practically lived in the studio for the 1993 follow up album, Siamese Dream. Contemporary music press portrayed Corgan as something of a tyrant during the recording sessions, with rumors circulating that he had recorded all the guitar and bass parts himself, claims which band members say were greatly exaggerated. It was never confirmed exactly how much each member did on the album, although Billy did say he performed a majority of the guitar work, but only because he wrote the songs.
A bad case of writer's block came upon Corgan before recording and he feared he may not be able to finish an entire albums worth of songs. His writer's block is the subject of the song "Hummer".
Corgan went on record saying if the record didn't sell well, the band would break up. Siamese Dream sold four million copies in the US, and the videos for the songs "Today" and "Disarm" garnered the Pumpkins international attention through heavy rotation on MTV.
In 1994, Virgin released a B-sides/rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot and a concert video Vieuphoria. A CD version of Vieuphoria, entitled Earphoria was released to radio stations only. In 2002, Vieuphoria (on DVD) and Earphoria were released to the public.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Following relentless touring to support the recordings, the band took time off to write the follow up album. Corgan worked non-stop over the next year and wrote, according to statements in interviews, about 50 songs for the next album. Following this spell of concentrated creativity, the Pumpkins went back into the studio with producer Flood to work on what Corgan described as "The Wall of the '90s," a comparison with Pink Floyd's famous double concept album.
The result was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double-disc (triple on vinyl) album release featuring 28 songs and lasting over 2 hours. While the idea of an overriding concept was dropped somewhere along the way, Mellon Collie became even more successful than Siamese Dream, selling over twelve million copies worldwide. It also garnered seven 1996 Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year. Its hit songs included "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", "Tonight, Tonight," "1979" and "Zero." Many of the remaining songs that, for one reason or another, did not make it onto Mellon Collie were released as B-sides to the singles, eventually compiled in the now out of print The Aeroplane Flies High box set.
The band's fortunes changed significantly on July 12, 1996, when touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and Chamberlin overdosed on heroin in a hotel room in New York City. Melvoin died, and Chamberlin was arrested for drug possession. Chamberlin was subsequently fired from the band.
Though the band finished the tour with another drummer and keyboardist, their profile had taken a marked downturn. Billy Corgan became something of a hate figure amongst the hard rock press following a statement in which he declared rock to be dead. He stated that Mellon Collie would be the last Pumpkins record of that type, and that rock was, for himself at least, becoming stale due to a lack of willingness to experiment from other rock artists.
Recorded following the death of Corgan's mother, 1998's Adore represented a significant change of style from the Pumpkins' previous guitar based rock, veering into electronica, trimming much of the guitar-driven sonic underpinnings and infused with a much heavier mood. The record was cut using drum machines and was distinctly experimental. Corgan also modified his public image, shedding his alternative hipster look for a dark Gothic persona, and began hanging around Marilyn Manson. Although Adore received quite favorable reviews and was nominated for Best Alternative Performance at the Grammys, the album sold only 3 million copies.
The return of a rehabilitated Jimmy Chamberlin for 2000's MACHINA/The Machines of God signaled a return to a more familiar Pumpkins sound, but failed to widely connect with fans. MACHINA also brought Corgan's desire to write a concept album to fruition.
The band's lineup changed again at this point. Bass player Wretzky departed after the recording of MACHINA/The Machines of God, and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur was recruited for the "Sacred and Profane" tour in support of the album.
In May 2000, Billy Corgan announced the band's decision to break up at the end of that year following additional touring and recording. In a first for an established band, the group's final album, MACHINA II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, was released in September 2000 in a limited pressing on vinyl with permission and instructions for free redistribution on the internet by fans. The Smashing Pumpkins' final commercial recording was a single, "Untitled".
On December 2, 2000, Smashing Pumpkins played their final concert at The Metro, the same Chicago club where their career had effectively started twelve years earlier. A DVD of the 4 hour concert is still in the works.
The Smashing Pumpkins won many awards during their careers (including two Grammy awards: Hard Rock Performance 1996 for "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", and Hard Rock Performance 1997 for "The End Is the Beginning Is the End"), headlined several major tours, appeared on a few movie soundtracks and released an impressive number of songs in a fairly short time.
2001 saw the release of a greatest hits compilation, Rotten Apples (Greatest Hits), which included various singles spanning their decade long career. The now rare double disc version of the album, released as a limited edition, included a B-sides/rarities collection called Judas 0. A greatest hits DVD was also released around the same time. It compiled all of the Pumpkins promo videos from Gish to MACHINA, the rare promo for "I Am One", a 15 minute short film called "Try" as well as a TV performance of "Geek U.S.A.". It also features the performance of "Fuck You (An Ode To No One)" from their final gig at the Metro. (There is one notable omission, "The End Is the Beginning Is the End", used in the Batman and Robin soundtrack. This is excluded because the rights are owned by Warner Brothers, who loaned out the band from their regular label, Virgin Records.)
Corgan and Chamberlin would reunite in 2001 as members of Corgan's next project, the shortlived Zwan. Their only album, Mary Star of the Sea, was released to mixed reviews, and after cancelling a few festival appearances Corgan announced the demise of the band in 2003.
On February 17, 2004, Billy Corgan posted a bitter message on his personal blog calling Wretzky a "mean spirited drug addict" and blaming Iha for the breakup of The Smashing Pumpkins. On June 3, 2004, he added that "the depth of my hurt [from Iha] is only matched with the depth of my gratitude".
In October, 2004, Corgan released his first book, a book of poetry entitled Blinking with Fists. He has also recently completed work on a solo album, entitled "TheFutureEmbrace", which is to be released June 20th, 2005.
At the same time, Jimmy Chamberlin has completed work on his first solo album, entitled The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex.
James Iha continues his work as a guitarist in A Perfect Circle.
D'arcy Wretzky has not made any statements or appearances since leaving the band in 1999.
EPs and B-sides
Live and compilations
In addition to official releases, there are a wide variety of bootleg and rare tracks circulating on the web. The among most substantial ones for the curious would probably be included the following:
- Metro 1988-10-05 - a recording of their first gig at the Cabaret Metro; given as a special gift to all attendees of their final concert.
- Reel Time Sessions - two 1989 recording sessions (one electric, one acoustic) of early material.
- Mashed Potatoes - a five-disc set of rare recordings from 1988 to 1993. Compiled and distributed by Corgan personally for nine close members of family and friends for Christmas 1993.
- Mellon Collie Demos - several different tapes of recordings from late 1994 and early 1995.
- Gravity Demos - mostly instrumental demos made in 1994 during a break in the Siamese Dream tour.
- Adore Demos - recorded in 1997; includes two demos for "The End is the Beginning Is the End", a track for the Batman and Robin soundtrack.
- Machina Acoustic Demos - demos recorded solo by Corgan in late 1998
- The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music - studio demos from 1999 and two live tracks from a Halloween 1998 show. Not to be confused with Machina II.
You can find some of these, along with other material, here, among other places.