Billy Corgan recently opened a tea house — Madame Zuzu’s — in his suburban Chicago hometown of Highland Park, Ill.
The Smashing Pumpkins frontman said he wanted a place close to home where he could explore his art, interact with folks, play acoustic guitar and sip some tea.
Is this the “angry” Billy Corgan we’ve read so much about? The Billy Corgan who supposedly rails against folks who claim his band isn’t what it used to be?
“I think it’s that a lot of people misunderstood philosophically what the Smashing Pumpkins were designed to be — not a commercial entity but an artistic one, with me evoking a different set of emotions at different times,” said Corgan, 45. “I did get angry, and motivated, when I woke up one day and realized that I couldn’t do Pumpkins 1993 just because everyone wanted me to. I realized I had to get back to being radical, musically.”
“When you’ve had success, people in the music industry want you to keep making music that sounds familiar to people. In alternative music now, the big thing is the record company wants you to make music that sounds like it did 20 years ago,” said Corgan. “But if I had gone with the flow 20 years ago, if we hadn’t tried to do something radical, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”
Corgan certainly has put a lot of thought into the state of the music business today and where he and Smashing Pumpkins — he’s the only original member — fit in. The Pumpkins will bring their music, including songs from the new album “Oceania,” to a show at the State Theatre on Saturday.
On one of his several past trips to Portland, Corgan and his band were presented with the key to the city by then-Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones. It was 2000, and Smashing Pumpkins had been doing a lot of charity fundraising, for which they received keys and proclamations in several cities.
Corgan isn’t sure he still has the Portland key, but he does have a room in his house where he’s kept those proclamations.
“We were certainly humbled at that time, getting keys to the city and proclamations,” he said. “But it always made me laugh a little bit. It made me think of those old ‘Batman’ episodes with someone getting a key to Gotham City.”
Released in June, “Oceania” is the result of an experiment in organic song developing. Corgan said he was tired of the hype and expectations of making albums for record companies, so for this album, he and his bandmates decided to just start making and releasing recordings — online or on EPs — and see what developed.
It was from doing this over the last few years that the songs for “Oceania” were born. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard chart.
“After playing a super contentious 20th anniversary tour, where people threw stuff at us because we didn’t play the old songs, I realized that I had to find whatever it was that aroused my passion for this in the first place or get off this train now,” said Corgan.
That passion, he found, was making music and not paying attention to what critics and writers said about it.
Smashing Pumpkins was formed in Chicago in the late 1980s and became one of the biggest acts of alternative and modern rock movements of the early 1990s with the albums “Gish” and “Siamese Dream.”
The band reached its pinnacle of success in 1995, when the album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
By around 2000, after internal fighting and drug use by members, the band broke up. Corgan relaunched the band with new members in 2007.
Now that Corgan has a new Smashing Pumpkins, he says he really doesn’t want to go back to the old ways. For instance, he doesn’t like the idea of in-store record-signing appearances.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to meet fans, but he thinks most people are weary of hype for hype’s sake.
“I think it’s hard today to differentiate between hipster hype, material or commercial hype, and good old-fashioned human curiosity,” he said.
Corgan has also found a sort of spiritual peace, after some “moribund” moments and a few suicidal thoughts. He doesn’t practice any organized religion, but he does believe in a “divine order.”
“I trust that there’s a divine order, and if I live right, and love right, more good things will happen to me,” said Corgan.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: