The Smashing Pumpkins
FormationAt 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 successTo counteract his depression, Corgan worked overtime, playing all of the guitar, bass and vocal tracks 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 Corgan had unilaterally erased and redone guitar and bass parts previously recorded by Iha and D'arcy, claims which band members say were greatly exaggerated. 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 live CD/VHS set entitled Earphoria and Vieuphoria, respectively. The latter two were re-released in 2002, with Vieuphoria released on DVD.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite SadnessFollowing relentless touring to support the recordings, the band took time off to write the follow up album. Corgan worked relentlessly over the year and wrote, according to statements in interviews, about 50 songs for the next album. Following this spell of relentless songwriting, 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. Sure enough, the next Pumpkins album was a departure from the guitar rock of their previous work.
AdoreRecorded following the passing 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.
MachinaThe 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.
BreakupIn 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.
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.
2000 saw the release of a posthumous 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 O. 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.
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". It appears that the band may have too many personal issues to reunite, but they do not flat out hate each other. See Pink Floyd.