Billy Corgan has a reputation for being opinionated and aggressive, so it comes as a surprise to encounter a remarkably funny and pleasant chap. Not that he’s not forthright, mind: “Oh, I’ve got plenty of opinions,” he laughs. “I’ve got more opinions than songs. Maybe that’s the problem.”
Or the problem could simply be time. First there are his duties with the Smashing Pumpkins, who’ve just released their seventh proper album, Oceania, and are on their way for Splendour and a run of sideshows. On top of that he’s been indulging his second career: professional wrestling. Yes, really.
“It’s a scheduling nightmare,” he says with a sigh. “And the biggest casualty is my book: I’d have these nice serene moments where I just sit in front of the typewriter and click-click away about my own fucked-up life, but that’s out right now because I’m just too busy.”
He describes the book as “a spiritual memoir” rather than an autobiography, insisting that it’s not about trying to reclaim his past, “because that is the lesson as an artist. When you take any idea into the public sphere, it is no longer your own – even if it is your own identity.”
And fans will most likely be impressed by Oceania (it’s certainly a welcome return to form after 2007’s patchy “comeback album” Zeitgeist). But Corgan dismisses the notion that he has a standard to match outside of his own ambitions. “It’s a consensus thing. Siamese Dream got bad reviews, now it’s a classic,” he shrugs. “Was it a classic in ’93? I thought it was, but when I would say that I was arrogant. What is the truth? There isn’t one.”
Corgan’s also been overseeing an extensive reissue program of the Pumpkins’ abums, remastering the recordings and adding demos, b-sides, live sessions and anything else interesting from the archives. Corgan’s long been adamant about not dwelling on the past (as anyone hoping to hear The Hits at their shows learns pretty damn quickly), so what’s his relationship with his back catalogue like these days?
“It’s pretty good. I have no problem with the albums. I think that there’s beauty and there’s errors and there’s missteps and I think that it’s all fascinating.”
But there’s no desire to tour, say, Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness start-to-finish? “Well, my thing has always been that I don’t deal with audience expectations well, because to me that’s saying that the audience has a better understanding of me as an artist than I do,” he counters. “I just don’t like the expectation that you’re subtly asked to turn into an oldies act.”
But any act with enough work behind them faces that question eventually: how does one balance being an artist and an entertainer? “I think that’s what Oceania is for. It’s to show that I’m still capable of vital current music and then the audience will tell you what the balance is. And they will. As my Russian ex-girlfriend used to say ‘If you hold out a tin cup, they’ll piss in it.’”
That’s a very descriptive metaphor.
“It is!” he laughs. “I guess that’s a Russian thing.”