Title: Billy Corgan on making relevant music and staying connected
Written by Jamie Ortega
Photo by Kevin Pableo
How does one prepare to meet a rock legend?
These are the very words floating through this writer’s mind as she enters the function hall of Edsa Shangri-la hotel for the press conference of the legendary rock band Smashing Pumpkins last August 6, 2012. For the kids who were too young to remember what music was like in the 90s, here is a crash course to keep you all up to speed: the Smashing Pumpkins possesses the distinction of crafting one of the most acclaimed bodies of work in musical history. With multiple Grammy awards, a platinum album entitled Gish, a nine-time platinum album Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and a four-time platinum album entitled Siamese Dream, there’s no denying the fact that the ‘90s rock scene was largely defined by the epic , dense, and emotional music created by Billy Corgan (lead vocals, lead guitar)< James Iha ( rhytm guitar), D’arcy Wretzky (bass guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlain.
Finally the moment arrived - Billy Corgan enters the room, a towering figure at 6.3. He is wearing a long-sleeved black striped top, a black hat he puts on and takes off every so often, with a sweater draped over his shoulder. It’s interesting to note how normal one of the music industry’s most influential musicians looks as he sips water from a bottle every so often. As he shares his thoughts about the evolution of his music and the state of the music industry today this writer is mesmerized. Make no mistake about it, she has been to a lot of press conferences and sometimes the press receives the same statements over and over- but when it came to Corgan, the rock musician illustrated concepts and thoughts that kept her mind churning ‘till the wee hours of the morning.
Billy kicked off his bold explanations by saying the music industry operates on a “dumbing down principle.” It's incredible to me how sophisticated people really are when you give them the opportunity to be sophisticated,” he opined.”The music business essentially operates on a dumbing down principle. How dumb do we have to go to sell this record to the most amount of people? There are very few bands who are able to keep their intelligence on record, Radiohead are a good example. They have a very high message and are still very popular. But for the most part the charts are dominated by music that's essentially dumbed down in melody, style, tone, texture, and message because it reaches the most amount of people."
According to Corgan, people in the music industry place more importance on the commercial aspect of the entire business- instead of creating good music they would rather focus on increasing the popularity of the performer -which translates to selling more records and making more money.
So, how does one fight the “dumbing down principle”? Corgan says by seeking wisdom from veteran musicians. "I grew up around a lot of Filipinos, in the outskirts of Chicago, and there's always that uncle, that grandma, who knows what the hell's going on. That's where the real wisdom is, you have to listen to that. You can't dumb your family down, you can't dumb your community down, you can't dumb your country down, you can't dumb your bands down. I think with where I am now I don't want to be dumbed down. I just think that's the worst thing for rock and roll."
Towards the middle part of the press conference the Smashing Pumpkins frontman talked about his own music. Asked to reveal the inspiration behind the latest Smashing Pumpkins album Oceania, Corgan said he wanted to delve deep into the “sense of alienation in love and life.”It’s about feeling connected and yet being isolated,” he said, using modern technology as a prime example of how people can be “so near yet so far.”
On a lighter note, the Pumpkins frontman kept invited media guests in stitches as he revealed his own experience with Filipino culture, working as a cleaner in a Pinoy restaurant in Chicago. “I was paid $2 per hour and I could eat for free,” he recalls. After he helped himself to a large portion of the food he complained to the owners about his low wages. “But Billy, you’re family,’ well, you can’t get more Filipino than that,” he quipped, making members of the media break into laughter. Before the question and answer portion came to a close, Corgan accommodated a few more questions as press people spontaneously blurted out their queries.
So, how does it feel like to meet a rock legend? Pretty darn amazing, if you ask me. Just when things couldn’t get any better, proving that the Smashing Pumpkins frontman isn’t just a brilliant musician but an all-around nice guy, too, Corgan signed CDs and other Smashing Pumpkins collateral before finally leaving the venue.
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