Origin: Chicago, Illinois
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The Smashing Pumpkins are an American alternative rock band from Chicago, Illinois. Formed in 1988 by frontman Billy Corgan (lead vocals), D’arcy Wretzky (bass guitar), James Iha (guitar), and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums). The current lineup features Corgan, Chamberlin, Iha and guitarist Jeff Schroeder.
The Pumpkins showcase a diverse, densely layered guitar-heavy sound containing elements of gothic rock, heavy metal, psychedelic and progressive rock and in later recordings electronica. As the primary songwriter Billy Corgan’s musical ambitions and cathartic lyrics have shaped the band’s songs which have been described as “anguished and bruised.”
The Pumpkins musical breakthrough occurred with their second album 1993’s Siamese Dream. Building upon its audience the group exploded worldwide with its follow-up double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. With more than 30 million albums sold worldwide the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 1990’s. However, internal fighting, drug use and diminishing record sales led to their break up in 2000.
After the breakup of his gothic rock band the Marked, singer and guitarist Corgan left Florida to return to his hometown of Chicago, where he took a job in a record store and formed the idea of a new band to be called the Smashing Pumpkins. While working there he met guitarist James Iha. Adorning themselves with paisley and other psychedelic trappings the two began writing songs together that were influenced by The Cure and New Order. The duo performed for the first time in 1988 with the aid of a drum machine. Shortly thereafter they met bassist D’arcy Wretzky and recruited her into the band. As the trio gigged around Chicago club promoters requested they replace the drum machine with an actual drummer. Jazz drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was recommended by a friend of Corgans and joined the band.
The Smashing Pumpkins recorded their 1991 studio debut Gish in Wisconsin for $20,000. In order to gain consistency Corgan often played all instruments excluding drums which created band tension. The music fused heavy metal guitars, psychedelia, and dream pop. Gish became a minor success receiving airplay on modern rock radio. After recording an EP the band signed with Virgin Records.
With alternative rock’s breakthrough to the American mainstream through the popularity of grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana the Smashing Pumpkins were positioned for major commercial success. The band relocated to Marietta, Georgia to begin work on their second album Siamese Dream. Once again internal discord reigned along with the increasing drug use of drummer Chamberlain. Despite all the problems and delays in its recording, Siamese Dream debuted at number ten on the Billboard charts and sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone.
The direction of the Smashing Pumpkins is dominated by chief guitarist, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter Billy Corgan. The Pumpkins’ distinct sound up until the Adore album involved layering numerous guitar tracks onto a song during the recording process. This use of multilayered sounds was inspired by Corgan’s love of 1970’s popular artists & bands such as David Bowie, Cheap Trick, Queen, Boston, and the Electric Light Orchestra that relied on swirling layers of guitar noise for effect.
In 1995 Corgan wrote approximately 56 songs with the intent of producing The Wall for Generation X. Twenty eight of the songs made it onto their magnum opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The double album ran more than two hours with songs intended to hang together conceptually as a symbol of the cycle of life and death. Melon Collie debuted at number one in October 1995. The album certified ten times platinum in America becoming the best selling album of the 1990’s. It garnered seven 1997 Grammy nominations going on to win the Best Hard Rock Performance award for the album’s lead single “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” The album birthed five singles “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Zero,” “Tonight, Tonight,” and “Thirty Three.”
After the release of Mellon Collie the Pumpkins stated that future albums would be less guitar driven and more toward electronica. Recorded following the death of Corgan’s mother and his divorce, 1998’s Adore kept that promise. The record cut with the assistance of drum machines and studio drummers was infused with a darker aesthetic than the band’s earlier work. The group also modified its public image shedding its alternative rock look for a more subdued appearance. While Adore received favorable reviews and was nominated for Best Alternative Performance at the Grammy Awards it sold less than a million copies in the U.S. The band’s North American tour behind Adore donated 100 percent of ticket sales to local charity organizations. The tour’s expenses were entirely funded out of the band’s own pockets. By tour’s end the band donated more than $2.8 million to charity.
In May 2000 Corgan announced the Smashing Pumpkins dissolution with a final album appearing before the breakup, Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music.
In June 2005 Corgan announced that he planned to reunite the Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan and Chamberlain were verified participants but there were questions if Iha and Wretzky would participate. In 2007 it was announced that Iha and Wretzky would not participate. In 2007 the Smashing Pumpkins played their first show since 2000 in Paris with new touring members including guitarist Jeff Schroeder. The band’s new album Zeitgeist was released the same year to mixed reviews with much criticism related to the absence of half the original lineup.
In 2016 guitarist James Iha began joining the band for a few shows for the first time in sixteen years. In February 2018 Corgan announced that Iha and Chamberlain had rejoined the Smashing Pumpkins and that they were working on a new album and tour. Original bassist Wretzky declined to participate. In November 2018 the Smashing Pumpkins released the latest album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol1 /LP: No Past, No Future. No Sun.
Smashing Pumpkins Discography
Siamese Dream (1993)
Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
Machina/The Machines of God (2000)
Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (2009-2014
Monuments to an Elegy (2014)
Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 /LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun (2018)
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays the Smashing Pumpkins. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/