The Smashing Pumpkins ‘The World Is A Vampire’ Festival Is Coming To Town…

The Smashing Pumpkins are bringing The World Is A Vampire Festival to ten cities across the nation this month and that is just the beginning! The festival boasts some very special guests including alt-rock legends, Jane’s Addiction and killer Aussie rock from Amyl & The Sniffers, RedHook, Battlesnake and local acts opening each show which also features professional wrestling matches between Billy Corgan’s NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) and the WAOA (Wrestling Alliance of Australia).

The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 1990s, often cited as one of the most influential acts in alternative rock. From the instantly recognisable harmonic riff of Cherub Rock and the haunting Disarm from their breakthrough album, 93’s Siamese Dream to the majesty of Tonight, Tonight and the savagery of Bullet With Butterfly Wings from the ten times platinum monster, 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness which was the best-selling double album of the 90’s, through to the bands most recent releases 2018’s Shiny and Oh So Bright and 2021’s Cyr which featured the singles, Solara, The Colour Of Love and Wyttch, The Smashing Pumpkins have been a mainstay in the rock world for over three decades and in 2023 will release their most ambitious work to date, Atum: A Rock Opera In Three Acts. Jimmy Chamberlin talks to Hi Fi Way about the festival.

With their densely layered, diverse sound fusing elements of rock, metal, psyche, shoegaze and electronica, The Pumpkins stand apart from their peers. With over 30 million albums sold to date, the GRAMMY®, MTV, VMA, and American Music Award winning band remains one of the most influential bands in history.

Returning to Australia for this massive tour feels like a long time overdue?
Yeah, to us to! We feel like it has been ages since we have been done there and we have always had such great experiences. I was talking to someone about the Big Day Out when we played in the nineties down there and all the fun that we had, great bands such as Soundgarden, The Breeders, The Cruel Sea, The Ramones, it has always been off the hook down there and people are so nice, it’s just so far down their… c’mon man!

Did the band have much influence over the bands that were chosen?
Obviously we leaned on the promoter a lot, we were more about the kind of vibe and the vibe we wanted to have. We wanted to have a youthful feel and not just be a greatest hits nineties type of tour. We’re more excited about playing with young bands as well as old friends. The Pumpkins are about moving things forward and evolving the music, evolving the architecture and the best way for us to be able to do that is to get exposed through youthful music.

There’s a lot of exciting bands on the bill including Amyl & The Sniffers.
Yeah, we’ve launched the first festival in Mexico City and we played with Turnstile who were just amazing and bonkers. The kids were going crazy and it is so fun to be around that energy. I remember what it was like when we were playing in 92 and 93and to just be a part of it. Rock ‘n roll is abut youth culture and we have to keep attempting to understand it, appreciate it, support it and applaud it or it gets yucky if you don’t. That’s what we are about, at this point in our career it is as much about giving back as it is going out there and playing our songs.

It must having your mates from Jane’s Addiction on board as well?
We did a thirty three date arena city tour with them last year and it was amazing. They were fantastic every night. My first gig with The Pumpkins was opening up for Jane’s. I’ve known all those guys since I was just a kid. I’ve know Perry, Dave, Eric and Steven since 1988. We’ve been friends for a long, long time and I was sad that Dave could not do the tour in States, he says he is not up for it but they had Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar who is incredible, later on they had Josh Klinghoffer who is coming to Australia who is ridiculously talented.

Has there always been a connection with wrestling?
Billy has owned The NWA for a few years now so when we started putting together the festival I suggested we bring in the wrestling component because I felt that the festival should just as much be about our peripheral interests and exposure to things outside of the music as much as the music. The goal is to create a festival that is mystically holistic where you have carrot card readers and that type of thing along with wrestling or other types of acts, more like a travelling circus than just a festival where there’s two million of your closest friends and you’ve got to find bottles of water and go see a million different bands. It’s more about the immersive experience and a vibe as opposed to how bands can we saturate in an afternoon.

Do you think the set list will be more of a career retrospective or more from the new rock opera Atum?
It’s all of the above, we obviously play Cherub Rock, Zero and Tonight Tonight and we have been playing Silverfuck every night which has been amazing, we have been playing Solara which is another drum solo part, we’re doing four songs off of Atum, we’re always throwing in new stuff. We try to keep it moving and not getting bogged down in the greatest hits nineties set, we try to add things that are representative of every period of the band’s career but our main concern is having the set that is congruent, we don’t get caught up in not having songs from this album or we got have a song from this album, it’s more like these songs go great with each other and will produce a killer night for the fans. It’s really about that and how they stack up with each other and what gives it that ultimate rock power.

At these festival shows are you noticing a younger group of fans coming a long?
That is really the best part of it seeing young faces out there. My daughter is twenty now and goes to college, my son is seventeen and just came down to Mexico and hung with me for the weekend. He loves it, he listens to everything from Kendrick Lamar to Turnstile, he saw Peter Hook & The Light and he is a fan of Pete’s now and Joy Division. It is great to expose these kids to great music because that’s all they care about. My daughter is similar and her thing is that it has to be great. There’s lots of great music from every generation, if you get kids to like what’s great in each period then they’ll be in to it. That’s what’s really cool about this period of music is that, all the shit we used to worry about whether it’s grunge or alternative and all that bullshit is kind of gone. It has been re-described as either all good or not good, which I’m totally down with that. I listen to all kinds of crazy music, anything that’s great that gets me thinking about stuff. It’s a great world to get kids to experience music and they don’t have to be subscribed to anyone camp.

Since the reunion do you feel that this is the best period musically for The Smashing Pumpkins? It seems like the band is reborn and rejuvenated in a lot of ways.
One hundred percent, you’re seeing the best version of this band. Obviously the band was a lot more dangerous in 1992 and we were playing like our lives depended on it because they did. There was an element of that band that gets tapped in to once in a while, it’s not a nightly occurrence and it’s not something that we go for. I think pound for pound this band is better, meaner, faster, more dangerous, more professional, tighter and we’ve all become better musicians. We’re all able to articulate our parts in a very skilful and precise way. I think Australia will see the band at its best, everybody in the band is super committed and really accountable to their position which is reflected in the live show. I’m not a big go back and watch myself kind of guy but occasionally I’ll catch something on Instagram and even I’m like that sounds pretty good. I’m usually like that’s fucking awful!

At the time did a three part rock opera Atum seem like an ambitious undertaking?
Oh yeah! As soon as Billy sent me the story, it started with the play then the soundtrack, then the thought of the soundtrack and the breadth of the soundtrack, then the length where we landed on thirty three songs. We knew it was going to be a monumental endeavour, he worked on the songs for six or eight months. I went to his studio and we worked on them a lot more together and I left him with a bunch of drum grooves to work on, he continued to arrange the stuff and once he felt like it was arranged pretty closely he just made some demos and sent me all thirty three songs with scratch vocals and very few lyrics. I spent the next two months writing drum parts for those songs knowing the story, knowing that each song was a specific part to the narrative so I could be somewhat emotionally congruent with the drum parts. That was January and February then in March we recorded all the drum parts at Blackbird. It took twenty one days to record the thirty three days. We got those down and Billy built the rest of the record out from that point. It was like two and a half years, it was during Covid so it wasn’t like we had a tonne of other stuff to do and we felt like we may never have another time where we would have this creative window to do something this ambitious. That was a big part of it, Billy is always writing and he has a hundred more songs he has written since Atum. We’ve already been in the studio recording the follow up record. We have some of the drums done, we’re going back in the studio to finish up some new stuff he has written. We are neighbours and live really close to each other, we are always in this maniac mode as my wife likes to call it.

What was it like when you got to the end when Atum was finished?
It wasn’t that long ago when we were in Nashville and we listened to the final mixes in June of last year. That’s when we were like oh that record! We had been on tour and we were getting the masters sent to us at Sound Emporium where we were doing some demos for the new stuff we were working on. we listened to it then and it doesn’t feel like it is done until it all comes out and have the vinyl in my hand. That’s usually like when it feels like it is done if anything else. For three years or however long it has been, it is like when you get in to this record like Machina it’s like another blurry dream state that you go in to. That’s what it’s like where you go in to this dream state where you come out of it to deal with things like is my laundry done, I’ve got to have dinner with my family but when you’re working on this stuff you get right back in to the dream state, oh my god I am back in this song, back on the spaceship now and I’m working on this stuff that only I know, and Billy, know how to do this shit! It is like a crazy laboratory of your own making, a self imposed quarantine, people are asking me if the quarantine thing freaky you out, I’m saying what quarantine! I’m always in a self-imposed quarantine, what are you talking about? For us, it was that kind of immersion.

Do you think it has set the bar really high for the next album?
Oh yeah, we’re definitely dealing with a bit of that now with the new record we are making which is more rock based, guitars, bass and drums, more representative of the proggy side of the band. We’re dealing with a bit of that now, you’re talking about a extremely glossy well put together record that is rooted in live take, free self expression, it is a slippery slop sometimes when you have this ideal live piece of music, do we want to keep doing that road or do we want to try something different? For us, we’re not afraid to try new stuff and not afraid to fail as long as we are learning something. That’s where we land, ideologically a lot of the time, even some of our b-sides have been some of the best learnings we have ever had and they have given birth to great songs because we have information that we have been carrying for it.

Interview By Rob Lyon

Catch The Smashing Pumpkins ‘A World Is A Vampire’ Festival on the following dates, tickets from 1 World Entertainment

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