Multi-Grammy award winning alternative rock outfit Smashing Pumpkins have recently signed to Sumerian Records and are back on the scene with a new album cycle. CYR is set for release this Friday 27 November, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin couldn’t be happier with where the band is today.
Despite playing a bit of hokey-pokey over the years with the band, Chamberlin is globally recognised as one of the best. In fact, Rolling Stone ranked Jimmy Chamberlin number 53 on their list of 100 Greatest Drummers Of All Time. Not too shabby to pop-up on a list like that, nearby to his peers from little rock and roll bands you might have heard of, like Van Halen and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But of course, you’d never know about that by talking to the charming and down-to-earth long time friend of Billy Corgan. He’s far more interested in sharing how good his kids are, and how proud of them he is – well at least that’s the impression I got from video-interviewing him as leans back on his well-lit home studio in North Chicago.
The perpetually grinning musician insisted the reason he didn’t have a Smashing Pumpkins hoodie on to stay warm on a three-degree (celcius) evening was simply because his size was sold out; I knew we were going to have a good chat with his tongue-in-cheek.
The 56-year old is feeling good about CYR’s release, his first studio album with the band a good while. “We worked really hard on it, we tried to kind of quasi-reinvent ourselves on the record and we really didn’t know what the response was going to be, which we never really do because we’re always taking chances on an album.”
A few heads may have turned when Sumerian announced that Smashing Pumpkins were the latest artist to join their roster, as the label boasts a majority of heavy hitting modern-metal bands – but if you’re reading this, you probably care about the band enough to already know all too well that they don’t follow any rules or norms.
On joining the label ahead of this year’s release, Chamberlin explains “Ash (Avildsen, Sumerian founder) was a real big fan of the band, he’s a real music guy right and those guys are getting harder and harder to find.”
For someone who knows the industry inside out, these comments obviously count for something. “If somebody’s got a good vibe and they want to put some energy behind us, then we’re good to go. We’re pretty demanding because we’re all old and salty,” he says with that cheeky side-smile again. Refocusing on the subject-at-hand, Chamberlin reiterates that the band appreciate the way their new label challenges them.
The 2020 release is a gobsmacking 20-track album, with enough content to keep fans’ satisfied for a little while. Instead of understanding how Corgan and his bandmates had so much material to reach 20 songs, it was actually more a case of how they got it down to that number.
“Well, it’s hard when you start with like 35 songs,” Chamberlin sniggers. “Then you just whittle them down, except the criteria for the record was pretty high. Billy and I started talking about this record in like January 2019”. There was a bit of back-and-forth as the frontman’s creative juices started flowing.
“Billy started sending me sketches of stuff he was thinking about, and we started talking about the drum sound,” Chamberlin said, with reference to influence from “early-seventies prog-rock bands, that type of tight dry drum sound, which I was into.”
The two musical masterminds evolved their thinking for the record, and the songs just piled up, until it was time to cut down. “Once we got a beat on what the record was gonna be, we had this pile of songs and they either translated that to that architecture or they didn’t, and that’s kind of [how we got to] the 20 that we ended up with. They were the best of the best representation of that, ideologically.”
“I mean Corgan probably had 45 songs and just didn’t wanna tell me because he’s probably written another three songs today.”
Chamberlin continues to enjoy the banter, and revelling in the dynamic with Corgan that he creates music in. Smashing Pumpkins haven’t just been busy with CYR but are also onto their next big era of releases.
“We just finished demoing and working on drum arrangements for a 33-song follow up to Melancholy and Machina,” the drummer says in short, as the band have revealed they’re releasing sequels to iconic albums Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Machina/The Machines of God, released in 1995 and 2000 respectively.
Despite the ongoing physical challenges faced in the U.S. as the country continues to get COVID under control, Chamberlin and Corgan are able to collaborate pretty effectively.
“I have a studio and Corgan has a studio, and we’re kind of neighbours – we live pretty close to each other. So we’ve got all this time right in quarantine and there’s nothing else to do so we’ve just wanted to try to maximise our time.”
On the sequel albums, it seems like it’s early days. “It’s going to be a kind of a magnum opus of material to follow up those two records, and the qualifiers are really just the width of the material we had.” From Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness they may look at follow-ups to “Cupid De Locke and Jellybelly”, and also “Farewell and Goodnight, so you’re dealing with a really wide breadth of material, there’s everything from like dark metal to like – the very opposite of dark metal, light fabric?” He asks rhetorically, with a considered giggle.
Fans won’t have to wait too long for this sequel extravaganza, hopefully anyway. The band have previously alluded to late-2021. “That’s where we pencilled and targeted it, we’re slotted to go track drums in March so I’ve got three months to kind of work out the nuts and bolts of the drum parts and then be ready to go in, all greased up and ready to rock in March.”
Chamberlin is certainly firing on all cylinders, even if he was less front-and-centre for the band for various periods of time over the years – although he definitely doesn’t feel like he ever left the band. “I’m always in the Pumpkins, whether I’m playing drums or not. Everybody in the band now has kids and we all share this kind of familial alignment right now,” he says alluding to his values-based family-comes-first policy.
“The thing about being in the band or not, was never it was never about music. For me it was just mostly about logistics, my kids were young so in 2009 when I left, I needed to spend time with those guys. I’m a big believer in hands-on parenting, so it’s really more about that than what was kind of predicated.”
With Jimmy not actively engaging in the band during the Monuments to an Elegy, released in 2014, the band interestingly recruited Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee (read our interview with him for his new album here) to take care of the drum parts. Given Lee’s musical background, it was a curious fit for the glam-metaler, and Chamberlin thought it was an awesome feature.
“I loved it, I thought it was great. Tommy’s a good friend of mine. He used to come and sit on my drum riser when we would play, he’s a big fan,” – the Chicago resident explains. His jovial attitude suggests complete support of Lee’s involvement behind the kit.
“I think he was more nervous than me, and I was like ‘go for it dude’. I got asked earlier what songs I like to play live and I said ‘f*ck, I like to play those Tommy Lee songs so I can pretend I’m Tommy Lee like I did when I was eight or nine’, so I’m still a fan whether I’m in or not.”
Smashing Pumpkins are ready to roll with CYR and are doing some COVID-pivoted promo very soon. “I’m focusing on one song in my studio that we’re doing on Jimmy Fallon over the weekend. We’re doing a Zoom call where we’re all playing.”
Chamberlin’s nonchalant charm is simply attributed for his love of playing music for people, and he made sure to convey that. “I’ve had people ask me ‘what would you be doing if you weren’t playing Madison Square Garden’, and I’d be like ‘I’d be playing across the street at that dump across the street’, or something like that anyway.”
Interview by Ricky Aarons @rickysaul90
Smashing Pumpkins‘ CYR is out on 27 November via Sumerian Records.
Pre-order the album here.
Smashing Pumpkins – CYR tracklisting
1. The Colour of Love
2. Confessions of a Dopamine Addict
4. Dulcet in E
7. Anno Satana
8. Birch Grove
11. Purple Blood
12. Save Your Tears
14. Black Forest, Black Hills
17. The Hidden Sun
19. Tyger, Tyger