The Smashing Pumpkins are no strangers to Australia. Having toured here in various iterations over the last 29 years, this iconic four-piece from Chicago have been an ever-evolving spectacle, leaving fans guessing as to what to expect at their next live appearance. With lineup changes, experimentation with sound and varying scales in the size of musical projects, from their 4-track, 1991 EP Lull, to their latest 3-part, 33-track rock opera ATUM, The Smashing Pumpkins can never be accused of having put on the same show twice.
The evolution continues in the form of The World Is A Vampire, their first-ever music and culture festival. On the eve of their Aussie leg of the tour, Wall Of Sound’s resident bogan Duane James got Zooming with legendary drummer Jimmy Chamberlain to discuss their new rock opera ATUM, getting into mischief with the Ramones, car racing and Billy Corgan’s ridiculous ability to churn out content.
But the lads are bringing The World Is A Vampire to Australia this weekend, only a month after debuting it in Mexico. How has the experience been so far?
“It was incredible. Yeah, everything about it was really, really great. We played. Interpol played. We had the band Turnstile play. Peter Hook and the Light played. It was fantastic. I mean, we had the wrestling. Billy (Corgan) owns NWA (National Wrestling Alliance). So we had the NWA versus Lucha Libre wrestling, which was super fantastic. Mexico, funnily enough, I think is one of our biggest markets ever. So the people down there are just bonkers for the Pumpkins. So it’s like playing to some of the greatest fans. I mean, they’re just really so grateful and so appreciative of it being down there. Even in spite of the language barrier, everybody’s got a story, right. There’s like, I first heard the pumpkins here.”
It’s pretty cool and it’s kind of like Australia, right?
“We’ve been down from time to time, but it’s been so long since we’ve been down there. But I’ve got such great memories of playing your neck of the woods. Whether it’s the Big Day Out, you know, that type of stuff. I mean, early on those festivals where we would go to Perth and play with the Ramones. I remember seeing the Ramones in Perth, it was about 115 degrees out and they’re playing three in the afternoon with leather jackets are sweating like crazy. It was amazing. I got in a lot of trouble that year…”
“I got thrown out of a couple of hotels on that tour because of CJ Ramone who was a bit of a wild man. He threw a fish at me from across the restaurant and got to be pretty greasy for a while but yeah, it was all in good fun.”
So after thirty plus years of touring, including countless spots on other festivals, what was it that instigated Smashing Pumpkins wanting to put on their own festival?
“We just thought it was time. We had been kind of kicking around the idea for a while and then one of the Mexican promoters got wind of it and then offered to back it up, and it was really about how much of our own dry powder do we want to put behind it, or will anybody else spring to support it, right? And the answer was Yes. So we got in with some great promoters, great people. Live Nation is interested in doing it and we just felt like there’s a need for a festival that’s kind of more rooted in what the early festivals were. Like Lollapalooza.
When we did Lollapalooza in 1993, we did 42 Lollapaloozas across the country. It was like a moving circus, and there was something really cool about that. We were like, well, we can take the kind of best components of that, inject our own kind of identity into it, curate something that’ll be very cool from a musical standpoint, but also bring in peripheral components.
Like Billy’s a big wrestling guy, he owns the NWA. I’m a racecar driver. So next year, we’re talking about doing an exhibition race. Because the festival in Mexico is at the Mexican Formula One track. So maybe doing an exhibition race the day before the festival. Just kind of bringing in peripheral interests in the band in and around the festival so people can kind of get more of a holistic vibe, kind of where the music comes from. Because racing is a big part of my life. Wrestling is a big part of Billy’s life, and it certainly injects itself into the music.”
A festival of that scale could definitely be held in Australia. Given our history of music events in NSW alone being held at locations that have held car races like Homebush, Eastern Creek and Mount Panorama, it’s something that could definitely be on the cards. But you mentioned the music festival Lollapalooza, and synonymous with that brand is Jane’s Addiction who as it turns out, is coming to Australia with you on this tour.
“Jane’s Addiction is like family to us. My third gig with the Pumpkins was opening up for Jane’s Addiction. So I’ve known those guys since 1988. Almost as long as we’ve all been bands, we’ve been friends. So you know, Perry and I are still friends. I’m still friends with Perk (Stephen Perkins) and Dave (Navarro), and Eric (Avery). I went to Lollapalooza with Perry and sat in with Jane’s Addiction last time they were here.
On the way over Perry was going, ‘Man, we’ve got to find a way to play together. It’s been too long, let’s figure it out’. So we kind of made a deal that we would figure it out, and then we did. We just did a 33 city arena tour in the states where Janes opened. It just went really, really well. So when it came down to coming down to Australia, we were like, we got to bring Janes with us, because it was such a great package, you guys need to see the combo.
The Pumpkins, Janes Addiction, and then allowing those other younger bands to do their thing. That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s partially our way of giving back and creating an architecture where the youthful movements of rock can come in and get a leg up and play to a different audience. We can play to a younger audience, and it all kind of gels together.”
Absolutely, and what a collection of young artists. With Amyl and The Sniffers, Redhook and Rattlesnake amongst others, what hand did the band have in curating this lineup.
Yeah, with Turnstile as the kind of template, because that’s what we picked for the first one, we wanted to get bands that were kind of in the same lane. We leaned on the promoter, obviously, to feed us the bands. But yeah, those were ultimately the bands we landed on. So we feel like it’s going to be a fucking great day of rock’n’roll.
We heard the news that Dave Navarro has been crook with long term Covid for a while and won’t be able to tour in Australia with Janes Addiction. Do you have any news on how his health is at the moment?
Yeah, I haven’t really heard. I haven’t talked to him in a while, and I don’t really get much information from anybody. Obviously I miss him. He’s a good friend of mine. But I gotta say that on this last tour, they had Troy (Van Leeuwen) from Queens of the Stone Age playing guitar, and Josh Klinghoffer (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers) and it was fucking blistering. I mean, it was really like wow.
Josh Klinghoffer and Troy together were just a Juggernaut and really brought another layer to Jane’s that just made it sound incredible. I mean, those guys are such great musicians. Obviously Dave is very iconic and stands on his own but, and, it wasn’t the same without him. But it was definitely different in a way that was really cool.
Speaking of something that’s different, yet really cool, you guys are bringing Corgan’s wrestling crew, National Wrestling Alliance with you for the tour. I’m a lifelong Wrestling fan. How has it translated to the rock n roll festival environment?
“It’s insane, I mean it’s so big in Mexico, you know, Lucha Libre. It’s like a religion down there. If you do that stuff in America, like 30% of the crowds kind of into it. In Mexico. It was like Jesus landed and it was crazy. It was crazy that people knew every wrestler. They were so into it. I like wrestling but I’m not THAT into it.”
Not like Billy Corgan where you’d own your own company. Plus Lucha Libre are next level in just how much they throw themselves around. I’ve seen them almost destroy themselves to entertain people. Anyways, while you’re touring Australia, the third part of your rock opera ATUM (pronounced Ah-toom) is to be released. Whose idea was it to produce this 33 song epic sequel to 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness plus 2000’s Machina / The Machines Of God and have you got Covid to thank for being able to physically get it recorded?
Well I certainly wouldn’t come up with a 33 song record. I mean Corgan writes 33 songs in an hour. For him, it’s like falling off a log, you know.
But he had, I could be mistaken, I don’t think I am, but he had the story of the play first. So he actually read it to me over a zoom call during COVID. He read me the entire story, and then he wrote the music to it. He sent me the music. I listened to it… I went to his studio, we worked on the songs, we came up with some drum parts that we thought were kind of close to the mark. He kept the drum grooves looped them and created some arrangements, sent me the 33 songs kind of quasi arranged and just threw them in my lap and said, okay, make drum parts for all the songs.
So I had like two months of working on these 33 songs and nothing else. I was telling somebody else. It’s like, taking on a project like that. It’s like going into a spaceship, right? You’re in a dream sequence for two and a half years. And yeah, COVID. This could be the only time that we have two years to make this kind of ambitious endeavour. So we thought if we’re ever going to do anything like this, now’s the time to do it. But it certainly wasn’t my idea to do it. I’m like, can’t you tell the story in like three songs? Haha!”
Listening to it, it sounded very much to me like a backing track to 80’s science fiction, almost like the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Dune.
It’s a very dystopian kind of story, very much like Dune. There’s Joseph Campbell. The hero, the myth. Very cool. I mean Corgan, he’s got a ridiculously large brain and he uses it like a weapon. Right? He’s always creating. I just try to keep up with him. I just I figured that if he’s gonna let me drum on his stuff, I’m cool.
You guys have been going for 35 years now…
Schyeah I know” (smiles, then frowns, shakes his head -ha)
The last time you guys were here was 2015, and in that time you’ve essentially released five albums worth of material. What can the punters hope to expect from the Pumpkins on this tour?
“A massive rock show [laughs] I mean that’s what it is. We’re gonna throw down, man, in the best possible way. We’re gonna play Silverfuck. We’re gonna go for it. We’re not about resting on anything. We’re moving forward man, we’re like a juggernaut. We’re playing things better, faster, meaner, slower than we ever have. You’ll see, the band is at its absolute top form right now. It’s so fun to play every night.
Well kids, this one promises to be a belter, and with a lineup of this calibre, it’ll be one for the ages. I’ll see you all in the pit and ringside at the wrestling. Look out for this midlife crisis living bogan booing the bad guy wrestlers, counting out the 1…2…3 then screaming “TODAYYY IS THE GREATEST…DAY I’VE EVER KNOWN!!!!”
Interview by Duane James @duanejames666
The Smashing Pumpkins – The World Is A Vampire Festival
with Jane’s Addiction, Amyl & The Sniffers, Redhook, Battlesnake and more!
Saturday, April 15 : Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane QLD – NEW SHOW
Sunday, April 16 : Sandstone Point, Bribie Island QLD
Tuesday, April 18: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW ALL AGES SOLD OUT
Wednesday, April 19: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW ALL AGES NEW SHOW
Saturday, April 22: PICA, Port Melbourne VIC NEW SHOW (moved from Hastings)
Sunday, April 23: Kyral Castle, Ballarat, VIC
Wednesday, April 26: Adelaide Entertainment Centre SA ALL AGES
Thursday; April 27: PICA, Port Melbourne VIC SOLD OUT
Saturday, April 29: Newcastle Entertainment Centre NSW ALL AGES
Sunday, April 30: Broadwater Parklands, Gold Coast QLD
For ticketing and event information visit