The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan on the ‘Oceania’ Tour, His Tea House and the Meaning of Alternative Music

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Though most of the original members of the Smashing Pumpkins have stepped out of the spotlight, frontman Billy Corgan is still blazing on the music scene.

After a reformed Pumpkins released the group’s seventh studio album, Oceania, in June, Corgan and his new band — guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne — hit the road on tour. But Corgan feels live performances are not what they were during the height of the Pumpkins’ success.

“It’s almost night and day,” Corgan told Celebuzz. “Whatever has happened in the last 20 years has really changed the expectations of the audience. It’s really less about coming to see a band do what it does and more like a pre-programmed kind of event that needs to be sort of idealized because of the short attention spans. It’s very strange.”

Nevertheless, the Pumpkins concerts have been resonating with their crowds. “It’s going really well…the people have been great, the shows have been really well-received,” Corgan said. “People are enjoying the new record and…the band’s turned an artistic corner. It’s been very satisfying.”

But the music industry is unquestionably a world away from what it was in past decades. From iTunes and Spotify to social media and product placements, the music-making business has shifted focus from artistry to star-making.

“The business part of it is very complicated,” Corgan explained. “There’s so many forces in the game now that don’t have anything to do with music. You have a lot of people who are invested in things that don’t sell records. They’ll use the band’s name, or your picture, or your video and somehow you end up selling toothpaste.  Are artists being paid commensurate to the value that they’re helping to create, say for YouTube or something like that? Absolutely not. The artists are not benefiting from the energy that they bring to the table.”

And even the musical genres have taken on new meaning — or, perhaps in some cases, lack thereof. “I don’t really know what alternative is anymore. I get the label, but I don’t really get what it means,” Corgan said. “I don’t think the general public really knows what it means anymore because it’s been so commoditized by commercial forces.”

Take the 2013 Grammy nominees for best alternative music album for example, which sees Fiona Apple, Björk, Gotye, Tom Waits and M83 facing off.

“At the risk of sounding sort of condemnatory, it’s all pop…. It isn’t in alternative music,” Corgan said. “I don’t even know how you distinguish what’s alternative because there’s a level of pop to all those artists. But that wasn’t the whole idea of alternative. It was supposed to be anti-pop, kind of. We were supposed to be building the new forms of music, the new forms of song, the new forms of arranging, not basically rehashing. To me, that’s strange.”

But Corgan sees no point in nitpicking about such musical labels in this day and age. “Squabbling about that stuff at this point is almost laughable because there’s so little business anyways,” he explained. “When there’s zillions to be made, I understand why people squabble. But when there’s almost crumbs, it’s almost like a Dochevsky novel, it’s the opposite. It’s like, there’s more violence over the crumbs because there’s so little left to argue about.”

While the Pumpkins continue to create new work, Corgan is branching out from music into new ventures — such as his tea house Madame ZuZu’s in Highland Park, Ill., which he hopes can become “an alternative cultural center” for the Chicago suburb. “I’m trying to build kind of a core business…but around that I want to create a space where three or four nights a week, there’s something going on that’s novel and interesting,” he said. “I think it would be cool to have everything from DJs to poetry to performances to old radio shows, stuff like that.”

And Corgan’s wrestling company, Resistance Pro, just rang in its one-year anniversary. Now he and his business partners are pitching a wrestling-world reality show to networks.

“This subculture has never been exposed,” he said. “We’ve seen shows of wrestling behind the scenes, but never what really goes on, especially at an indie company, where almost everybody has jobs, there’s family pressures, there’s normal life. That’s going very well. So I remain hopeful that we can get that done.”

Catch The Smashing Pumpkins in their final tour concerts: Dec. 8 at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J.; Dec. 9 at Patriot Center in Fairfax, N.J; and Dec. 10 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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