The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan sat down with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe for an interview about his 35-year career and the band’s latest album, the 140-minute ATUM: A Rock Opera in Three Acts. In the course of the sprawling conversation, he spoke of his respect for Kurt Cobain and shared his thoughts on contemporary music.
Corgan set forth his lofty career ambitions. “When it’s all said and done, I want the Pumpkins standing on the top of the heap of our generation,” he told Lowe. “And if that means I gotta write 800 songs to do it, I’ll do it. I ain’t shy about that.”
The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Empires’
Corgan sees himself as vying for top spot with the other alt-rock musicians of his generation. “I will go down always to say Kurt was the most talented guy of our generation,” he said. “Kurt had so much talent it’s like frightening. It was like a John Lennon level of talent where you’re like, How can you have all this talent? Or Prince, right?
“But, Kurt’s not here, you know, sadly, so, you know, so I looked around and I was like, ‘All right, well, I could beat the rest of them for sure.'”
Corgan admitted that his reaction to Cobain’s death was also tied to his fierce competitiveness. “When Kurt died, I cried, because I lost my greatest opponent,” he said. “I want to beat the best. I don’t want to win the championship because it’s just me and a bunch of jabronis, to use a wrestling term.”
He elaborated on the sports analogy, comparing himself to NBA superstar Michael Jordan. “Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sports competitor I’ll ever see in my lifetime – I mean, you want to talk about an alpha, that guy wanted to win the valet tip.”
Corgan also offered his perspective on what makes Generation X – the generation to which he and Cobain belong – the “lost generation”. “Gen X was the lost generation because our parents were too busy doing cocaine or yoga and we were in the basement watching Gilligan’s Island with nobody… I mean, the amount of crazy stuff we did because there was nobody there to tell us no,” he said.
Earlier in the conversation, Corgan shared a story from The Smashing Pumpkins’ Machina/The Machines of God era, when the band met up with U2 in Dublin. “I’m over in Dublin circa 2000 and I go to visit Bono at his house,” Corgan said. “We stayed up all night and in the morning, for some reason me and him were the only people up, and he says, ‘I want to play you something but we have to go out in the car because I don’t want to wake the house up.’
“So, it’s me and him like freezing in the driveway, and he pops in and he’s playing me what became the ‘it’s a beautiful day’ album. And it’s kind of not all the way there but sort of there, and he goes, ‘Tell me honestly what you think.’ I’m like, ‘You really want me to give you my opinion?’ And I told him what I thought and they actually used my advice and he let me know later, like, ‘Hey, we used your advice,’ and I thought he was just being nice, you know?
“So, fast forward a couple of years, I’m somewhere and I run into Edge in a hotel and we’re waiting for an elevator […] He goes, ‘Hey, I gotta tell you, that advice you gave on that stuff really helped.’ And I was like, ‘Me? Are you kidding me?'”
Watch the interview below. The Smashing Pumpkins recently completed a lengthy tour of Australia as part of their World is a Vampire mini-festival. They were joined throughout by Jane’s Addiction, Amyl and the Sniffers, RedHook and more.