Smashing Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder talks to LRI about band’s chemistry, Rock on The Range & more
I will always remember the first time I heard Smashing Pumpkins as a slowly evolving little metal kid from Northern Illinois. The big guitars, angry drums and psychedelic song structures on 1991’s “GISH” were rock enough to sucker me in and deep enough to broaden my horizons a little. The band has evolved in so many ways since then but the interesting thing is that so much of what I initially loved about the band remains completely intact. The Pumpkins guitar tone still roars and the solos are still off the charts, their latest album,”OCEANIA” was very well received in small part due to some of those familiar tones and in large part to the signature songwriting of longtime frontman Billy Corgan. The band’s guitarist Jeff Schroeder joined the group at a time of transition and is the second longest tenured member of Smashing Pumpkins behind Billy. Jeff arrived during the transitional “ZEITGEIST” era of the band and has not so quietly become known in fan circles as Jeff “The Shredder” with Corgan (himself a jaw-dropping player) even saying his six string skills are “far superior”. High praise for sure, but Schroeder takes it all in stride, particularly because he is still as much of a fan of the band and music in general as he’s ever been. I recently had a chance to talk to Jeff about the band, the public embrace of the new lineup, their plans for 2013 and much more. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for taking time out to talk to me Jeff, are you guys on break from touring right now?
Jeff Schroeder: Yeah, we’re at home in Chicago and we’re really starting to work on a new album. We’re at the very, very beginning stages, we’re not actually recording but just starting to work on new material. We’re actually going to be doing a few more amphitheatre and festival dates supporting “OCEANIA” through May and then June and July we are doing to be doing a European tour. One of the big Midwest dates here is the Rock On The Range festival in Ohio, we are playing Saturday night (May 18th) there in Columbus. So, there are still more dates for “OCEANIA” but in the downtime we are gonna start pounding ahead and working on the next album.
LRI: I am from Northern Illinois so I got into The Smashing Pumpkins pretty early on but there was a big underground buzz about them building nationwide. You’ve mentioned that you were always a fan of the band before joining and I know you grew up in California, when did you really get into them and how was their profile out your way?
Jeff: I was a fan from the first album, “Gish”. I remember seeing an article about the band in a magazine and it seemed like the kind of stuff that I would be into so I picked up the album and the Sup Pop single for “Tristessa”. I’ve been following the band since 91 basically. Growing up in L.A. I was really into Jane’s Addiction and a lot of the early comparisons of the Pumpkins were to Jane’s even though I don’t really think the two bands sound that similar, I think it was just that combination of the soft and heavy spots along with the ripping psychedelic guitars or even the high voices. The two bands don’t really sound the same but you can see how people would talk about them in the same conversation at that time. For me, I loved it, I loved all that psychedelic Hendrix-y stuff and all the riffs that Billy was playing. I also remember at the time that everybody was just so blown away by Jimmy’s drumming as well. It was just a combination of different elements that you didn’t really hear in alternative rock at the time. I mean, really, if you think about it you had bands like Dinosaur, Jr and Sonic Youth who had a lot of guitar and Dinosaur Jr. had solos and stuff but the playing wasn’t really up to the caliber or level that you found in Smashing Pumpkins.
LRI: Those bands also didn’t quite have the hooks or the songwriting. There’s always been this under the surface influence of Cheap Trick and that kind of Midwest pop sensibility bubbling over in Billy’s song structures.
Jeff: Really I think that’s a big part of the band that differentiates a band like Pumpkins from a band like Jane’s which is very much an L.A./West Coast thing. I think that the whole Midwest rock and roll songwriting of Cheap Trick is actually a much bigger part of the band than what people realize.
LRI: When I interviewed Uli John Roth he mentioned how impressed he was by being onstage with you guys and how you were one of the few bands that still felt the freedom to occasionally stretch out onstage. Was jamming or free form playing like that something you had experience with in any of your previous bands in L.A.?
Jeff: I grew up as a musician jamming in the garage for hours with friends so being able to jam on a song and come up with things to improvise was very much a big part of my becoming a musician and learning to play so for me to play that kind of way and do that kind of stuff is really second nature. I was never into any of the bands that people would consider “jam bands” like the Grateful Dead but the whole improvisational way of playing is very much how I grew up playing, for me it’s not strange at all.
LRI: I know Billy is into a lot of music but really cut his teeth on a lot of 70s rock bands everyone from RUSH to the kind of bands that don’t necessarily dominate corporate classic rock radio like STARZ. Do you guys share a lot of the same influences or tastes in music?
Jeff: Yeah, I think that with Billy and I a lot of our common ground musically is with 70’s rock, I think he’s more well-versed in even a lot of the 60’s stuff even though I like a lot of that too. I think a lot of the place where we share a common interest is in that type of 70’s and early 80’s stuff. On tour and stuff, he and I go record shopping all the time which is a lot of fun.
LRI: When you joined the band it was when Billy was bringing back the Pumpkins after a considerable absence. When did you first hear about the “Zeitgeist” album and the reunion with Jimmy Chamberlain?
Jeff: Someone just called me out of the blue one day and said “Yeah, they’re getting back together and Iha’s not coming back so they’re going to be looking for a guitar player. I’m trying to remember it all to be honest, I think I may have known they were getting back together because I followed all the post-Pumpkins bands like Zwan and I saw Billy’s solo tour so I knew about the ad he had taken out in the paper announcing the return of the band after his solo tour. It was after that when I heard that they were going to be holding auditions.
LRI: I remember an interview where someone kind of asked Billy why James and D’Arcy were still in the band or were important to the band and he said something simple that kind of stuck with me. He said that James and D’Arcy were in the room when he wrote all of those songs and it affected the chemistry in that respect. Do you think he still thinks along those lines?? The current lineup of the band seems to be even more compatible and the tours and albums are so well-received again.
Jeff: I think Billy was always quick to highlight the individuals in the original band back then even if they didn’t necessarily perform on a record or a song because those personalities in the room very much shape how things are going to come out, especially when you are working on new music. I think what people are responding to about “Oceania” is that element, that is the personality of the new band. It’s something that you can’t really account for in a very tangible way, it’s more of a feeling. I know what he’s talking about in saying that even though the original band didn’t play on the songs their presence was still very much felt when those songs came out, there was a certain chemistry when the songs were written. With the new band, that’s very much the same way, there’s a certain chemistry to the four of us that you can’t write down on paper or put your finger on, it’s an intangible thing and some people seem to like it and we don’t really know more than that (laughs). I’m not trying to be vague but why it works is something I can’t really explain to you but the fact that it does is all that I know.
LRI: To me, as a fan “OCEANIA” is also interesting partly because it’s basically the first Pumpkins album that features the whole band playing on it since the debut!!
Jeff: Right. What’s interesting is that people who’ve seen the band live can definitely tell that it’s us playing it too.
LRI: I agree, also, one of the great things about the live show now is not only how good the new material sounds and goes over but how good your playing is on the classic material including Nicole’s vocals. Were the rehearsals for the tour crazy military or were they real relaxed?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say they were militant crazy but at the same time I wouldn’t say they were calm and relaxed. I think every single person in the band takes their job really seriously and everyone does their homework so when we show up to rehearse everybody knows the songs and we might end up learning another song that night because we’re not sitting there wasting time working on stuff. When we do practice it’s very structured and to the point. I guess from that end it’s a very pro band and we take our jobs very seriously.
LRI: Billy has a lot of respect for your playing and has mentioned as much, do you think it’s interesting for him to have another guitarist onstage playing more leads than maybe in years past?
Jeff: I don’t know (laughs). I think a lot of it in the past was that he had to carry so much weight in order to make the show exciting and make it sound good that he can maybe take a breath more often now. I do think that he likes being able to play in the band instead of having to worry about covering everything knowing that other people can cover something if it needs to be. He can focus more on singing the song at a higher level than he would if he was worried about all the guitar and bass lines and the keyboards.
LRI: You play a fair share of the material from the earlier albums live has there even been any talk of doing a themed show where say all of “Siamese Dream” or “Melon Collie” is performed?
Jeff: I don’t think so, we haven’t talked about it and I don’t see us doing that anytime soon. When the reissues were coming out we had talked about maybe doing a show here or there but I just don’t see it as something we’re terribly interested in doing. Right now, I’m here in Chicago and we’re worrying about new material for the next album. We really want to focus on writing great new material and there will always be time to play the old stuff.
LRI: Along those same lines, it’s a really ballsy but kind of smart move to play your ENTIRE new album live. Did you personally get any feedback or read any reaction from fans positive or negative to playing “OCEANIA” in its entirety?
Jeff: I think the fact that we got away with doing it says something. I mean playing our whole new album from beginning to end, I think it was a ballsy move but we feel like it went really, really well considering what we were doing show-wise. Obviously having the visuals and the ball really helped make it a beautiful experience so I think people really got off on it and thought “Ok, hey even if I haven’t heard this album, even if I’m really here to hear the old stuff, this is really cool”. I think we got a lot of respect for playing it well and presenting it well. Yeah, it’s a challenge but where would we be if we didn’t believe that the future of the band was in the new material rather than just the old stuff. Not that we’re trying to hit people over the head with it or don’t like the old stuff, more that we want to make it clear that we really have something to say for this time. We really have something to say for this generation and we’re not done contributing to the culture, we really wanna say new things and play new music and give people new experiences.
LRI: Thanks again for your time Jeff and good luck with the rest of your tour this year, I wanna make the drive out to Rock On the Range! One last question, you’re a Literature Major and I’ve always wanted to know….The Smashing Pumpkins music has always had an otherworldly feel to it, seemingly influenced by all eras of music but also by cinema, literature and all art. How much of an impact do you think those non-musical art forms have on the band’s style and sound?
Jeff: I would say that there’s always been a pretty interesting relationship with the arts in general with the Pumpkins and how they’ve interacted with other artforms. I mean, even going back as far as “GISH” and certainly “SIAMESE DREAM” there are certain literary references like Kerouac and some of the videos have had lots of film references so I think that there’s always been a nice dynamic between the arts and the band. I think of it as a very healthy dynamic between the band and those mediums, rather than just ripping stuff off it has been more of a dialogue.
Sites That Link to this Post
- GrungeReport.net- 90's Alternative Rock News » Blog Archive » JEFF SCHROEDER REVEALS THAT SMASHING PUMPKINS ARE WORKING ON NEW ALBUM | February 28, 2013
- THE SMASHING PUMPKINS INTERVIEWS ARCHIVE :: BYSTARLIGHT.ORG :: » A Comprehensive Database of Smashing Pumpkins Interviews, Magazine Scans, Band Member Blogs and Videos » Legendary Rock, February 2013 | March 19, 2013