By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
I do, if that's what I want to do.
Right now I'm in a very unique position because I'm standing right at this kind of crossroads where I've done the impossible. I've managed to put a band onstage that people are accepting, when you're not supposed to be able to do that. People are actually enjoying the shows, even more so than two years ago. I'm having new success when I'm not supposed to be having new success. So, we're right at this sort of beautiful moment when it's like, "There's still energy here, what's going on, curiosity, media, fans, concerts," and it's sort of a beautiful honeymoon moment — that won't last.
And I've already told the band, internally, "This is about a year." A year from now the difference will be, "Do we stand on our own in this moment with the new music that I'm going to write?" It's a nice balance right now of honoring the past, honoring the present, and indications of a bright future. But ultimately the clock is ticking on that and I feel we got about a year. Basically, in the next year I need to prove that I have a whole 'nother — something to say.
But what you say about concentrating your music in the present best applies to playing live. What about records? Those are the counterpoint to your theory, where the recorded past can be re-created in the present. Were you ever a record collector yourself?
Were you acquisitive? Did you have to own records?
Well, we were poor, so all I had were my uncle's records and stuff. I used to go over to friends' houses and make tapes from their record collections. Then, when I was in high school, I had an alternative girlfriend who would make me tapes of Joy Division, Bauhaus — always listening and compiling in my brain.
And then probably the most pivotal moment was around 20 years old, I started working in a used-record store and so I sat there all day and I had nothing to do but listen to John Coltrane, or Muddy Waters, or ... Julie London. I remember sitting there and people would ask for certain records and fawn over an artist that I had never heard of, and I would think [makes disapproving face], it didn't speak to me. But the inquisitive part of my nature would say, "Why is there so much energy behind what their passion is?" So I would try to listen to that artist not from a personal point of view of, "Do I like it?" I would try to understand what was brilliant about the artist even if it didn't touch me personally.
What [the record store] taught me was that rock & roll is more of an elemental game. The media and the public focus more on aesthetics, but to me what makes rock & roll work, and where Dylan's so brilliant, John Lennon was brilliant, Neil Young is brilliant, Tom Waits is, they understand it's more of an elemental force.
It's almost mythological and related to nature. That's why the blues is the ultimate sublime language, because it's so simple but it says so much in its simplicity. Zep, Led Zeppelin, understood that you can take these elements and break it down so simply and create this even grander aesthetic. So, I learned a lot from those things and it really shows up once you get to the Mellon Collie era of my life, '95, it blows up in all these different genres and things, because I was just playing in the sandbox. I was having a lot of fun with, "Well, I'll just try a new-wave song. Can I do that?"
I was lucky that I was at a time that sort of supported that opportunity. Now, you're so typecast, I don't think I can have hits now with some of the songs I had hits with then because in my world I'm branded as sort of [mimes a riff and makes guitar face] rrrrrock, or whatever.
At that point the Smashing Pumpkins videos also became part of who you were as an artist, right?
There was a system in place that allowed you to do that. Now there's not a system in place. You can be huge on YouTube and get a zillion hits and no one would buy your record. There's no system. At least then, even though it was corrupt, there was a system. MTV played your video, you sold records. The label said, well, we need to give you money to get your video on MTV. It fed itself. You had the opportunity to work with really talented people, spend money. It's a different system now.
Your current release strategy is very idiosyncratic. Are you the pioneer of a new system?
It's organically based in the sense that I'm somewhere between adhering to the rules of the artist heart, which is, "I wanna do what I wanna do when I wanna do it," and then the marketplace, which is moving very fast and you have to be adaptable. You cannot plan for two years.