AlternativeNation.net Interview With Nicole Fiorentino, Smashing Pumpkins Bassist
Last week AlternativeNation.net had an exclusive interview with Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, and now to close out November we have an interview with Smashing Pumpkins bassist Nicole Fiorentino. November has definitely been the month of the bassists on GrungeReport.net.
Nicole Fiorentino joined the re-tooled Smashing Pumpkins in 2010, replacing Ginger Pooley on bass. She has gone on to become the most popular Smashing Pumpkins bassist among fans since D’arcy Wretzsky, with her playing and backing vocals on Oceania and the subsequent 2012 tour gaining widespread praise. The Smashing Pumpkins resume their North American tour next week, following the postponement of tour dates due to Hurricane Sandy. In this Q&A, Fiorentino discusses the Pumpkins’ planned followup to Oceania, setlists, the status of the Teargarden By Kaleidoscope project, and much more.
Billy Corgan is known to be one of the hardest working musicians out there, with the Smashing Pumpkins doing a lot of rehearsing. Was this hard to adjust to at first when joining the band and was it intimidating to work with a musician with Billy’s work ethic? Do you recall how many songs you went through during this ‘initiation’ time period?
I think one of the reasons Billy and I work so well together is because of our similar work ethics. I’m a very determined person and I work best when challenged and under pressure. I’ve also struggled a long time to get to where I am now, and I wasn’t under any illusion that it was suddenly going to be all sunshine and butterflies when I joined a band at this level. If anything I was expecting to work harder than I ever have before. I can’t really recall how many songs I learned initially, so I guess that answers the question!
How have the reactions been so far from fans hearing Oceania from front to back live this year? Does it seem to be connecting more with the audience from show to show, or vary from city to city? I’ve read some reviews and there have been many fans excited to hear it, but then also some of the more casual fans shouting for the hits. I think it’s great that you guys are playing it live, there are some veteran bands that I cover on GrungeReport.net that I wish would be as confident as you guys are regarding playing new material and moving forward.
The reactions to playing Oceania live have been incredible. The most positive feedback the band has had in many years. At first it was intimidating, getting up there and not knowing how people were going to respond to an hour of new music, but that’s the risk we decided to take. This band has always been fond of risk-taking, so why stop now? For me it was nerve-wracking because I contributed to this album, so I have more at stake now than I did just playing the old stuff. If they don’t like it, I played a huge role in that, you know? Of course some audiences have been more lively than others, but in general we seem to be captivating them, and that’s not an easy feat with new material. You can tell pretty early on if it’s working or not, but I think overall people are leaving happy. There’s always gonna be the audience that just wants the hits, but the proof is in the pudding. Tweets come pouring in after the shows. I consistently hear things like “best Pumpkins show I’ve ever seen”, “best concert I”ve ever been to”, “mind-blowing” etc. So we’re doing something right.
Has there been more pressure with this North American tour, playing larger venues? Especially playing a new album and the band not having done a headlining tour in arenas during the last few years.
Yeah it’s tough times everywhere right now, so playing the larger venues can be challenging. But again, we’re a band that’s known for taking risks, and if it doesn’t work then you move on to the next. But regardless of who’s there, we’re gonna play the same show with the same energy. The people on the floor aren’t looking up into the seats to see if the show is sold out, they just want to see a great rock show. so we have to think about that when we’re up there. either way, the people that are there are having fun, and they’re each gonna share that with 3 friends, so on and so forth. I feel confident that we are putting on a quality show that speaks for itself. when the quality is there it’s undeniable, whether you are playing old or new material or a combination of both.
What is the dynamic like with the band traveling, and before and after shows? Do you spend a lot of time hanging out with Billy, Jeff, and Mike or are you guys off doing your own thing?
We have a very healthy dynamic. We are friends and we do hang out, but we also know to respect each others’ privacy. It’s difficult on the road because you don’t have anything to ground you. you’re not in your own house, you don’t have your things, usually your significant other isn’t there. so it’s hard to maintain any semblance of a normal life. you have to be supportive of everyone’s needs. for me, I have to do yoga, read, go for walks alone. but I also like to get a healthy amount of social time too. it’s all about balance and knowing each others’ boundaries. but overall we really do like each other and getting along really well.
How do the band put together the setlists? Are there any songs you are hoping to play in the future with the Pumpkins?
We are very particular about the set lists. A lot more goes into it than just throwing songs onto a piece of paper and shuffling them around. SP has such a huge catalog so we have to attempt to not play too many songs from certain records and neglect others. We usually go into rehearsals with a general idea of what we want to play but then if something is going against the flow of the set we try to think of a song that has the right vibe. It’s not like we are trying to meet a quota or have a certain number of hits, we’re also not avoiding the hits. we really just look for what is going to create a shift in the set, a new moment. the last thing we want is for the set to feel linear, it needs to have movement. so if we play something like Bullet with Butterfly Wings in the middle of the set, we’re not gonna follow it with Zero and Cherub Rock. we’d go with a song that’s going to shift the mood, something epic or mellow. we like to take people on a journey.
I know you played a new song called “Black Sunshine” live a few times on the North American Oceania tour, has Billy brought any other new song ideas to the band yet? Where do you sense the vibe of new material going?
Yeah Black Sunshine was an idea we had when writing for Oceania. It didn’t make the cut at that time, but it has evolved a lot since then. It’s hard to tell what the vibe of the next record will be. It’s interesting because I’ve been listening back to the original demos from Oceania and it’s crazy how far the songs have come since then. We probably had 15 different versions of Pinwheels at one point. I mean like completely different versions: the rock version, the synth version, the psychedelic version. But the one that stuck was the one that fit in with the story line. Like our live shows, we wanted the record to take people on a journey. So it’s really too soon to tell what the vibe is going to be according to the ideas we are working on now. Either way, I think this new record is going to take it to the next level for this incarnation of the band because now that we’ve been through the process once together, we can dig a lot deeper this time. for me I feel more confident and I feel a sense of ownership to the music now, so whatever direction the new record take I am going to give it everything.
You mentioned on Facebook recently that you are considering doing a solo project. Personally I’d love to hear it, especially after hearing your vocals on Oceania (particularly on Pinwheels) and in The Cold and Lovely. When might the solo project happen, and do you have anybody in mind who you might want to contribute to it?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while now. Obviously my priority is focusing on my work with SP, but I definitely think it would be good for my soul to put out something on my own. It would be a different kind of challenge, something I’ve never done before, so that’s exciting to me. I’ll work on it gradually during my down time, and I am in no rush to release it. I mainly just want to do it for me, and then if people want to listen to it great. if they like it, even better! I am not looking to have some solo career. I like being a bassist in a band. it’s what feels right. as far as contributors, I’m not sure. I have so many talented people in my life so there is a surplus there. Most likely Meghan Toohey, probably my friends Barbara Gruska (The Belle Brigade) and Brian Aubert (Silversun Pickups), and maybe I could get one of my fellow Pumpkins to make an appearance!
What bands out there today are you excited about, both young and old? Any albums that you’d like to recommend or that you’re excited about?
St. Vincent, Silversun Pickups, Cat Power, Fiona Apple, Explosions in the Sky, Wild Flag, Rachael Yamagata, Neko Case, The Gossip. I would recommend any and all albums from these bands. I listen to the Cure, PJ Harvey and Bessie Smith 24/7, but I think I mention that in every interview. I’m also very excited about my new Tibetan chakra meditation album. Nothing like a crystal singing bowl to start my day off right!
Is the Teargarden By Kaleidoscope project done? Or will the next album be part of it?
Teargarden is an ongoing project that Billy has committed to completing with 44 songs. So as far as I know anything we release before those 44 songs are complete will be included under the Teargarden umbrella. Oceania is considered part of the Teargarden project, so presumably the next record will be too.
What are the band’s plans for 2013 touring wise? Do you think the Pumpkins can have another album out by December 2013/early 2014 like Billy Corgan hopes to?
It’s hard to say what the touring situation will look like in 2013. I think we will do some festivals and hit the markets that we didn’t hit this year on Oceania, but I think the main focus is going to be working on new music. I think we have proven that our strong suit is creating new music together, so we really want to keep the ball rolling. I think if we start working on the record in January it could feasibly be out by early 2014. That will be the goal and then we will do our best to get it out as close to then as possible.
There have been many Smashing Pumpkins lineups and break ups over the years including the original lineup, the Adore lineup, the MACHINA lineup, and the Zeitgeist touring lineup which had Jimmy Chamberlin and current Pumpkin Jeff Schroeder. The current lineup though seems to be clicking musically and personally. How long do you envision this current incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins going, and what do you want to accomplish?
As far as I am concerned, this is where I belong. I think we have a lot more to offer the world musically, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I would love to continue to release as many records as possible with this band. Ultimately the decision is up to Billy, how long he wants to keep it going. But so far it feels good, it’s working, we put out a record together that got a great response and are gearing up to do it again. I can’t predict the future, but my intention is that I am in this for the long haul.
Billy has made it clear in interviews that the current lineup is a real band, not a collection of hired guns. While Billy is obviously the frontman and dominant creative force in the band, do you envision you or Jeff maybe co-writing some Pumpkins songs in the future, like James Iha did from time to time in the past?
I mean I wouldn’t rule it out. We work very well together so it’s a possibility. Either way, from the start I have been willing to contribute as much as Billy is open to. And the fact that I am the only bass player to have created and played all of my own parts on an SP record says a lot. We have a really intense musical chemistry and I’m so excited to see where it goes from here!