Ex-Smashing Pumpkins Keyboardist Talks James Iha’s Return, Zeitgeist & Premieres New Song

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Recently, I have had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Harriton, award-winning songwriter and the keyboardist/backing vocalist for the Smashing Pumpkins from 2007 to 2009 during the first phase of the reunion-Zeitgeist era. Harriton contacted us recently to help promote her new song “Into the Fire”, under her stage name Elle Rae. The eponymous song, “Into the Fire,” will be featured in Hasbro’s new Transformer themed album Roll Out, out April 15th. Lisa Harriton, or Elle Rae, took some time with us to answer some questions pertaining her past, present and future career. The transcription is below:

Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your track “Into The Fire” you have shared with us?

Pinch me! I’ve been a Transformers girl since my tomboy days when I would steal them from my brothers’ room. Needless to say, I’m really excited to be a part of this project. It’s an honor to be on a record with so many other great bands. And being the only female artist on the album, my song is definitely a shout-out to all the female Autobots out there!

Are you looking to tour for your new material?

Yes! I do have some exciting things in the works for this fall. I’m still working out the details, but stay tuned!

Is your partner Josh Bartholomew involved with your upcoming album? Does Elle Rae take separate artistic space from JoLi?

Josh and I are always collaborating. JoLi is the moniker we use for the music we make for film/TV. Elle Rae is definitely separate from that. That said, we’ve written and produced songs for my upcoming record and we wrote “Into the Fire” for the Transformers compilation together as well. I had this baritone guitar riff and a verse melody, but had no idea where to take it. Josh picked up a bass and we proceeded to finish the entire song in about 20 minutes. Writing together is just so fluid because we have so much trust and respect for each other’s process.

Exclusive video from Hasbro

As a fan, I am curious about working with Tegan and Sara during their performance and recording of your award winning and Grammy/Oscar nominated song “Everything is Awesome” for the LEGO Movie. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

It’s so surreal to be part of such a phenomenon like “Everything Is Awesome.” As fate would have it, Josh and I still haven’t officially met Tegan and Sara. The long story short is that the movie studio brought them on board to record the song after it had been written. We do have each others’ numbers and were excitedly texting each other before the Oscars. What an epic Oscar moment that performance was! They’re so rad and I love their version of the song!

As an even larger Pumpkins fan, I am very, very interested in your career with the band. The Zeitgeist era, I personally think, was one of the greatest periods of the band and the material from Zeitgeist and surrounding work written around that time to be marvelous. Could you please sum up your thoughts on your experience with the Smashing Pumpkins?

I am a huge fan of that record as well. The writing, the production, the album artwork, It’s brilliant. I’m also nostalgic about it because it represents a time of musical and personal renaissance for me. I was going through a turbulent time in my personal life and being on the road enabled me to escape the drama, turn off the outside noise and focus on bettering myself as a musician. I was a Jazz Piano Major, fresh out of USC and probably the most unlikely candidate to join a rock band. My Dad was a film composer so I grew up listening to film scores, classical music, and jazz. When I got the Pumpkins gig, I knew that I had a lot of studying to do if I was going to play the songs authentically. I veraciously studied any rock records I could get my hands on. It was like I was back in school. I bought my very first Moog synth with Billy at the Moog factory in Asheville. It was during the Asheville residency that I discovered the power of designing new sounds and customizing them on the fly. Until that point, I really only played acoustic piano. It was both liberating and exciting to take such a huge musical high dive into such an incredible body of work.

What are your some of your favorite elements of the Pumpkins? Be it studio material, live show experiences, artistic messages, etc.

You might expect such an established band to rest on their former achievements but SP are never content to be who they were yesterday. They’re constantly forging ahead, trying to break new ground. That has always been very inspiring to me, as an artist. I also think the duality of the sonic landscape/subject matter really speaks to people. It’s brutal and tender, heavy and ethereal, severe and romantic. Not many bands today are as multi-faceted or have such a wide dynamic and emotional range. I think that is one of the keys to their longevity and continued success.

I’m sure you heard about the recent Pumpkins reunion with founding member James Iha recently. Any opinions on that?

Of course, I was out of town that weekend! I was bummed to have missed such a cool moment. I saw some video on IG and you could feel that OG Pumpkin magic and chemistry.

Where was your favorite live experience with the Pumpkins? What made it that way?

The residencies in Asheville and San Fransisco were so special for me. Learning how to keep each night musically fresh. We took a lot of chances with elaborate 40-minute arrangements of Gossamer with multiple movements. Billy was also writing a lot and we rehearsed vigorously to keep up with his creative flow. It was very challenging musically and I loved that.

Where do you think music, in a general sense, is going?

Oh, that’s a tricky question… We’re at a time where there’s so much great music to discover. As a creative, it’s easier than ever to get content out into the world and more convenient than ever for the listener to find it. On that note, I do have one hope for the immediate future… I hope all these paid streaming platforms will start paying royalties to writers/artists more equitably. The law hasn’t quite caught up with the technology and it’s so disappointing that these profitable companies are able make up the rules as they go. I know there’s a huge class action lawsuit with Cracker and Spotify going on right now. Fingers crossed!

What have you been listening to lately?

Where to start? It’s such a mixed bag these days. I’ve really been loving the resurgence of creative pop music. On that tip, Borns “Dopamine” is such a great record. Kimbra’s “Love in High Places” is crazy good. Alabama Shakes “Sound & Colour” sounds incredible on vinyl. It’s so vibey and classic, yet fresh and futuristic. I heard PJ Harvey is working on a new record and I am so stoked to hear that! Okay, I’ll stop there… Wait! One more. Lianna La Havas is a phenomenal singer/songwriter/guitarist from the UK. Love her!

Is there anyone (and you seem to have played with just about everyone) you haven’t collaborated with that you hope to?

Imogen Heap has been a big influence on me as a sound designer and producer. She is a fellow gear nerd and I would love to chill in her studio and get creative with all of our toys!

Has the music industry treated you well?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of the cliché, bad music industry experiences, but I have been very lucky to work with so many talented people and have such a varied and diverse career. I’ve had the opportunity to see the world while touring with incredible artists, I get to write songs all day and my solo project is being featured on a Transformers album. I’m a lucky gal, for sure.

Make sure to check out Roll Out on iTunes here and watch out for Elle Rae’s upcoming album, out later this year.

Billy Corgan and Lisa Harriton performing “Thirty Three” together June 5th, 2007.