The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan recently recalled how people in the early ’90s struggled to define his band’s music. He added how he was one of the few alternative musicians who still played honest solos at a time when the practice had largely fallen out of fashion.
The Smashing Pumpkins are hard to categorize even today, but the release of their debut studio album “Gish” in 1991 really threw a curveball to the tastemakers of the period. The Pumpkins came out at a time when alternative music was swiftly becoming king, and “Gish” sounded as an alternative as it gets.
On the other hand, the album was also obviously different from anything the period’s rising stars – i.e. Nirvana and the whole Seattle crew – were doing, which made the Pumpkins a category of one.
Speaking to Rick Beato in a new interview, Billy Corgan looked back at how the period’s reviewers struggled to describe what his band was doing through comparisons with existing artists:
“At the time when [Gish] came out in 1991, all the reviews were [saying we sounded] like throwback psych, hippie crap, jam band, Grateful Dead…
“I think it was so not what people thought music would be that they just grasped at comparisons. I mean, there’s reviews that were like, ‘They sound like a cross between REM, The Black Crowes, and Jimi Hendrix… it didn’t even make sense. Like, the DNA splices they would put together to try to describe our music was so off.”
“I think part of it was that we didn’t know what we were doing”, muses Corgan as he tries to explain the early ’90s scene’s inability to put Smashing Pumpkins into a neat box. Another part is, of course, that they never adhered to modern conventions.
This desire to step out of the line is also apparent in Smashing Pumpkins’ stance on solos. The early ’90s famously weren’t friendly to guitarists who kept the tradition alive, but that didn’t prevent Corgan from dishing out some tasty licks:
“When people reacted to us, it was almost as if we were heretics or something; it was strange to us. And there was also the whole thing of playing solos, which was verboten in alternative circles at the time, you weren’t supposed to play solos. And if you even think of Kurt [Cobain] on Nirvana [songs], he would play ironic solos, but they weren’t real guitar solos…
“Kim Thayil would play solos, but they weren’t solos played by people who were necessarily trying to play like Richie Blackmore. I was trying to play Ritchie Blackmore. My father was a guitar player, so I came from that route of, like, if you’re gonna play a solo, you better play a good solo.”