Q: There's inherent tension between the guy who's weird, the outsider willing to alienate your audience, and the one who also wants to be part of the conversation, at the center of the culture. How do you resolve that?
A: I wanted to be from the normal "Leave it to Beaver" family and wasn't. I was being singled out about my birth mark, I was too tall, too weird. From the start I was on the outside. Maybe everyone goes through it. But I turned it into a narrative that is in my DNA. All the local bands were talking (expletive) about us when we started to get big. We were very isolated. We go to New York for the first time in 1990, it's Sonic Youth land. Again we don't fit. We go in with an adaptable sense of if we don't belong, we're going to storm your stage. You really want to be accepted, but you do this pose to get through.
Q: So how do you measure this album, whether it's successful or not? Through sales, or something else?
A: "Oceania" I think is going to turn the corner, and we're going to be positive for a while. I have to fight the temptation to blow it up. Maybe it's self-destructive. But if reaction so far can be a gauge, we've done something good. Hard core hater fans are liking it. People default to what they know when you don't give them something powerful. But if you give them something powerful, they all crawl back. We're all going through this collective identity crisis. We're online forming new personalities. The systems of things we used to count on, are breaking down, and it's a free for all. Success is how do we survive that. Success isn't record sales, it's street cachet. The temperature of the Pumpkins right now is pretty good. Six months ago, not so good. Two years ago, it was down the tubes. With this group we've rebuilt the credibility with the fan base. People were hearing the songs on YouTube a year ago, and I would get messages from fans, "Don't (mess) it up, Billy." They liked the songs and were worried I was going to mess up a good thing.
Q: You've decided to release the album through a major label, EMI, even though you've long said the traditional record-industry model is broken and beyond repair. What happened?
A: I still think that. But I thought naively that by becoming an entrepreneur and putting out my own music, that my fans would rally and help me market it. They didn't. I got, "This is the worst, retire," from some blogger. As a music fan of artists with a certain longevity like Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Neil Young, I want to hear all of it. The good, the not so good, everything. They've earned it. But that's not the way our country works. We're the absolute worst at appreciating that sort of thing.
Q: So social media is not the democracy we thought it was?
A: It's just allowed the most narcissistic among us to amass more power. But a lot of people in my generation are avoiding it. It's just not interesting. Chat boards chase away people who want to be positive, and they get shot down, so they retreat from it.
Q: So at what point did "Oceania" take shape as an album? Was there a turning point song or moment?
A: I'm in Sedona, the band is taking a break (in February 2011). I'm there by myself working with Bjorn. There is a message from the ex-wife of (former Electric Prunes bassist and recent Corgan collaborator) Mark Tulin. She's crying, he's dead of a heart attack, just 62 years old. I'd seen him two days before. His death hit me hard. It made me think, "What am I doing?" There were 400 people at his funeral. It was a joyous, joke-filled dinner, because that was his spirit. I went back to Sedona and went through all our music. We'd done 30 demos. I heard his bass parts and would cry. The band was in limbo. And it hit me, "If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it right." Stop (messing) around. You're 44 at the time, get off your pity party. You know how to make records, stop being a baby, just do it. It was like, I had a sense of purpose. I went into my old mode. I was ruthless in the '90s. I did whatever I had to do to get the band where it needed to be. There was one destination. It had to be big. And when I got there I realized it wasn't so great. The band went boom. I didn't have any more bullets in the round. I didn't want to have to justify anything. I had to let go of the band, the legacy, a new chapter. Better suit up. I got very sober, serious, very deliberate. I'm much kinder than I used to be, but I'm still ruthless. ... For a while there, I didn't want to be at the center of every decision when I was making records. But the best music I ever made I was at the center of every decision. I don't make any apologies about that anymore. I don't want to be in a windowless room poring over musical details. But that's the lesson I learned. I wasn't going to fail because I didn't go for it. (Chicago Cubs slugger) Dave Kingman was my idol as a kid. He was a .220 hitter. He struck out a lot. But when he hit the ball, it went way over the fence and through the window across the street.
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