An Interview with Jimmy Chamberlin of the Smashing Pumpkins

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

I recently sat down with hero of 90s alt-rock turned genre-bending drummer extraordinaire, Jimmy Chamberlin, of the seminal act, the Smashing Pumpkins. Chamberlin’s virtuosic fills have defined multiple generations, and continue to influence artists old and new alike to this day.

These days, while Chamberlin is still capable of his signature bombast, he’s added a new trick to his proverbial toolbox – patience, which is masterfully illustrated on the Pumpkins’ latest effort, Cyr. Chamberlins playing on the album is delightfully effective and still carries heavyweight punch, without excess.

In an age where many of his peers are slowing down, Chamberlin is setting himself up for long-term success with both the Pumpkins and throughout his various solo projects, which seemingly span every possible genre. Some will say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and to this end, Chamberlin, as always, continues to defy expectations, and push his playing forward to boundaries previously unknown.

This time around, among other things, Chamberlin and I discuss his latest solo effort, Honor, and its reception in the face of COVID, the Smashing Pumpkins’ follow-up to their boldest album yet, Cyr, how he’s adapted his style as he’s gotten older, the Pumpkins touring plans and a whole lot more

If you dig this chat with Jimmy and would like to learn more about his solo work, or the Smashing Pumpkins, hit the links to their respective web pages, and dive right in.

Andrew:
Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to dig in with us again. How have you been holding up since we last chatted? The last time we talked, Honor had just been released. Obviously, COVID has been ongoing, but what has the response been like since the album’s release?

Jimmy:
Very well, thank you. It’s been generally positive, although, with no real touring connected to the effort, it’s a little hard to get a bead on it.

Andrew:
Have you been able to test out any of the material from Honor in the live setting? If not, are you planning to?

Jimmy:
No, unfortunately, because of COVID, there was no opportunity to play together but yeah, the plan is always to try to find as much time as possible to get out and play our stuff.

Andrew:
I wanted to touch on your work with Frank Catalano as well. It’s been six years since the release of Bye Bye Blackbird. Do you and Frank have anything in works?

Jimmy:
Just some live dates coming up, although I do believe that we are going to record one of them for a live record.

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

Andrew:
Dialing back a bit still, in 2020, the Smashing Pumpkins put out Cyr, which seemed to have less of a focus on your distinctive jazzy fills and flourishes. Was that a conscious choice?

Jimmy:
Yeah, the challenge we made to ourselves was – could we make a Pumpkins record without relying on the obvious old tropes? Would the identity of the band remain intact without the benefit of the usual signifiers? With the Pumpkins, it’s always been about reinvention and learning new language-ing techniques. Cyr was really a journey into that. Ultimately, the goal was the modernization of the sound, in other words – do the songs and the interpretations hold up in a modern context?

Andrew:
The Smashing Pumpkins’ “classic” records are in some ways defined by your drumming. As you’ve gotten older, it seems you’ve made a shift more from a virtuoso style to a style that seems to be more centered around playing to what the song requires, which is perhaps evident with Cyr. If you can, expand on that sentiment for us.

Jimmy:
Well, believe it or not, my goal has always been to be part of the narrative. I have always felt that an understanding of the destination, emotion, meaning of the song is paramount in making good musical choices. As I get older, I find that I can say the same thing, and maybe a bit more elegantly, with fewer notes, or with a little more subtlety. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good bombast here and there, and there will be many more of those to come. It’s more that I find myself being attracted to, at least partially, to things that are understated.

Andrew:
With all that being said, Billy [Corgan] is on record that the Pumpkins are in the studio working on new material. Is there any truth to that? If so, can we hope for you to cut loose a bit more on this album from a drumming standpoint?

Jimmy:
We recently finished recording a thirty-three song “opera/play” type of endeavor that is the music to an incredible narrative/story that Billy wrote. We are still working on the release schedule, so stay tuned.

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

Andrew:
It’s been a few years since you and James Iha officially rejoined the band alongside Jeff [Schroeder
] and Billy. These days, how does the division of labor work out in the studio setting? Specifically, what do your contributions look like these days as opposed to the bands 90s and early 2000s years?

Jimmy:
It’s definitely changed in that we don’t really get together in a rehearsal space, and hash out tunes and arrangements. It’s become, as a lot of gigs these days, more of a kind of “work from home” deal. We all have studios, and all are capable of submitting well-recorded parts for arrangement purposes. On the last record, for instance, Billy and I worked on arrangements at his studio until we were familiar enough with the material to lay down some basic drum tracks. He worked off of those early grooves, moved the arranging and writing forward, added parts, and instrumentation as well. As the songs got closer to being somewhat finished, he started to send me the music. At this point, the music had evolved so that I had the benefit of scratch vocals, and because I had already heard the entire story, I had a pretty good idea of what the emotional destination for each track was. I then worked on the drum parts for about two months in preparation for recording, which we did at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. The other members of the band contributed similarly. With all that said, we both feel that recording this way has limitations in that, and to your earlier point, you do lose a bit of that visceral energy that comes from simply being in a room together. That’s not to say that the new record doesn’t rock, because, in some ways, it’s the heaviest we’ve ever sounded.

Andrew:
While the Pumpkins haven’t been able to tour in support of Cyr, you guys did play a rocking set at Riot Fest in the fall of 2021. What was the reception like, and how did the new songs go down with the crowds alongside the classic material?

Jimmy:
I felt like the songs went over well. The audience seemed to love the gear shift, so to speak, and it was fun for the band to kick around some new jams.

Andrew:
On the subject of live shows, the Pumpkins have some dates lined up for the spring in the Midwest and out on the West Coast, right? What sort of setlist can fans expect, and who will be supporting the band on this jaunt?

Jimmy:
Well, for the festivals, we try to keep it reasonable, with a good variety of our most popular songs, along with some dynamic choices to round things out. For the club shows, we are going all out old school.

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

Andrew:
Once the spring shows are in the books, will a large-scale tour of the east coast or overseas be announced?

Jimmy:
We are discussing that right now. Stay tuned!

Andrew:
Circling back to your solo work now. Are you working on a follow-up to Honor? If so, what sort of ideas do you have up your sleeve?

Jimmy:
[Billy] Mohler and I are in the talking stages right now, but I want the next Complex record to be a prog/metal record.

Andrew:
Having been at it for as long as you have, as a road warrior, and battle-tested veteran with many miles on your body, you’ve managed to maintain your stamina and are still playing and progressing at an incredible level, Jimmy. How do you keep yourself at the top of your game?

Jimmy:
Thank you! Well, I’m a vegan, I don’t smoke or drink alcohol, I exercise regularly, I have an incredible doctor, I practice, I meditate, and I’m happily married for twenty years. I have other things that I love – auto racing, motorcycles, word games, biking, hanging with my kids, etc.

Image credit: Steve Brazill

Andrew:
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? Musically, do you live with any regrets, or have anything left you’re still chasing on your proverbial musical bucket list?

Jimmy:
My younger self wouldn’t have listened to advice. As a musician, I just want to keep getting better and keep evolving. The great thing about this musical journey is that it’s never over. It begins anew every day, and I try to live in a state of gratitude for that.

Andrew:
Last one. In the immediate future, what’s next for Jimmy Chamberlin in all lanes?

Jimmy:
In all lanes, I’m trying to live in a higher state of consciousness through courage, acceptance, willingness, reason, and love.

All images courtesy of Jimmy Chamberlin

Interested in learning more about the Smashing Pumpkins? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

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