Billy Corgan on how Smashing Pumpkins songs included guitar solos even though “you weren’t supposed to”

“I was trying to play Ritchie Blackmore.”

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins

Image: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

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Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan discusses the band’s insistence on having guitar solos in their songs despite the lack of support for the practice back in the 90s.

In a new interview with Rick Beato, Corgan discussed the band’s refusal and inability to be boxed in, saying “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.”

The musician also looked back on the industry’s reaction to Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album Gish, recalling in particular how the band’s music had supposedly puzzled fans and critics alike. He said, “At the time when it 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 R.E.M., 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 is that we didn’t know what we were doing, so what we did do was an invented language wholly unto ourselves,” Corgan explained. “It made sense to us and it shocked us when people reacted not so much negatively – we were used to that – it was like they didn’t understand what we were doing.”

“We’re like ‘It’s just kind of rock ‘n’ roll,’ like it sounds like Blue Cheer or something, you know. We didn’t think we were so far off the grid, that we were doing something, say as strange or different as Primus or something where you would go ‘oh that’s really different’…”

“We didn’t feel we were that different so when people reacted to us, almost as if we were heretics or something, it was strange to us.”

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