Smashing Pumpkins' William Patrick Corgan Lost His Mind and Went Solo

William Patrick Corgan plays a solo show at the Boulder Theater on Sunday, October 29.
William Patrick Corgan plays a solo show at the Boulder Theater on Sunday, October 29. Alpha Pan
William Patrick Corgan lost his mind making what he thought would be the followup to the Smashing Pumpkins' 2014 Monuments to an Elegy.

“I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’” Corgan says. “I just wasn’t interested in the way that you need to be. For years, I’d struggled with trying to turn the page on the Pumpkins thing – not just who’s in the band, but also musically. I always viewed the band as an adaptable vehicle. I didn’t account for generational memory and ‘why can’t you sound like’…pick your year. And that happens to everybody. No one was picking on me. That happens to everybody.”

Corgan says he was trying to make something that was very future-leaning, but he ended up pulling the plug on the album and basically shut everything down in his home studio. He found himself bummed out, sitting at home, contemplating his next move. He thought, ‘You just need to get back to writing songs that you care about, and then the songs will tell you what to do.”

Inspiration came during a cross-country trip last year in an RV with a few buddies – a pro wrestler and an ex-Marine.

“I found myself writing songs again,” Corgan says. “Because I didn’t define it, it didn’t matter to me what the songs were for.”

Some of those songs would end up on Corgan’s brand-new solo album, Ogilala; he attributes his creative resurgence to breaking out of a bubble.

“Some call it the liberal bubble or whatever bubble that is,” he says, “and getting into flyover country and seeing what real Americans are going through on a daily basis, from every background — immigrants, you name it, and really connecting with the same place my family came from. This's sort of like the American dream — like, what is the American dream at this point?”

He thought about his ancestors who were poor but were able to build a middle-class life and have a home and safety. Connecting with them rebooted something in him and got him back to why he writes music.

“It’s not a causal link of ‘Oh, I want to write about America,’” he says. “It’s like, ‘This is why I became a musician, because I wanted to speak this language. It’s a weird analogy, but that’s why I’ve always in a certain way identified with Bruce Springsteen...because he speaks for a certain type of class of American.

“And though I speak for a different class of American, in many ways I’ve always identified with that conversation, even though that class of Americans has maybe moved on and doesn’t even want to be spoken to. It’s the suburban malaise, where the American dream went wrong with the Gen X kids or something.”

With a batch of songs written and thinking he might have an album, Corgan called legendary producer Rick Rubin, to see if he could recommend a young producer. Rubin said he was interested, and Corgan says he was so shocked he could have dropped the phone.

“I sent him the songs. About a month later he called me back and said, ‘I love the songs. Keep writing,’” Corgan says. “So I wrote a whole other batch and he loved those even more, and he said, ‘Let’s record.’”

The eleven songs on Ogilala are unabashedly stripped down, anchored by Corgan’s acoustic guitar or piano playing with the occasional string section or mellotron and a guest spot from former Pumpkins guitarist James Iha on “Processional.”

Corgan admits that the songs seemed to want little in the way of adornment but that he might have wanted to tinker with production had he been the producer. “I think my track record shows that,” he says. “I’ve had lots of people through the years that work with me say, ‘Man, the song’s really good. Just let it be what it is.’ And I’m like, ‘Nah, it needs more cowbell.’ I was happy to step aside and trust somebody else to make those calls.”

On Corgan’s tour in support of Ogilala, he’s playing the album in its entirety during the first set, and he says the second set will be an interesting walk through every period of his musical life.

“It’s pretty wild, because it’s a lot of music,” he says. “I think I released about 300 songs at this point, and there’s another hundred or so that are unreleased, so to try to define an era and say, ‘Okay, this song tonight is going to stand for this era’ and you know, in certain areas, it will probably feel inadequate, but I also want to do service to this other music that maybe has been overlooked or it just hasn’t been heard.”

William Patrick Corgan, 8 p.m. Sunday, October 29, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, $55-$75.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon