The Smashing Pumpkins have got a new album, Cyr, out and so we had a chat with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin all about it, Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and how COVID-19 affected everything.
2020 has been an unexpectedly big year for The Smashing Pumpkins, with the release of a new double album Cyr and the unexpected announcement of a sequel to their seminal album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.
With the band in good spirits and plenty of time on their hands due to the pandemic, now’s as good of a time as any to talk to them about how everything is and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was more than happy to chat with Tone Deaf about all things music.
Since Cyr is now finally out in the world, that was the perfect place to kick off our chat except that I got things off to a slightly awkward start when I called the album “sire” rather than its correct pronunciation of “seer.” Thankfully, Jimmy was a good sport about it all.
“Cyr, like ‘seer’,” laughs Jimmy. “We love creating albums that no one can pronounce and then just laughing, including at ourselves.”
Difficult-to-pronounce names aside, Cyr is also the Smashing Pumpkins’ second double album and their first since Mellon Collie. Given the 25-year gap between those two records and where the band was back in 1995 compared to 2020, the recording of Cyr was much more different compared to Mellon Collie, unsurprisingly.
“We didn’t work quite as closely as a band [for Cyr],” recalls Jimmy. “Mellon Collie was the product of the four of us in a room for months and months and months and hashing out this magnum opus of work.”
“With [Cyr] it was more of a linear process. Billy and I started talking about this record in November/December 2018 and he started working on compositions in January and then started playing them for me. I worked on some stuff here in my studio, we recorded the drums at his studio, and it was, as I said a linear process, and also a lot of discovery.”
The recording approach wasn’t the only thing that was different either as the band discussed early on that they didn’t want another riff-heavy “Smashing Pumpkins” album. In saying that, they were also aware of making sure it still sounded like the band fans knew.
Check out ‘Cyr’ by The Smashing Pumpkins:
“You know, the thing with Cyr was we talked a lot at the beginning about what kind of record it was going to be and everybody was onboard with not making another syncopated, riff-heavy 90s record,” says Jimmy. “We knew we had a bunch of great songs, Billy is a great songwriter so he’s not going to be delivering anything subpar, but could we record those songs in a modern architecture and limit our ability to use old tropes to get on by, and can we retain enough identity of the band to have it sound like a Smashing Pumpkins record.”
“If I’m just playing groove stuff and it’s really synth-heavy and there’s not a lot of solos on there, how do we make it congruent with what we’re known for?” Jimmy muses. “It took a while to get our heads around what the languaging was and how the drum approach was going to be, how the sonics was going to be different, drum supplementation with drum machines, those sorts of things.”
“We thought about farming some of that stuff out and at some point we were like ‘let’s get a beats guy’, just somebody to make cool stuff and I could play on top. The closer we got to it, the more guarded we were about the ownership of [the album]. For us it’s always better to learn how to do stuff rather than tell somebody how to do something.”
Having listened to a number of synth-heavy songs off Cyr prior to the album’s release, I noted how there seemed to be influences from The Cure, New Order, and Depeche Mode but Jimmy says those bands, while influential, weren’t what drove the direction of Smashing Pumpkins’ new album.
“With us, it’s really just about moving towards excitement and that’s our signpost,” explains Jimmy. “If something sounds exciting to us, it’s not going to translate anyway. So for us, when we got into languaging for [Cyr] we just moved towards things that were exciting.”
“Maybe some of those things were influenced by what we heard in the past or reference but I would tell you that the early reference points for [Cyr] had more to do with early King Crimson.”
While taking influence from the past was one thing, the Smashing Pumpkins also wanted to stay tethered to current trends.
“[We were] trying to be concurrent with what’s going on musically, we don’t want to be the band that makes the same record over and over again,” says Jimmy. “We live in the modern world, we all have cell phones so why should we pretend to use old rotary dial phones at home to make music?”
“If we fall back on ‘oh it’s got synthesisers’ or ‘it sounds like The Cure’ I don’t think that’s accurate, that’s not what we’re really after.”