William Patrick Corgan — better known as Billy to fans of his bands Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan — was ready for something new.
For his upcoming solo album, “Ogilala” (BMG), which hits stores on Friday, Oct. 13, Corgan let go of his need to be in control of every aspect of his music and asked Long Beach native Rick Rubin to lead the project. “I was really happy to let Rick just call the shots,” he says. “It was a rare moment in my life where I said, ‘I’m just going to be the artist and you kind of guide the process.’ I was really kind of in that place in my life anyway, so it kind of lined up perfectly.”
Though Corgan had meticulously built his own sound with pioneering ’90s alternative smashes like “Today” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” in recent years, hits and attention have been harder to come by.
“The last 15 years have been very confusing — not just to me, but to people who continue to pay attention,” he says. “I set out on a very particular journey and it didn’t turn out exactly the way I would have liked. I’m at peace with it, but there’s been a lot of weird, jagged things along the way, not the least of which is that the music business sort of imploded, too.”
In addition to continuing Smashing Pumpkins during that time frame, Corgan launched his own professional wrestling league, wrote a book of poetry and opened his own tea shop. “Trying to maintain your integrity and your composure in a completely different environment than the one you entered into — that in itself is worthy of a book,” says Corgan, laughing. “Musically, it’s been a bit of a muddle to figure out, ‘Who am I? Who am I in the band?’ Now that I have the wisdom of hindsight, I would have done a lot of things differently, but at the time I was always trying to forge my way forward with something that I thought was going to take me to a better place. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”
However, with “Ogilala,” he has found a bit more clarity. The first single, “Aeronaut,” is indicative of the entire album — simply Corgan’s voice and acoustic instruments, with no drums. “I was really willing to get out of the way and just focus on the performance,” he says. “All the takes are live. You have to say everything you want to say in this one take — there’s no second chances. . . . I kind of lost the plot a little bit as the producer. I know this may sound a little strange, but when you’re the writer and then you’re the performer and then you’re the producer, that’s a lot of responsibility for the whole process. If it lines up and it’s exactly the way you want it and you hit a home run, to ye goes all the glory. But I know there’s albums where I’ve written really good songs and I had good intentions as an artist, but the producer in me kind of let the whole process down.”
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Rubin didn’t want Corgan to try a song more than three times in a day. If what they got didn’t feel right, they would move on to something else. By the time, their two-week session at Rubin’s Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, was up, Corgan found himself with several songs still unfinished on the last day of recording. “I think that pressure was good because it brought something out that I might not have otherwise had,” he says.
Corgan plans to carry this spare, acoustic aesthetic into his upcoming tour, which starts Saturday, Oct. 14, at Brooklyn’s Murmrr Theatre. He is planning to do two full sets alone on stage. The first will be pulled from “Ogilala.” The second will feature songs from throughout his career. “It will be an interesting walk through my musical life,” he says. “I think I’ve written 250 to 300 songs that I’ve put out that I can jump into. I found a song the other day that I don’t even remember writing and that I only played once circa 2002 and I put it in one of the sets. It’s like finding a song under the bed. . . . The singular journey is the album, but there’s a bigger story that can be told with the whole catalog and hopefully it will feel that way when someone comes to a show.”
Corgan says this mostly acoustic tour will force him to focus on his lyrics and his vocals more than at a Smashing Pumpkins show. “In a rock song, you can get away with a so-so vocal and so-so lyric if the riff is good or something — sometimes it’s better if the lyric is kinda dumb if it goes with a cool riff,” he says. “Kurt Cobain was a master at singing what, on paper, looked like nonsense, but sounded significant when he sang it a certain way and when it was with a certain riff. Rock music can create an environment where you can get away with something. Acoustic music is so naked and it really goes back to the folk route of where the lyric really has to carry the song.”
WHO William Patrick Corgan
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, and Sunday, Oct. 15, Murmrr Theatre, 17 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn
INFO $65-$75; 877-987-6487, ticketfly.com
It started with a simple idea.
Levittown native Brian Kelly wanted to find an underutilized space that he could turn into a performance venue for emerging artists of all types, ones that may not have access to more mainstream venues. When Kelly walked into the synagogue just off Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, he knew he had found something special. “It’s so beautiful,” he says. “I knew immediately when I saw the space. It’s a 120-year-old building. It has stained-glass windows. It was originally built as a theater and then converted into a synagogue.”
After a few trial runs, the 700-person capacity Murmrr Theatre was established in August, booking a full slate of shows around the synagogue’s schedule. “We’re trying to aggregate a community,” Kelly says. “We want to build from there, with an ethos of supporting emerging artists.”
Not only does Murmrr want to give new artists a platform, it is trying to pay them more than other venues. “I’ve known the grind of barely making it for months and years,” says Kelly, best known for leading indie-rockers Aeroplane Pageant. “We’re trying to change the conversation.”
Soon, Murmrr had attracted Nile Rodgers and Tori Amos for shows, as well as next week’s shows with William Patrick Corgan and numerous up-and-comers like Mount Eerie.
Kelly says that he hopes to duplicate the success of Murmrr in other areas, including Long Island, helping create new scenes around underutilized American Legion halls, synagogues and other buildings.
“There is real value in taking a unique space and making it cool,” says Kelly, who is also looking forward to performing on the Murmrr stage. “It’s a long haul, but it can be done.”
— GLENN GAMBOA