On his personal Instagram account, Billy Corgan recently shared a story that featured a picture of Black Sabbath. He told his fans that “for yours truly, it always starts and ends with Sabbath. Because no band has inspired me more.”
In a conversation with Chuck Armstrong on Friday night’s Loudwire Nights, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman explained why Sabbath are so deeply meaningful to him.
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“Sabbath was the first band I really personally connected with,” Corgan told Chuck. “I loved The Beatles when I was five years old, but Sabbath, they were making music for me and I didn’t know what that meant. I couldn’t even really articulate it even today. There’s something about Sabbath that makes me think about the stars and the moon and how it’s a big, crazy universe out there and we’re just kind of navigating here on this little planet.”
Beyond the cosmic connection to Sabbath, Corgan also described them as a band with “humanity,” something he’s picked up on over the years of meeting and talking to them; he even worked with Tony Iommi on his debut solo album, Iommi, in 2000.
“I once had this conversation with Tony and he was talking about how every time they came down from Birmingham to London,” Corgan recalled, “they would get creamed by the press. I was like, ‘I don’t understand.’ People pretty much recognized early on that something was going on with Sabbath. They were a big band. But he was like, ‘Yeah, but we were from Birmingham. We weren’t from London and because we weren’t from London, we would always get bad press. Every time we got in the van to go down to London we kind of groaned like, here we go. We know we’re gonna go do our trip and we’re gonna be fucking Black Sabbath, but in the back of our mind, we know there’s some guy that’s just going to have a go at us.'”
That humanity of the band and the reality that even Sabbath weren’t untouchable seemed to have made Corgan an even bigger fan, because he can relate to those experiences.
“I think the commonality between us and bands like Thin Lizzy or Judas Priest or Black Sabbath and even Queen to a certain extent, it’s the connection,” he said. “Because people really came from this working-class background and they made very aspirational music and somewhere in there some critic just doesn’t like the way they walk or the things they’re singing about.”
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He explained to Chuck that he believes most of the world comes from a humble place and most people can connect through common struggles like paying bills or helping a family member or friend who is dealing with addiction.
“This is most of the world’s reality, at least in the Western world, and yet if you look at most of what the media will focus on, historically in rock and alternative it’s a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t have to do with that,” Corgan said. “It’s a bunch of other values and they tend to come more out of colleges. I tend to emotionally identify with people who are representing, for me, a kind of guide map of how to get out of the ‘burbs and into the stars.”
Saying that, Corgan brought things back to his love of Sabbath as a young kid.
“At eight years old, I heard Sabbath and I felt that. Oh my god, what is that feeling?”
Heavy Metal Riffs and Balls to the Wall
While Corgan could have likely talked about Sabbath for the whole show, Chuck tried shifting things toward one of his personal favorite bands, Metallica. As Chuck told Corgan, he thought he heard some Metallica influence on the Smashing Pumpkins’ new album, Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts, specifically the track “Beguiled” from Act Two.
But before Chuck could make his case, Corgan stepped in with a surprise.
“I have to correct you,” Corgan said with a smile on his face. “It’s Accept. The influence is Accept. I love Accept, I think Accept is one of the great metal bands. I was a fan back in the ’80s and the first time I ever wrote the riff from “Beguiled,” I looked at Howard, my friend and co-pilot, and I said, ‘It’s Accept. I’m doing Accept. Balls to the Wall-era Accept.’ There’s just something about that tectonic, machine-like thing that Accept does.”
And it’s not just the music from Accept that made Corgan such a huge fan; it’s the vocals, too.
“Trust me, I wish I could sing like Udo Dirkschneider, what a fucking voice that guy’s got. God bless Udo.”
Corgan admitted that as much as “Beguiled” was inspired by Accept, his love of metal covers even more ground—and it often comes out with the Pumpkins.
“There’s a thing we figured out,” he told Chuck. “When we first started playing metallic riffs—not Metallica riffs—metallic-type riffs in the Pumpkins, a lot of the alternative people kind of thumbed their noses at us because they thought we were having a bit of a LARP, just putting on the mustache and playing the riff. There is something about our love of metal. We know we’re not a metal band by and large, but we can play metal.”
He explained that the Pumpkins can be a metal band if and when they want to, which he recognized isn’t always widely accepted by the metal community.
“I know it kind of pisses off some of the metal people because in metal, you gotta be a lifer, you gotta be all in, every song has to be screaming at the top of your brains,” he said, laughing to himself. “We really do love metal. We’ve always gone out of our way to pay tribute to those bands who have inspired us, Rainbow and Deep Purple, I don’t have to list the great bands … And if you look at it, we’ve really been one of the only true alternative bands that have gone out of our way to say, ‘Pay your tribute.’ I will always remind hipster journalists that Joy Division was very influenced by Black Sabbath and that’s something that makes their head explode because God forbid Black Sabbath had any influence on their precious alternative bands.”
In the same conversation, Corgan did offer Chuck an olive branch for his Metallica fandom.
“If you listen to a song on Atum called “Harmageddon,” that’s more to me like a Metallica riff.”
Listen to the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Harmageddon”
Billy Corgan joined Chuck Armstrong for Loudwire Nights on Friday, May 5; the show replays online here, and you can tune in live every weeknight at 7PM ET or on the Loudwire app; you can also see if the show is available on your local radio station. Stream Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts at this location and then check out the Smashing Pumpkins’ full tour schedule.
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