Billy Corgan & Kevin Parker talk ’90s nostalgia, the current state of rock, and more
The latest addition to Rolling Stone's Musicians on Musicians series, which lets musicians interview each other, features Kevin Parker of Tame Impala in conversation with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Kevin recalls first being introduced to Smashing Pumpkins by his older brother when he was young; "It was like an indescribable cross between optimistic and sad music," he said, noting that all of his friends were into Rage Against the Machine at that time.
Smashing Pumpkins' 1993 classic Siamese Dream, Kevin continued, helped inspire him to begin writing songs as Tame Impala, which Corgan has a theory about: "Every generation has their own gateway album," he said. "For Gerard and Mikey Way [My Chemical Romance], their [favorite Pumpkins] album was Machina, because it was very distressed and of that time, the dawn of the internet age. I see Siamese Dream as kind of an idealized statement. After that, we explored every variation: brute-force reality, true darkness. But people are really attracted to idealism. What’s weird is we almost killed ourselves to do it."
As their conversation continues, Kevin describes the Nineties as the "golden era of rock & roll." "When I started making music, all I wanted to do was be in that kind of romantic, grungy scene. It’s this fantasy that I hold in my mind now," he continued.
"I don’t think we realized what a great time it was," Billy responded; "the breakthrough of alternative music. The Cure, Depeche Mode, U2 — there had been so many great bands [before]. But once Nevermind cracked everything open, suddenly the world was open to weird bands. We had our sanity, we hadn’t done too many drugs yet. The golden era, to use your words, was ’91 to about ’96. Then it was over."
Billy and Kevin also touch on the current state of rock, with Kevin saying, "I feel like the best thing about music now is that there are kind of no rules. I feel like it’s one of the only good things about music now. We don’t have much else to rely on, other than that it can be done any way. [Things] are much less linear, in the way that there used to be mainstream music and alternative music. Those two things don’t exist so separately anymore. Even with pop music and rock & roll and hip-hop."
"It’s also less comforting these days that the type of music you listen to it defines your identity less," he continues. "I feel like when I was starting into rock & roll, if you listened to a type of music, it defined who you were, almost as though it defined which table you sat at at lunch. These days it’s so much more scattered."
"In terms of approach and style, I think that the closest thing to rock & roll is hip-hop," Billy says. "There unfortunately hasn’t been the evolution there in terms of how to play, to make the guitar as valuable as a synthesizer or something. If you’re a guitar player and you have a vision like I did or you do, then you’ll figure it out, even if it means turning your guitar upside down and running it through a blender. That’s just the way it’s worked, since before Elvis and through Elvis. I think those pioneers and heroes, I don’t think they would have stuck on it. They would have been on to whatever was the most exciting thing."
"Rock & roll has to be willing and able to be dangerous," he continued. "When I hear great artists like yourself or Grimes, you guys are figuring out a way to bring what I would call the violence and the beautiful sort of fuzz into the current state. The moment rock gives up the mantle of being willing to step over a particular line, it’s dead. Some of the most powerful moments in the 20th century [happened] when a musician was willing to say, 'I’m going to go against the grain of what is the thinking of the times,' whether it was Elvis’ integration of different worlds as far as music went, Bob Dylan standing on the steps near Martin Luther King playing 'Blowing in the Wind,' or the Beatles singing 'Revolution.' There are moments in time when musicians are willing to go against what everybody thinks at the time and say, 'No, this is bullshit.'
Their conversation touches on much more, too, and you can read it in full on Rolling Stone.