In this rare (but amazing) interview with Jeff Schroeder of the Smashing Pumpkins, Jeff talks to Music Radar about his time with the Pumpkins and what he plans to do in the future. For a full read check out Music Radar. But here are some of the highlights:
How Jeff got hired to be in the Pumpkins:
“How I joined goes back to 2006 when Billy and Jimmy were in LA working on Zeitgeist. A friend of mine who knew someone at their management company sent me an e-mail and said, ‘The Pumpkins are getting back together, and I think you’d be perfect for the band. Here’s their manager’s e-mail. You should send them a package.’ I wasn’t a professional musician or anything. I mean, I’d been in bands, but I didn’t have a bio and photo and all that stuff. To this day, I’m not interested in being that type of musician.
“But because I was a massive fan of the band – I’d seen the band many, many times, and I just loved Billy’s whole musical vision – I typed up a bio and sent it off, and a couple of days later I got a call from Jimmy Chamberlin. That was in the fall of 2006, and I’ve been here ever since.”
(During the Pumpkins tryouts) “It was me and another bass player, Jenni Tarma, who actually went on to play with Kylie Minogue and a few other people. She’s been around LA for a while – really good bass player. Jim, Jenni and I played a few songs, and then it evolved over time. We got together a few more times. I don’t think it was until a few months later that they made a real decision. They were cutting the record, so I’d go in, jam, hang out and see what they were doing. The relationship just grew and evolved.”
On the change in the lineup:
“Once Jimmy left, that was a big chance. It was a new era, and all the relationships were reconfigured. And once we found Nicole, you had those four people that made sense together.”
Playing and working on guitar with Billy:
“It’s actually quite difficult, because within the Pumpkins, Billy’s guitar is such a dominant voice. You have to work out a plan to play with him. You can either try to play like him, or you can do the other thing where you start forging an alternate voice or a counter voice to go along with that. That’s been fairly difficult because I’ve had to play differently than I would in my own music or how I would play if I were the only guitar player.
“It’s taken some time, but now, after five or six years, Billy and I rarely have to talk about what I’m doing. Through a lot of playing together and making a lot really bad mistakes, we’ve realized what works and what doesn’t work. It feels pretty natural now, but it’s something we’ve had to figure out. It took some doing.”
“To make the guitar parts sound like the Pumpkins is very difficult to do, even if technically it sounds easy. There’s a certain feel, an attack, a certain way to play the guitar – it’s the reason why no other band can sound like the Pumpkins, even though they are emulated.”
On the chemistry of the band:
“I think it’s a combination of both of those things. In the big scheme of things, you have four really decent people, which is strange in the rock world. Nobody is doing drugs, nobody is doing stupid stuff in life – we value being in a band, and we do what we can to maintain that. But then we’ve also had discussions about how to maintain that. Billy has been very clear that he doesn’t want to re-create the old dynamic with new people. So we watch ourselves and call ourselves on things.
“A lot of it has to do with maturity. We do value what we do, and we realize that it could go away, so we enjoy it while it’s here. But we also like being around each other.”
Working on Oceania:
“The last two songs on Teargarden, Lightning Strikes and Owata, were the first times the four of us recorded together. Oddly enough, it took what seemed to be a crazy-long time to do two songs. When you’re working piecemeal, you can lose focus on the big picture. So doing Oceania was more in line from what I grew up with. I’m an album guy.”
What Jeff is using:
“Over the last year or so, I’ve picked up some Les Pauls that I really like, and so now I get it. You get the right Les Paul, and it’ll be able to do things that a Strat or a Tele never can, which is great. Two completely different voices – Fender and Gibson. I’ve got a Les Paul from the Custom Shop with an iced tea flame top – it kind of looks like the Jimmy Page/Zeppelin guitar. It’s got such a vibe. Oh my, I love that guitar! [Laughs]
“I play that Les Paul on a lot of the new stuff, and I think I’ll be playing it a lot more in the future. I also have a ’50s goldtop reissue that I really like and am using. Those two guitars cover a lot of ground. Oh, and I have a white Les Paul Custom – I use it on some of the heavier stuff.
“For the new material that’s more atmospheric, I use Fender Jazzmasters and Jaguars, which I was very used to playing before the Pumpkins. On the old stuff, like on Thirty-Three, I’ll use a Jazzmaster. I just love the sound of those two guitars, the Jaguar and Jazzmaster.”
“Right now for the stage I’m using two Orange 4 x 12 cabinets with Celestion Vintage 30s – amazing. For amps, I’m using modified versions of Randall’s MTS Series, which are modular, so they have interchangeable preamps. The preamp section allows you to put in four different preamp modules – it’s a design that Bruce Egnator did, and Randall licensed it.”
“I have a Fractal MIDI controller with 15 loops. On the ground I have a bunch of pedals: the BCM Brian May, a whiteface Rat reissue, a Menatone Blue Collar overdrive, a Fulltone Plimsoul, a Line 6 M9, a Fulltone Clyde wah, a Boss RC-30 looper and the TC Flashback delay – but that’s the one you can buy only through Pro Guitar Shop.com. They call it the Alter Ego. I also have the Strymon El Capistan tape echo.
“In the effects loop of the preamp, I have the Eventide Time Factor, and I also have and an old Alesis MidiVerb 2, which I only use on preset 45, which is called the ‘Bloom’ setting. It’s a reverse reverb kind of thing, and it’s very beautiful.”
On his future:
“I was planning on being in academia and being a professor and teaching full time. At some point, it’s something I may return to. For the last two years, the band has been so incredibly busy, so I had to make a choice of one over the other. I love being in the band, so it wasn’t hard. But I am passionate about literature, and I think literature, music and art are so tied together.”
Jeff goes on to talk about when he is outside of the Pumpkins ”..There have been times when I’ve done some teaching, and once people knew what I was doing, they just couldn’t fathom why I’d want to be at a university. They thought I should be indulging in the fantasy – partying, doing drugs, all the things I don’t do.”