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.....Zwan does sound an awful
lot like Smashing Pumpkins. Rock 'n' roll has never been particularly kind to
second acts. Sure, countless artists have left the bands that established their
reputations and gone on to triumphant solo careers. But rare is the singer and
songwriter who has fronted two successful groups. Leave it to Chicago's Billy
Corgan to be the first to succeed. Corgan's new band Zwan wrapped up a week of
intensive promotional hoopla including A stop at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
"People have said, 'You're insane for trying to move forward with a new
band without playing anything from the past. This would not be the first time
that someone has called Corgan nuts. But while the former leader of the
Smashing Pumpkins is no longer the tormented soul who rode that band's
angst-ridden sound to the top of the charts through the alternative-rock '90s,
he is still a dedicated contraire committed to pursuing his own unique vision.
Comparisons between Zwan and the Pumpkins are inevitable, of course. Both are
hard-hitting guitar-rock bands with a tendency toward ethereal soundscapes and
a firm focus on its leader's expressions of heartfelt emotion. But Corgan
didn't want the comparisons to influence him either way, pro or con.
""There are moments when Zwan is going to be the zeitgeist of
something that's reminiscent" of the Pumpkins, Corgan admitted. "But
the question is: Are you borrowing from the past, or are you building on
it?" The roots of Zwan can be traced back long before the Pumpkins played
their farewell gig at Metro in December 2000. Corgan met and befriended
guitarist Matt Sweeney in the late '80s at the small but legendary rock club
Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ Sweeney and Corgan stayed in touch throughout the
Pumpkins' meteoric rise, and they vowed to make music together one day.
Meanwhile, Sweeney fronted the respected indie-rock band Chavez, recording two
albums of more abrasive noise-rock. Post-Pumpkins, the two picked up where
they'd left off years earlier, with Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain--always
the band member Corgan respected most--an inevitable part of the mix. It was
about a three- or four-month period before we started plotting another world
domination!" The fourth member to join the band was Dave Pajo, a veteran
of the revered Louisville, Ky., art-rock band Slint, who was also an early
member of Tortoise. Pajo originally came in on bass, but Corgan was drawn to
the concept of three guitars. For a while, Zwan considered going without a bass
player, but Corgan finally suggested the missing piece of the puzzle: Paz
Lenchantin, formerly of industrial rockers A Perfect Circle. In addition to
providing a solid bottom that perfectly compliments Chamberlain's often jazzy
drumming, Lenchantin's wispy vocals provide the perfect contrast to Corgan's
sometimes plaintive whine. Corgan has always had a voice that people either
love or hate, but he insists that he never considered not singing in Zwan. Nor
did he ever seriously contemplate a solo career. Zwan seems to be more of
collaboration than the Pumpkins, in terms of how the songs are actually
constructed, as well as in the more upbeat atmosphere surrounding the quintet.
"This is more like friends getting together to play than like going to
work" is how Chamberlain compares the two groups. "I mean, the
Pumpkins were a real job! This is like a labor of love, and that was just
labor." "The Pumpkins really were the collective mentality of the
four people, even though they didn't always see it that way," Corgan said.
"And the combination of the group dynamic with the cultural dynamic was
something I just kept feeding off of. "I don't think it's any mystery that
I just sort of went with the caricature at some point--'Machina' was the
immersion in that, like, 'OK, this is what you think I am, so I'm just going to
give you the double version of it, so it's so stupid you realize how stupid it
all was!' When all was said and done and the dust settled, it was like, 'OK,
now I am going to try to be the balance of the goofy and the funny and the
morose.'" Indeed, musically and lyrically, Zwan is a band that is all
about balance: contrasting quiet, fragile passages (the group is planning to
record an acoustic set for an upcoming DVD) with pieces that recall the vintage
bombast of "Gish," and building upon the more personal songwriting
style that Corgan introduced with "Adore," which remains the
Pumpkins' masterpiece. Smashing Pumpkins had a tendency to be so complex that
at times it got boring. Zwan is a very simple band made up of very talented
Musicians. Corgan recruited fellow Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlain to play drums.
Matt Sweeney of Chavez and David Pajo of Tortoise were brought in on guitar.
Finally, A Perfect Circle bassist Paz Lenchantin was brought on board and the
new band was complete.
...... By Randy Cohen
Publication Web Site All photos and written material courtesy of Rock
.Copyright © 2003
Billy Cogan: guitar, vocals, arranger, producer, mixing Jimmy Chamberlin:
drums Paz Lenchantin: bass, vocals David Pajo: guitar Matt Sweeney: guitar,