“I got snookered in by bad people… what I would call cataclysmic behavioural stuff”: How it all went wrong for Billy Corgan’s post-Smashing Pumpkins 'supergroup' Zwan

Zwan in happier times.
(Image credit: Hayley Madden/Redferns)

Looking back on the period now, the first half-decade of the new millennium was a very confused, restless time for Billy Corgan. In a move that everyone saw coming, Smashing Pumpkins had come to a grinding halt in 2000 but rather than take stock and consider how to move forward, Corgan threw himself into what looked like anything and everything. There was a book of poetry (2004’s Blinking With Fists), and an electronic-heavy solo debut (TheFutureEmbrace, released in 2005) but before both of those came Zwan, the most turbulent project of Corgan’s career, quite the feat given the near-constant dysfunction that went on during the first incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins.

It's 20 years this month since the band – made up of Corgan, Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, guitarists David Pajo (ex-Slint) and Matt Sweeney (ex-Chavez) and bassist Paz Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle, currently in Pixies) – quietly dissolved just a year and a bit after the release of their only album Mary Star Of The Sea. Whilst they stayed dissolved, the quietly bit didn’t last long. As soon as Corgan began doing press for TheFutureEmbrace, he couldn’t help but dig out his former bandmates, Chamberlin aside.

“The problems got started while the record was being made,” Corgan told the Chicago Tribune in 2005. “Jimmy and I talk often, and we both thank God that it was not successful… if it had been, we would have been locked into it longer and the atom-bomb potential would have been bigger.”

Pressed by the publication as to what the issues in the band were, Corgan let rip. “The music wasn’t the big problem,” he said, “it was more their attitude. ‘Do we have to practice? I’d rather be hanging out at [Chicago bar] The Rainbo.’ Lifestyle stuff. And then you get into what I would call cataclysmic behavioural stuff. Sex acts between band members in public. People carrying drugs across borders… I just tried to do what I've always done, which is to patch it up and roll it out. You go into a denial state. I got snookered in by really bad people. It's embarrassing to me. But it wised me up to why I play, and who I love, and it made me appreciate my old band even more.”

It's quite the tirade – a group Corgan considered so rooted in discord that it seems to make him forget just how troubled the relationships in his previous band were. But his ex-bandmates have had their say since, too.

In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Lenchantin looked back on the band. After warmly recalling playing on Saturday Night Live, when Corgan chose to play her co-write Settle Down, her thoughts turned to working with the Smashing Pumpkins frontman. “I’m going to be blunt: If anyone is in the ring with Billy Corgan, it’s Billy Corgan. He’s been competing with himself since Siamese Dream came out. It was really affected him. He was able to sell 16 million records in the CD era. Now we’re getting into another era. This era is not about that.”

Honing in on Corgan’s claim about what he described as “cataclysmic behavioural stuff” between band members, Lenchantin laughed it off. “This is so Billy-esque,” she said. “He liked conflict. His thing was, ‘If we’re going to fight, let’s just do it in the media.’ And he has a voice in Chicago with the Chicago Tribune. That’s the way he communicated with people. That’s how he broke up the band.”

Speaking in 2017, guitarist David Pajo said watching the Trump campaign made him think of Corgan and how the two were so alike. “He’s got millions of dollars. He’s got that ego. He loves the ‘bully mentality’,” he said. “I don’t keep up with him, and I don’t wanna talk bad about him.”

Despite Corgan claiming that he’d never go near any Zwan material again, his stance has softened in recent years. Earlier this year, he revealed he was working on a Zwan boxset that contained a ton of unreleased material, telling Rolling Stone “I’m very excited because honestly, I personally think the best Zwan music didn’t get released — the acoustic side of the band, which is really what we should have done, and not tried to do an alternative pop record. That would’ve been the stronger effort, I think, and a more timeless thing.”

Zwan are noticeably still absent from streaming platforms, something that might change if the planned boxset comes to fruition. Here's hoping. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.