Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan on learning to overcome self-loathing and negativity: "When I think about what plagued me in the ‘90s, I just laugh"

The Smashing Pumpkins press shot
(Image credit: Paul Elledge)

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has spoken about the intrusive negative thoughts he constantly obsessed over at the height of his band's mid '90s fame.

Last year, Corgan told New York’s WFAN Sports Radio, “I don’t know if you can be happy in the music business because the music business is sort of designed to mess with your head” and in a new interview with his long-time friend and supporter Howard Stern, the 56-year-old musician admits that even after Smashing Pumpkins found fame and success, he struggled to drown out the negative thoughts in his head.

Famously, Smashing Pumpkins were viewed as the 'black sheep' of the '90s alternative rock scene, with Corgan's unashamed love of classic rock and bemusement at his peers' punk rock guilt over their own success marking him out as a 'careerist' in the eyes of the sometimes sanctimonious Seattle grunge community, and the English music journalists who took their cues from the gospel of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. In Corgan's mind, as he remembers it, his band's every move was met with "constant criticism".

“Now, let me say this, maybe there was a lot of praise, but I didn’t hear it because when you’re in that mindset you just hear the criticism,” he tells Stern, as Smashing Pumpkins guested on the media personality's SiriusXM vehicle The Howard Stern Show. “My memory was like, we would get on stage and play to 15,000 people, and I’d walk off stage, and somebody would [say], ‘You shouldn’t have done that … You’re such an idiot’.”

Corgan goes on to tell Stern that he sometimes felt like a world-class chef being asked to dumb down his menu for mass consumption.

“You made an amazing meal, and somebody takes you in a room and goes, ‘If you’d just make a fucking hot dog you’d be 10 times bigger and make a ton of money’,” he says.

“If your own parents tell you you’re a fucking idiot, and then a guy 15 years down the road is calling you an idiot - and he’s the manager of [successful bands] - you’re thinking, ‘Well, that’s just how it is. What do I know?’” 

The vocalist/guitarist says that even after his band created classic alt. rock anthems such as Siamese Dream single Disarm, he didn't feel supported by the team around his band in the music industry.

“Not once after that song did anybody in my life - anybody - pull me in a room and say, ‘Can you give me more of that?’… They were like, ‘Give me more of the ones that sell sausages’.”

On a happier, more upbeat note, Corgan adds, “When I think about what plagued me in the ‘90s, I just laugh. I was so obsessed with a bunch of stuff that didn’t matter.”

Watch Corgan and Stern in conversation below:

Earlier this week, Smashing Pumpkins announced a new single, Spellbinding, and summer dates for their The World Is A Vampire North American tour.

They will play:

Jul 28: Las Vegas The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan, NV
Jul 30: Las Vegas The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan, NV
Aug 01: Salt Lake City USANA Amphitheatre, UT
Aug 03: Mountain View Shoreline Amphitheatre, CA
Aug 05: Auburn White River Amphitheatre, WA
Aug 06: Bend Hayden Homes Amphitheater, OR
Aug 07: Wheatland Toyota Amphitheatre, CA
Aug 09: Irvine FivePoint Amphitheatre, CA
Aug 10: Chula Vista North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, CA
Aug 11: Highland Yaamava’ Resort & Casino, CA
Aug 13: Albuquerque Isleta Amphitheater, NM
Aug 15: Dallas Dos Equis Pavillion, TX
Aug 16: Rogers Walmart AMP, AR
Aug 17: Huntsville The Orion Amphitheater, AL
Aug 19: West Palm Beach iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre, FL
Aug 20: Tampa MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre, FL
Aug 22: Charlotte PNC Music Pavilion, NC
Aug 24: Holmdel PNC Bank Arts Center, NJ
Aug 25: Gilford Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, NH
Aug 30: Wantagh Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, NY
Aug 31: Bristow Jiffy Lube Live, VA
Sep 02: Toronto Budweiser Stage, ON
Sep 03: Ottawa Canadian Tire Centre, ON
Sep 06: Clarkston Pine Knob Music Theatre, MI
Sep 08: Franklin FirstBank Amphitheater, TN
Sep 09: Noblesville Ruoff Music Center, IN

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.