If you’re confused why the letters “WPC” appear above the title of Billy Corgan’s new solo album, Ogilala, you can take comfort in knowing that last month’s record is still very much what you’d expect from the legendary Smashing Pumpkins songwriter. Even without a backing band and while using his full name (William Patrick Corgan, for those too lazy to look it up) in the liner notes, the 11-track release sounds like both modern and vintage Corgan wrapped into one package. For the artist, creating his first full-length solo project since 2005’s TheFutureEmbrace felt quite familiar as well, except for one slight departure.
“The most distinguishing factor about this one was me turning the production over to Rick [Rubin] and allowing myself to just be the artist while he guided the ship,” Corgan says. “Besides that, the act of recording and the commitment to it feels very similar [to past projects]. You get in front of a microphone, and it comes down to are you going to be able to get your ideas across the way you’d hoped when you wrote the songs. Generally speaking, recording to me is really a blur. It’s either enjoyable or it’s not, and I really enjoyed working with Rick.”
But while just about any artist would dream of working with a historic producer like Rubin, Corgan had become so used to handling everything on his own that it almost felt strange to give up the reigns at first. After spending most of his life as the driving force behind the Pumpkins, Zwan, and his various other projects, having someone the 50-year-old singer could trust working through the ins and outs of his latest work was a nice (and much needed) change of pace for Corgan.
“I actually really liked [giving up some control] because I was in a really low place in my life at that point and I needed to really focus on one thing instead of taking on all of the pressure,” Corgan says. “When you take on the writing, recording, and producing, sometimes you miss things or you don’t hear things as clearly as you should because you’re always in the room — you don’t get to leave the room for two hours and come back to hear something fresh. I was feeling a bit fried from my work with the Pumpkins for a while, and I think I just needed a bit of a break. It was the perfect combination of working with a friend and having someone there to guide me. It was a really relaxed enjoyable time.”
Of course, releasing Ogilala on its own wouldn’t be enough for the iconic musician, so Corgan also decided to team up with longtime collaborator Linda Strawberry to release Pillbox, a silent film set to the tunes of the new record. The visual — which screened in London, New York, Chicago, and LA last month — features a soldier’s journey through war and death, but maintains a clever and almost-silly tone through the bulk of it. Leave it to Corgan to be the one to take a seemingly serious subject matter and record and somehow turn it into a lighthearted and unexpectedly trippy adventure.
“I just wanted to make something fun that would hopefully have some kind of allegorical connection to the themes of the record, so I wrote this silent movie kind of guessing that it would go with the album but without being really sure,” Corgan says. “I insisted that we didn’t listen to the album while we were editing it, so the film would just kind of work on its own. After it was all edited, we put the music in and hoped that it would work — and we were kind of surprised that it had a nice synchronicity. It all feels fun, which is what I was after. I didn’t want anything too serious.”
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Along with the record and film, Corgan himself is wrapping up his 14-date solo tour with four shows at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery this weekend. The extended intimate shows will give his diehard fans a chance to connect with their favorite artist all over again, and the freedom of performing on his own means Corgan can shape the shows into whatever he wants at any given moment. But even for a guy who’s spent the last three decades on stages with a guitar in his hands, preparing to do a run of shows with no backing band means delving deeper into his own tunes than he ever has before.
“On paper, it doesn’t sound that different,” Corgan says of his current solo shows. “You just get a guy up there to sing and play guitar who’s playing some songs you know and some you don’t know, but it somehow does feel different. I think I’ve made a commitment to playing this style. I’ve been working for two months to prepare for the tour and really get into the deeper space of what it means to perform alone with no help. I think it’s more about the song and the singing and less about the razzle dazzle.
“It’s a totally different commitment level mentally,” Corgan continues. “It’s probably 10 times more pressure than playing even acoustic with an ensemble. There’s nothing compared to playing alone. I play two sets — and the whole show is cumulatively over two hours — so that level of commitment is pretty interesting. It’s like a different level of meditation or something. You have to go really deep into the song, and it really helps me understand the people I respect like Neil Young and Bob Dylan because it takes a level of commitment to just stand there and play those songs. I’ve always liked that as a fan, but going there on the artist side has been kind of eye-opening. At this point in my life, not much surprises me, but it was a surprising level of commitment.”
William Patrick Corgan will be at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on November 9-12. Tickets are sold out.