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Why I Love: sleepmakeswaves on Smashing Pumpkins

Australian instrumental post-rockers sleepmakeswaves have released 3 EP’s in 2020; three years since their 2017 release, Made Of Breath Only. The latest project, the EP trilogy titled ‘these are not your dreams’ began with No Safe Place, followed by Out Of Hours and Not An Exit – the whole trilogy combining to create a final collection (our review here).

We’re lucky to have the sleepmakeswaves bassist/keyboardist, Alex Wilson, with us. He writes about his love of the music of The Smashing Pumpkins; a band that blazed a trail in the 1990’s and beyond.

Smashing Pumpkins' 'Siamese Dream' - Rolling Stone
Smashing Pumpkins

As a tall cantankerous control freak who started balding at age 20, it’s only fitting that I choose Billy Corgan’s absurdly-named rock monolith for my entry in this series.

Around the turn of the millennium,14ish-year-old me bought 1993’s Siamese Dream on shrink-wrapped compact disc. My big passions at the time were Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and Tool, so a record with a couple of little girls on the cover and a logo made from a love heart weren’t on brand for me back then. But hell, AllMusic (my bible at the time) had anointed it with five stars and promised big riffs, so I was in!

Of course, the Pumpkins indeed rock. We all know this. But while it was the heat that brought me in to begin with, it’s the cool that’s kept me a fan for so long. I don’t mean cool as in “that’s heaps cool”. Because whatever else they were, the Pumpkins were not very cool. Not even at their commercial peak.

I’m talking about cooling yin that offsets fiery yang. A sense of balance that’s not just sonic but also emotional. Sometimes this happens within a single song. Like how the lightning-fast distorted rush of “Geek USA” abruptly collapses into chilled psychedelic interlude with a quarter-time feel. Or how the fuzzy curtain of “Hummer” is peeled back to reveal a gorgeous outro built on jazzy drum pitter-patter and gently plucked psychedelic guitars.

The next classic Pumpkins record, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, took his passion for light and shade to double-album proportions. For my money, not many artists have the same mastery of juxtaposition as Corgan showed here. Just take the singles. “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” are blistering and misanthropic, “1979” and “Tonight, Tonight” beautifully tender and sentimental. All four shot up the charts and have gone down in history as classics.

My memory of the pre-Napster, pre-Spotify music world was that genre was a big deal and drew harsh lines between music fans. It was far harder than it is today to honestly say you love Joanna Newsom and Dying Fetus equally. So at the time, the Pumpkins were proof to me that you could knock some of those barriers down, and their amazing blend of metallic ferocity with indie’s heart-on-sleeve presentation spoke volumes. I doubt I would have felt as confident to fuse bombastic riffage and chill ambience in my band sleepmakeswaves had I not studied the Pumpkins so intently.

Another reason why I love this band is that they played the everloving shit out of their instruments, flying the flag for virtuosity during the height of 90s slacker ethics. Like Metallica during their late 80s heyday, live Pumpkins shows from about 92 to 97 are almost uniformly phenomenal. Many are on YouTube. It’s more than just sheer chops though. The guitar solo in “Soma” embodies Corgan’s peculiar genius, sounding to me like the “Comfortably Numb” solo having a nervous breakdown. Gut-wrenching and brilliant.

And while the alt-rock scene was never short on fantastic drummers, the Pumpkins Jimmy Chamberlain remains my pick. In terms of rock power, he holds his own against the heaviest pounders, and his jazz background helped him bring swing, dynamics and detail to his performance. After decades of listening, I’m still discovering Jimmy moments that floor me. Boot up “Fuck You (An Ode To No One)” and check out the series of fills around 3:40 just before the solo (another great Corgan moment) hits. Phwoar.

I haven’t had time to go into the more controversial albums of the band’s classic era: Adore and the Machinas. They are more of a mixed bag but have plenty of great stuff, start with “Stand Inside Your Love”, “Behold! The Nightmare” and “Car Crash Star” if you’re interested. Unfortunately like many of our musical heroes, Corgan’s self-adoration, embarrassing beefs and ill-informed political punditry risk making people forget he earned his place at the top through incredible songs and amazing performances. No matter how many times he goes on Infowars or how many Veronicas he dates, his band is eternal for some of us.   

Listen to sleepmakeswaves’ Cascades from the first of the These Are Not Your Dreams EP trilogy: 

Many thanks to sleepmakeswaves and Alex Wilson for sharing their love of the music of The Smashing Pumpkins.

sleepmakeswaves: Official Website / Twitter / Facebook

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