Jimmy Chamberlin was recently interviewed by the Talk Music with Scott Cowie podcast just a few days ago in an interview spanning about 25 minutes. Chamberlin talked deeply and extensively on his drum kit and history, first time seeing the Pumpkins, his future with the band, the Chicago music scene, Cream drummer Ginger Baker and more! The interview was very long though definitely 100% worth the listen, but some parts became awkward to transcribe out of context. For the full interview, it begins around 8:43. Alternative Nation has transcribed some key quotes.
On his historical drum kit
That configuration was just an easier way to play “I Am One”, before that I was having to play paradiddle on my sixteen inch floor tom and then move my hand back to the snare drum. So the only way that configuration could work was as a paradiddle and then I thought, “Well shit, I’m just gonna put a fourteen over here and then my kit will be like a four piece kit and the toms will be more like supplemental toms. So I look at it like snare, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, almost like a [John] Bonham type kit and then with two smaller toms in the middle. It just kinda stuck and I noticed there was new melodic opportunities with that configuration and people kept asking me about it, so I figured if people kept asking me about it, that I would just hang out to it.
First time seeing the Pumpkins
The first time I saw them… was not the time I heard them because I had gotten a demo tape from a friend of Billy and I’s before that. So, I had heard the songs and when I went to see them, they were playing: James, D’arcy and Billy with a drum machine. The idea was to bring me in, from my side of the fence and the Pumpkins’ side of the fence, to bring me in to play this iconic venue out in Chicago called the Cabaret Metro, which I wanted to play at and the band wanted to play at. So they brought me in because Joe Shanahan, one of my best friends, would not allow bands to play on that stage without a drummer [laughs] He was a bit of a purist when it came to that stuff. I mean obviously some bands did do that [play without a drummer] but the Pumpkins, I think Joe really liked the Pumpkins and was trying to guide them into a heavier sound.
First impressions of the Pumpkins
I thought they were okay, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I wasn’t into the stuff they were playing, so I wasn’t an “REM” fan. The music they were playing before I joined was very jangly rock stuff…very 2/4…I was thinking, “Okay, I can do this stuff in my sleep, but it’s not something that I’m into..and the way I play isn’t really going to be additive. I was listening to Tony Williams and stuff like that and Weather Report. So I wasn’t just gonna come in and start blowing chops all over this guy’s songs but I was certainly more interested in that kinda stuff. So, the first impressions of the band was, “Okay, I can play this stuff and it’s cool and I can play the Metro and I’ll probably be on my way,” but then once Billy and I started talking and started to work on some of the music he wanted to write that was a little bit heavier, then it started to reveal itself as something bigger. Then we started talking about heavier drums…stuff that was built around the drums. Once he heard me play he was like, “Oh, well let’s try this beat and let’s try this,” and we just started rocking out from that point.
What He Thought On the Pumpkins’ Future Potential and Success Starting Out
[laughs jovially] I heard this question a lot. Once you commit to something and are so inside of it, it’s hard to be objective. I mean obviously, I’d say things were happening but were happening at such a slow pace, it’s hard to really quantify kinda what’s going on in your own life. Like now I can look back and say, “Ah holy fuck that was a crazy time” or “Geez, I should’ve seen this coming.” But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to be objective or to have any kind of perspective, you’re just kinda in it. Back then I was just thinking my problems were like, “I got a cracked crash cymbal and I gotta get some drumheads”, right? [laughs] I wasn’t thinking like, “Man, we’re going places.” I was thinking like, “My drums sounds like shit, I gotta get to the drum store,” it was compartmentalized in the moment, as opposed to, “We got some grand plan for world domination and these are the components that are gonna get us there! ‘I Am One’ is gonna launch a thousand ships and we’re gonna do a crazy video, and then people are throw money…”
I mean, you’re never thinking like that… If I were to tell my dad, “I’m gonna start playing drums because I wanna make a lot of money,” my dad would’ve been like, “You’re out of your mind! You’re not gonna make any money playing the drums. In fact, you should go to a hospital right now and have your head examined.” So you never really start off playing because you wanna make money. We were kinda weird looking dudes and some one weird looking girl…we wanted to [inaudible] the opposite sex, that was good enough…and get a little bit of scratch on the side, some pay…Music outside of music is always kind of a bullshit play, right?
So you’re in the studio and you’re making great music, but you never really believe in the peripheral business that’s going on outside of it, right? Because you’re taught as a musician to be very guarded, very insular, very “Hey, I’m not gonna let anyone in on my art because they’re gonna piss all over it,” right? Even after how many years Billy and I have been working together, the twenty seven years or so, we’re like, “We still don’t trust those people!” We were having lunch the other day and I say, “Hey, you should just come to my house and we’ll play some music!” What a novel concept…With Siamese Dream, once I didn’t have to borrow money to eat, or not live in my car, or pay rent, you still don’t believe it but still, you’re getting by. Even later when the checks are rolling in, you’re still thinking like, “How long can I ride this fantasy until, like my dad said, I can get a real job?” [laughs]
Partnership with Billy Corgan and future with the band
“So the other day did you and Billy get to jam at all?”
Not yet no, it takes a long time with us. We’re getting older, so even getting lunch on the books takes a couple weeks but we’ll get together and do some playing soon here, probably after the new year, but you know we did the tour over the summer, we had a lot of fun, it was super easy, low stress. I think the one thing we’ve always known, in spite of the business, the “he said, she said” any of that stuff, when we get together, we make great music, at least we think it’s great and that’s what’s important to us. We have a good time doing it, we are both interested in the same types of components that make music like , “How did we create things that sound simplistic that are really complex on the inside?”, “How do we write things that sound like nursery rhymes from 30,000 feet but once you start to pull the layers away, are extremely complicated, and extremely interconnected?” So I think those things are always gonna be interesting to me and him. I think the stuff he does without me certainly sounds like, you know, not so much of that stuff, and I think the stuff he does with me, we kind of challenge each other to get like: “C’mon man, are we gonna play that change again? I mean, what are you talking about, you know?”
The Snare Drum Used on Gish
So I only used one snare on that record and unfortunately it wasn’t mine. It was Butch’s [Vig] recording custom Yamaha 5 ½ by 14 Steel Shell, which was a great drum…I’ve received checks from lots of people sampling that drum sound…it’s really great, it really set the tone, it set the stage for the expectation around recorded drums at least and really flew Butch up the flagpole as “the guy”, but a lot of that sound came from: A. the way I play, B. the room was very small, very compressed…when we recorded Gish I think everything except for “Snail” was one take…we just rehearsed the heck of it and went in and just cut it…and I think everything was one take, maybe two. But it was just Billy and I in the same room, tracking together, like literally as close as you and I are right now, as close as I am to the monitor, just like right there “we gotta get this super tight, right?” and then we put the other stuff on later, and that’s really how we record all the time. Like him and I, we have to see each other, we gotta know its all live to take, we’ve never used ProTools or click tracks or any of that stuff, we just kind of went for it. Gish set the stage for that stuff.
On Working with Butch Vig
Well it was great, Butch is a drummer, y’know he’s got a great hear for drum sound, he’s got his own opinions about drums, which some of them are good and some of them I don’t agree with, but nevertheless he is a great producer. He’s like a family member, you’re like living in a cave with him for four months, you can’t really not get to know him and really don’t have a choice as far as whether you’re gonna like him or not, neither one of you is going anywhere, but yeah Butch is great. I think it was super, exactly what the band needed at that time.
On Cream Drummer Ginger Baker and His Biodocumentary “Beware of Mr. Baker”, Influences on Zeitgeist
“Ah it’s amazing right? I’ve always been a fan but now I’m a much bigger fan [laughs] When Billy and I did Zeitgeist, we really wanted to find some type of new music, we wanted to find a whole new trip to get into, something that wasn’t rock, something that was really trance-y, like in a Depeche Mode way but more primitive. So we got way into Fela and Femi Kuti, and Ginger and Tony Allen and that stuff, we listened to that stuff all day long when we were making Zeitgeist. Especially for “United States” and those types of songs I was looking for like, “How can I write something that is super fucking compelling and super repetitive that is not gonna get boring over a ten minute thing?”
So you would listen to these Fela [Kuti] songs…and the drums would be doing four different things at the same time and would go on for five minutes before the horns would come in and keyboard would come in, so I really threw myself at the music and tried to figure out, “What are those components?”, besides the fact Tony Allen is a fucking great drummer and those other guys are ridiculously talented. What is it about those choices that they are making that keeps things interesting? Through that I obviously got into the Ginger Baker – Fela stuff and subsequently one of my friends who works at Vice or somebody, he was certainly not a drummer, he was like, “Have you seen this Ginger Baker movie?” and I was like, “Nah, I haven’t seen it” and then I watched it…I mean, Ginger is so good.
I was listening to Cream stuff that the other day. I mean you talk about that Fela stuff, when you listen and you think, “What makes it so interesting?” It’s not what they play, it’s how they play it, how those parts are suggested and the framework they create for themselves. With Ginger, his use of dynamics as a jazz drummer in a rock context, no one was ever playing like that…Nobody but Baker keyed in on the dynamics of that stuff, where he was actually removing stuff to make stuff more powerful, like not having crash cymbals where other guys would just lay down the crash. When you listen to Bonham, you can template where all the crashes will be. But with Baker, you’re always fucking up trying to play his parts because they’re so unconventional. When I’m putting Pumpkins stuff together I’m always thinking, “What can I remove?” What is this process of removal and is what I’m playing still compelling?…
On Future Collaborations
Anybody, I don’t care. Brad Meldau, I love Brad Meldau a lot. Brian Ferry, David Bowie, I mean anybody, I don’t have a dream like, “Oh!” I mean if it was anybody it would probably be Duke Ellington, if I could bring anyone back, or Thelonious Monk. But really, I’ve gotten so much out of the weirdest combination of music that I don’t really try to construct my own future, I just kinda let it happen.
The following Pumpkins album supposedly will not feature Chamberlin during the recording of the next album. However, the details of the next album have constantly been re-worked over this last year. Presumably, Billy, Jeff and the crew is finishing up the album ready for release. A single was expected around this time of year. With Chamberlin’s statement, he looks like he is slated for some kind of collaboration with Corgan and the context suggests performance. We’ll keep you updated. If you haven’t read the longest article in AN history, check out my Mellon Collie and the Infinite Retrospective.