Fans always can expect the unexpected from Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan.
When it seemed like he had defined the band’s ethereally bombastic sound with 1990s albums “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” he careened left into the coarser outfit Zwan, then a solo career, and continued to confound expectations.
He published a poetry book, got involved in professional wrestling promotion (he owns the National Wrestling Alliance), and opened his own tea house and art studio, Madame ZuZu’s, in his native Chicago suburb of Highland Park.
This year, he’s done an about-face with “CYR,” a bracing double-disc Pumpkins set, its 11th, featuring the mostly-original lineup of guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and longtime collaborator Jeff Schroeder on bass.
“I don’t know what it is in our DNA, but we seem to inspire a certain confidence in one another that I don’t think we have otherwise,” he says.
The pandemic hasn’t fazed the Grammy winner. He used his lockdown time to create a five-part animated web series called “IN ASHES,” set to a soundtrack of the 20-song “CYR,” which underwent its final mix in early March and was released Nov. 27.
He’s not just celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Mellon Collie” this year. He’s got an exclusive line of classy HUF apparel and is working on a 33-track follow-up to the definitive set as well as a more experimental effort. He’s crossing his fingers about “Mellon Collie” world tour projected for 2021.
“CYR” finds the singer-guitarist in his most propulsive form in years, in dark, retro-rocking anthems “Wyttch,” “Anno Satana” and the synth-buttressed title cut.
Esoteric literary references abound — James Joyce in “Wrath,” William Blake in “Tyger, Tyger” and Thomas De Quincey in “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” — maintaining Corgan’s reputation as one of rock’s most well-read aesthetes. But he never intended to put on lofty airs with the record.
At first, the name “CYR” —a most-asked meaning-of term on Google — was a nonsense word he came up with in his lifelong love of onomatopoeia. But the more Corgan researched its connection to Greek mythology, and the legend of the minotaur, the more he liked it.
“I’ve had experiences where I’ll have a feeling about a word, and then I’ll use the word, and then I’ll find out that it’s fairly accurate,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s intuition, or the fact that I’ve just read so much, I’ve absorbed a lot more than I thought I did.”
Musically, however, he had one prime directive in mind with the project. He just wanted to return to making exciting music again, 1992-Pumpkins style.
Corgan, 53, sees how his detractors, and he’s had a few over the years, often have underestimated him: “They became fixated on what they considered to be our music, fixated on the moments they considered to be our apotheosis, our apex. For years, their inner narrative was ‘grunge band, had some good songs, lead singer’s kind of weird, and once they fall apart they’ll never get it back together again.’ But we’re a peaks-and-valleys band, always have been, and when we feel a peak coming, we’ll surf harder.”
Through the years, the auteur had to descend to daunting lows and psychological losses. He had to mourn “the band that would never be again,” and then grieve the once-hoped-for kinship with other ‘90s outfits that never seemed to click. Finally, he had to be willing to let go of songwriting entirely.
“When I came out the other end of that, I thought, ‘I’ll be fine, even if it means I’ll just sit here, staring out the window.’ And in that time frame was literally when James Iha showed up,” he says.
There’s one more surprise twist in the Corgan saga. This serial bachelor — who over the years has been romantically linked to Jessica Simpson, Courtney Love, Emilie Autumn and Jessica Origliasso, among others — finally became a father, twice, with partner Chloe Mendel.
The family has been handling the pandemic quite well, in fact.
“The marriage is good, and my kids are nuts,” he says. “They’re Corgans, you know? They’re 5 and 2 and they’re bouncing off the wall! And I see flashes of music interest in them. I’ll catch them singing, and they definitely have the voice.”
So don’t be shocked if you one day see little Augustus Juppiter and Philomena Clementine joining dad onstage, he adds. “Because they’ve already got rock star names!”