Of all the major alternative rock bands of the early '90s, the Smashing Pumpkins were the group least influenced by traditional underground rock. Lead guitarist/songwriter Billy Corgan fashioned an amalgam of progressive rock, heavy metal, goth rock, psychedelia, and dream pop, creating a layered, powerful sound driven by swirling, distorted guitars. Corgan was wise enough to exploit his angst-ridden lyrics, yet he never shied away from rock star posturing, even if he did cloak it in allegedly ironic gestures. In fact, the Smashing Pumpkins became the model for alternative rock success -- Nirvana was too destructive and Pearl Jam shunned success. The Pumpkins, on the other hand, knew how to play the game, signing to a major-subsidized indie for underground credibility and moving to the major in time to make the group a multi-platinum act. And when the group did achieve mass success with 1993's Siamese Dream, they went a long way to legitimize heavy metal and orchestrated prog rock, helping move alternative rock even closer to '70s AOR, especially in the eyes of radio programmers and mainstream audiences. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Pumpkins were able to withstand many internal problems and keep selling records, emerging as the longest-lasting and most successful alternative band of the early '90s.
The son of a jazz guitarist, Billy Corgan grew up in a Chicago suburb, leaving home at the age of 19 to move to Florida with his fledgling goth metal band, the Marked. After the band failed down South, he returned to Chicago around 1988, where he began working at a used-record store. At the shop he met James Iha (guitar), a graphic arts student at Loyola University, and the two began collaborating, performing and recording songs with a drum machine. Corgan met D'Arcy Wretzky at a club show; after arguing about the merits of the Dan Reed Network, the two became friends and she joined the group as a bassist. Soon, the band, who named themselves the Smashing Pumpkins, had gained a dedicated local following, including the head of a local club who booked them to open for Jane's Addiction. Before the pivotal concert, the band hired Jimmy Chamberlin, a former jazz musician, as their full-time drummer.
In 1990, the Smashing Pumpkins released their debut single, "I Am One," on the local Chicago label Limited Potential. The single quickly sold out, and in December, the band released "Tristessa" on Sub Pop. By this point, the Smashing Pumpkins had become the subject of a hot bidding war, and the group latched on to a clever way to move to a major label without losing indie credibility. They signed to Virgin Records, yet it was decided that the group's debut would be released on the Virgin subsidiary Caroline, then the band would move to the majors. The strategy worked; Gish, a majestic mix of Black Sabbath and dream pop produced by Butch Vig, became a huge college and modern rock hit upon its spring 1991 release. While it earned a large audience, many indie rock fans began to snipe at the Smashing Pumpkins, accusing them of being careerists. Such criticism did the band no harm and they embarked on an extensive supporting tour for Gish, which lasted over a year and included opening slots for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. During the Gish tour, tensions between bandmembers began to escalate, as Iha and D'Arcy, who had been lovers, went through a messy breakup, Chamberlin became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and Corgan entered a heavy depression. These tensions hadn't been resolved by the time the group entered the studio with Vig to record their second album.
Toward the beginning of the sessions, the Pumpkins were given significant exposure through the inclusion of "Drown" on the Singles soundtrack in the summer of 1992. As the sessions progressed, Corgan relieved himself of his depression by working heavily -- not only did he write a surplus of songs, he played nearly all of the guitars and bass on each recording, which meant that its release was delayed several times. The resulting album, Siamese Dream, was an immaculate production owing much to Queen, yet it was embraced by critics upon its July 1993 release. Siamese Dream became a blockbuster, debuting at number ten on the charts and establishing the group as stars. "Cherub Rock," the first single, was a modern rock hit, yet it was "Today" and the acoustic "Disarm" that sent the album into the stratosphere, as well as the group's relentless touring. The Smashing Pumpkins became the headliners of Lollapalooza 1994, and following the tour's completion, the band went back into the studio to record a new album that Corgan had already claimed would be a double-disc set. To tide fans over until the new album, the Pumpkins released the B-sides and rarities album Pisces Iscariot in October of 1994.
Working with producers Flood and Alan Moulder, the Smashing Pumpkins recorded as a full band for their third album, which turned out to be, as Corgan predicted, a double-disc set called Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Although many observers were skeptical about whether a double-disc set, especially one so ridiculously named, would be a commercial success, Mellon Collie became an even bigger hit than Siamese Dream, debuting at number one on the charts. On the strength of the singles "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "1979," "Zero," and "Tonight, Tonight," it would sell over four million copies in the U.S., eventually being certified platinum over eight times (each disc in the set counted separately toward certification). The Pumpkins had graduated to stadium shows for the Mellon Collie tour, and the band was at the peak of their popularity when things began to go wrong again. On July 12, prior to two shows at Madison Square Garden, the group's touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, died from a heroin overdose; he was with Jimmy Chamberlin, who survived his overdose. In the wake of the tragedy, the remaining Pumpkins fired Chamberlin and spent two months on hiatus as they recovered and searched for a new drummer. Early in August, they announced that Filter member Matt Walker would be their touring drummer, and Dennis Flemion, a member of the Frogs, would be their touring keyboardist for the remainder of the year. They returned to the stage at the end of August and spent the next five months on tour. During this time, Corgan contributed some music to Ron Howard's Ransom.
Early in 1997, once the Pumpkins left the road, Iha and D'Arcy launched Scratchie Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. In the spring, the Smashing Pumpkins recorded two songs for the soundtrack for Batman & Robin. Iha's solo debut, Let It Come Down, appeared in early 1998; Adore, the new Smashing Pumpkins LP, followed a few months later to disappointing sales and reviews. Chamberlin returned to the group and D'Arcy exited prior to the early-2000 release of MACHINA: The Machines of God. Several months later, Corgan announced his intentions to dissolve the band before the year was out. With former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur replacing D'Arcy, the band launched their farewell tour in 2000. Fans of the band received one last treat when Corgan and company worked feverishly to finish off tracks that were left over from the MACHINA sessions. Surprisingly, Virgin Records balked at the idea of releasing the 25-track set so close in time to their previous album, so the band put the entire album (going by the official title of Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music) on the Internet for fans to download for free. On December 2 of the same year, the Pumpkins played a mammoth final show at Chicago's Metro (also the venue at which the group played their first show back in 1988), before officially calling it quits. But the former members of the band didn't wait long before carrying on with other projects -- Corgan spent the summer of 2001 playing guitar with New Order on select concert dates, and later in the year, unveiled his new band, Zwan, including Chamberlin on drums (as well as former Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney and bassist Skullfisher). The other two former Pumpkins, Iha and Auf Der Maur, began putting together an alt-rock supergroup dubbed the Virgins, which may include such big names as Ryan Adams, former-Lemonhead Evan Dando, and former-D Generation leader Jesse Malin. The same year, a pair of postmortem Pumpkins collections were issued for the holiday season -- a double-disc collection and a DVD both called Greatest Hits. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato, All Music Guide
Biography by Steve Huey
Until Nine Inch Nails crossed over to the mainstream, Ministry did more than any other band to popularize industrial dance music, injecting large doses of punky, over-the-top aggression and roaring heavy metal guitar riffs that helped their music find favor with metal and alternative audiences outside of industrial's cult fan base. That's not to say Ministry had a commercial or generally accessible sound: they were unremittingly intense, abrasive, pounding, and repetitive, and not always guitar-oriented (samples, synthesizers, and tape effects were a primary focus just as often as guitars and distorted vocals). However, both live and in the studio, they achieved a huge, crushing sound that put most of their contemporaries in aggressive musical genres to shame; plus, founder and frontman Al Jourgensen gave the group a greater aura of style and theater than other industrial bands, who seemed rather faceless when compared with Jourgensen's leather-clad cowboy/biker look and the edgy shock tactics of such videos as "N.W.O." and "Just One Fix." After 1992's Psalm 69, which represented the peak of their popularity, Ministry's recorded output dwindled, partially because of myriad side projects and partially due to heroin abuse within the band, but continued to resurface through the rest of the decade.
Ministry was formed in 1981 by Alain Jourgensen (born Oct. 8, 1958, Havana, Cuba); he had moved to the U.S. with his mother while very young and lived in a succession of cities, eventually working as a radio DJ and joining a new wave band called Special Affect (fronted by future My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult leader Frankie Nardiello, aka Groovie Mann). Featuring drummer Stephen George, Ministry debuted with the Wax Trax! single "Cold Life," which -- typical of their early output -- was more in the synth pop/dance style of new wavers like the Human League or Thompson Twins. The album With Sympathy appeared on the major label Arista in 1983 and followed a similar musical direction, one that Jourgensen was dissatisfied with; he returned to Wax Trax! and recorded several singles while rethinking the band's style and forming his notorious side project the Revolting Cocks.
In 1985, with Jourgensen the only official member of Ministry, the Adrian Sherwood-produced Twitch was released by Sire Records; while not as aggressive as the group's later, more popular material, it found Jourgensen taking definite steps in that direction. Following a 1987 single with Skinny Puppy's Kevin Ogilvie (aka Nivek Ogre) as PTP, Jourgensen once again revamped Ministry, with former Blackouts bassist Paul Barker officially joining the lineup to complement Jourgensen's rediscovery of the guitar; fellow ex-Blackouts William Rieflin (drums) and Mike Scaccia (guitar), as well as vocalist Chris Connelly, were heavily showcased as collaborators for the first of several times on 1988's The Land of Rape and Honey. With Jourgensen and Barker credited as Hypo Luxa and Hermes Pan, respectively, this album proved to be Ministry's stylistic breakthrough, a taut, explosive fusion of heavy metal, industrial dance beats and samples, and punk aggression. 1989's The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste built on its predecessor's artistic success, and In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up was recorded on its supporting tour, introducing other frequent Ministry contributors like drummer Martin Atkins (later of Pigface) and guitarist William Tucker (as well as featuring a guest shot from Jello Biafra). Jourgensen next embarked on a flurry of side projects, including the aforementioned Revolting Cocks (with Barker, Barker's brother Roland, Front 242 members Luc Van Acker and Richard 23, and many more), 1000 Homo DJs (with Biafra, Rieflin, and Trent Reznor), Acid Horse, Pailhead (with Ian MacKaye), and Lard (again with Biafra, Paul Barker, Rieflin, and drummer Jeff Ward).
In late 1991, Ministry issued the single "Jesus Built My Hotrod," a driving rocker featuring manic nonsense vocals by co-writer Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers; its exposure on MTV helped build anticipation for the following year's full-length Psalm 69 (subtitled The Way to Succeed & the Way to Suck Eggs, although the only title that appears on the album consists of a few Greek letters and symbols). The record reached the Top 30 and went platinum, producing two further MTV hits with "N.W.O." and "Just One Fix," and Ministry consolidated its following with a spot on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour that summer (joined by new guitarist Louis Svitek). However, drug and legal problems sidelined the band in the wake of its newfound popularity, resulting in the clouded Filth Pig being released in 1995, too late to capitalize on their prior success. More problems with drugs and arrests followed, and Jourgensen returned to some of his side projects, recording a new album with Lard, among others. In 1999, the new single "Bad Blood" was featured prominently in the sci-fi special-effects blockbuster film The Matrix, setting the stage for the release of Dark Side of the Spoon (the title a reference to the band's heroin problems) later that summer. Guitarist William Tucker committed suicide in May 1999. The band was nominated for a Grammy in 2000 for "Bad Blood," but they lost to Black Sabbath and were dropped from Warner Bros. around the same time. They were also added to the Ozzfest tour, but they were kicked off before it even began because of a management change. To compound their sorrows, Ipecac Records announced three live albums to be released with material from the Psalm 69 tour being the main focus, but they only had a verbal agreement and when Warner Bros. caught wind of the project they stamped it out despite already having the CDs ready for printing. In 2001, the band filmed a scene for Steven Spielberg's A.I. and released the song from the film on a greatest-hits album, appropriately titled Greatest Fits. The song received a decent amount of promotion, but the single went nowhere and the group signed to Sanctuary Records later in the year. While recording new material, they released the Sphinctour album and DVD in the spring of 2002 to satisfy rabid fans who were disappointed by the Ipecac situation. The next spring, Animositisomina was released, advertised as a return to the Psalm 69 style of songwriting and featuring a cover of Magazine's "The Light Pours Out of Me." Houses of the Molé followed in June 2004.