Smashing Pumpkins Changed My Life - By Lower Than Atlantis’ Mike Duce
Smashing Pumpkins aren’t just one of the most important bands in alternative rock history, they’re also among the most influential. Their songs have been covered by numerous acts ranging from the likes of Panic! At The Disco and Poison The Well, and their sound and spirit can be felt in artists across all genres and eras. To that end, here, Mike Duce from Brit rock heroes Lower Than Atlantis explains their unique appeal and how the band opened his mind to a whole new world of music.
I remember watching the Bullet With Butterfly Wings video on TV when I was a kid. I must have been about seven or eight. There’s that thing with the music you get into when you’re a kid where it’s hard to explain – if I could tell you what it was that appealed, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. I know that it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before, and it did something to me. Billy Corgan was a big factor in their appeal – whether it was his voice, or the fact that in the era I got into the Pumpkins he had a French crop hairstyle one minute, and then had no hair whatsoever the next, which I remember thinking was really cool, because he looked like Richard O’Brien from The Crystal Maze.
We didn’t have any money when I was a kid, so I didn’t buy music until I was about 13. I did, however, have a library card when I was about 11 or 12, so would go and take out CDs from there. I remember getting Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and The Presidents Of The United States Of America’s self-titled debut, and taking them to my mate Chris’ house, where I copied them and scanned the artwork.
I started learning guitar around about the same time, but at that point playing anything by them seemed so unachievable to me. I loved blink-182 and when I heard them I would think, ‘I could potentially play that if I put some graft in,’ but with Pumpkins there were so many layers of guitar that it was difficult to tell what was going on. A lot of it wasn’t necessarily riffs either, they were more like songs.
It wasn’t until about 15 or 16 that I had the confidence to try, and as with most guitarists, it was Today that I learned first. I remember learning the riff to The Everlasting Gaze from Machina later and thinking, ‘Why the fuck doesn’t mine sound as heavy?!’ In the earlier days of Lower Than Atlantis, we would play Bullet With Butterfly Wings in our set; and I don’t mind admitting I completely ripped off Zero on the song Normally Strange from our album Changing Tune. One key thing I’ve definitely nicked from Smashing Pumpkins and implemented in my own band is that dynamic where Billy plays that jingle-jangle kind of Strat sound over the top of James Iha playing that chunky Les Paul thing. I’ve probably pinched a bit of Billy’s nasal singing style, too.
Lower Than Atlantis, Normally Strange
I went with K! to do a guest review of a Smashing Pumpkins gig in Manchester a few years back, which was the first time I’d ever seen them live. They were incredible, even if it wasn’t the ‘classic’ line-up. I was supposed to do an interview with Billy afterwards, but the day before he said he wasn’t able to do it, and I was a bit gutted. Maybe it’s for the best: I’ve embarrassed myself in front of Mark Hoppus from blink-182, and I’ve embarrassed myself in front of Dave Grohl – and I imagine Billy wouldn’t be as lenient as those two. I’d like to meet him briefly, shake his hand and tell him how much he’s influenced me. I’ve seen the band live since, in Australia, where it was so loud our guitar tech had to leave, even though he had earplugs in.
Smashing Pumpkins are definitely in the top three in terms of having the biggest influence on me. They’re a band that makes pop songs essentially, but some of them are fucking evil. One of my favourite songs of all time is Try, Try, Try, from the album Machina. It’s the one I’d recommend to anyone starting out listening to the Pumpkins now – and you’ve got to watch the video too, because it will make you cry.
Smashing Pumpkins, Try, Try, Try
AS TOLD TO: James Hickie