Eric Davidson caught up with founding member and former drummer of The Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Chamberlin, at the Web Summit.
Growing up in a home that had seemingly endless avenues of musical inspiration, it’s no surprise that Jimmy Chamberlin’s taste and expertise of the industry is so vast. With a clarinet wielding father, a brother who played drums and a sister who liked Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell, Jimmy had a well of inspiration that seemed to mould his career in music.
“The first record I ever bought myself was Deep Purple's ‘Who Do We Think We Are’. I think I paid $4 for it and I wore that record out! Ian Paice was a huge influence on me. He was one of the early rock guys that I really gravitated towards.
“As I started to get better at drumming I got into early progressive music, like early Jeff Beck and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.”
It wasn’t long until Jimmy ditched his job on a soy bean farm and became a professional musician, but his first performance experiences can’t compare to the sold out arena days of The Smashing Pumpkins.
“Myself and a couple of neighbourhood kids used to play at the local games room under the name The Warrior Band. Then when I was 15 I started playing professionally. I took some lessons from Charlie Adams, who was a renowned drummer who happened to live close to my neighbourhood. I got a gig playing on a polka television show. It was really difficult to play that quietly with such control and speed. At the time you think of it as a bullshit gig but it was really a big part of honing my ability to play in the Pumpkins."
The Smashing Pumpkins burst onto the scene in the early 90s. Comparisons were made with Jane's Addiction, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But for the band, it wasn’t an overnight success.
“The band formed in the summer of 1988. There was a lot of gigging around town with no official releases until 1991. So that was almost two and a half years of pure starvation.
“I was living in my car and trying to only date girls who had apartments. You have to believe in what your doing because no one in their right mind would sleep in the back of their 72 Dodge Dart and think that was a cool thing to do.”
However, it seemed they knew something good was coming.
“For us there was only one way to do it, and that was to shoot for the top. Billy Corgan and I had a great musical relationship, we’d push each other in really interesting ways. We could see early on that the potential was there.”
So after a long period of great success in the 1990s Jimmy decided it was time to move on. After touring with the album ‘Machina’ the band went their separate ways. Nevertheless, Jimmy and Billy Corgan maintained a creative relationship.
“After we broke up myself and Billy formed the band Zwan. I then formed my own band The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, but in 2005 we decided to reform The Smashing Pumpkins.
“It was interesting to go back and listen to old Pumpkins music and try to emulate that. That Zeitgeist record was definitely a recreation of the past. There were some interesting musical choices that perhaps I wouldn’t have made if I weren’t in the vehicle that was The Pumpkins.
“What I was getting from the music we were making started to sour a little bit. Not that Billy and I weren’t getting along but the music wasn’t holding the same attachment with me as it had in the past. The thought that I would always be ‘the guy that was the drummer in The Smashing Pumpkins’ didn’t seem right.
“I felt the band deserved to have components that where really invested in it. Finding some young musicians who were so grateful to be in the band would take the music to another level.
"Billy and I could get together tomorrow and write an album and there’s no doubt that it would be great. But it’s got to go back to the ‘why’ of the record, we would do it to celebrate our relationship. Not to just churn out another fucking record."
Leaving The Smashing Pumpkins for good in 2010 Jimmy began to explore other creative outlets in his hometown.
“Tech-space in Chicago really started to take off when I was finishing up with the band. I knew some pretty successful CEO’s like Andrew Mason from Groupon, so I started to go to some investors meetings.”
(Jimmy’s talk with Chris Kaskie of Pitchfork at Web Summit’s Music Summit Stage)
“The music industry at that time was becoming very homogenised and I found the opposite to be true in many tech start-ups. Business was starting to take hold of music more than ever so seeing companies with a creative flow was great."
Jimmy was soon asked to be CEO of a new company specialising in changing the way the live streaming is consumed. LiveOne is Chicago based and released an application called Crowdsurfing to address the nature of analogue communication in live streaming.
“It’s the people around the content that makes it successful. That’s something that I’m totally familiar with having played all around the world. I didn’t know they were going to ask me to be CEO, but I talked it over with my wife and decided it was the right step.
“Hopefully the idea will become ubiquitous with live streaming. A situation where you and me can have a live conversation during an event in private about whether a concert is good or whether a football game is boring. It’s exciting!”
I didn’t know they were going to ask me to be CEO, but I talked it over with my wife and decided it was the right step.
Vinyl record sales are expected to reach one million for the first time since 1996. The last time they reached this number Jimmy had just released ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’. What does that signify to him about the way we’re listening to music today?
“I don’t think it’s a renaissance of vinyl. But saying that, it is a unique experience. I have a 12 year old daughter who’s a big music freak. She has access to my vinyl collection, and plays them in her room.
“It’s funny, because my daughter Audrey has become an especially big fan of David Bowie. My wife Laurie went to see David when she was pregnant with her and he put his hands on her belly, so he pretty much talked to Audrey before she was born. Now Audrey thinks Bowie is so cool, so we told her that story and she was so shocked!”
Nevertheless, Jimmy does think we’re living in a formative time for music, with many interesting things on the horizon.
“Music is always going to be representative of the people that buy it. Art is always a reflection of society, never the other way around. People don’t look at a painting and then go decide how to act. Today is a different environment that’s very reflective of the culture. How much time do we even have to listen to music these days? I talking to my former partner Billy about it, we both agreed that as two musicians we really don’t have a lot of time to listen to music. And that’s a shame.
“However, this new technology revolution will unearth some really sophisticated artists. How long did it take for Fela Kuti to get noticed? Now you can reference him in conversation. It took so long for The Pumpkins to trickle onto people’s radar. Now you can find an amazing guitar player from anywhere in the world, it’s right at your fingertips.”
Jimmy Chamberlin was speaking at Web Summit 2014 in the RDS about his new company LiveOne and it’s pioneering application, Crowdsurfing