In the ’90s, teens who weren’t big into alt-rock recognized The Smashing Pumpkins from their guest spot on The Simpsons. Now, they know them from TikTok. Founder and frontman Billy Corgan admits he was initially puzzled by the band’s popularity on the app—the official Pumpkins account has almost half a million followers, many of whom were born between the group’s 2000 breakup and its subsequent reboot in 2006. A chat with his social media manager gave him some insight. “She told me she was talking to one fan who was 16 years old, and she asked the fan, ‘Why do you like the band?’ And the fan replied, ‘Because other people told me not to like the band.’”
For Corgan, an incisive counterculture icon, this response confirms that the group is striking the right chord with a new generation. The Smashing Pumpkins’ music has always been a refuge for the rebels, out- casts, and weirdos of the world. The band’s upcoming The World Is A Vampire Tour is Corgan’s attempt to take that sense of refuge on the road, crafting an intimate-yet-ambitious concert experience that revives the spirit of ’90s music festivals. Special guests include Interpol, Stone Temple Pilots, and Rival Sons—alongside champion wrestlers from the National Wrestling Alliance, which Corgan owns. The latter tie-in may seem odd, but the band’s past efforts to bring strongmen to the stage have been surprisingly successful.
“What’s been amazing is by presenting wrestling as equal to the bands on stage, the audience sort of picks up on the spirit and gets into it as part of the show,” Corgan explains. The focus of the tour is the Pumpkins’ new album, ATUM: A Rock Opera in Three Acts (pronounced like the season), which mixes genre-blurring synth and drum-infused tracks with sweeping soundscapes, all bolstered by Corgan’s signature narrative-driven lyricism.
Curating a set list from the sprawling project is a challenge Corgan and his bandmates are still tackling. Otherwise, the tour will be a familiar experience for the veteran performer, who describes his pre-show rituals as mundane. “I warm up for 45 minutes to be able to sing songs I wrote when I was 25, and I lace my shoes up tight because you never know what’s gonna happen up there,” he says with a laugh. His joke holds a kernel of truth: You never know what The Smashing Pumpkins will do next, but what you do know is that it’ll be worth tuning in for.
Smashing Pumpkins’ The World Is A Vampire Tour kicks off on July 28, 2023.
Photography Jonny Marlow