How Billy Corgan stopped being Billy Corgan

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The Smashing Pumpkins frontman adopts a new — or is it old? — moniker for his solo work.

“Billy was never really my name,” the artist formerly known as Billy Corgan says.

“Even when I was a kid I was Bill, because my dad was Billy, so in some sort of churlish, 18-year-old moment I decided to be Billy. And that became the name I was in the band.”

The band he’s referring to, of course, is The Smashing Pumpkins. They burst onto the American indie scene in the early 90s, part of the grunge explosion that saw bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam break into the mainstream charts.

In that time, Billy Corgan was Billy Corgan  a gifted songwriter with a unique voice, but a domineering and divisive figure. He was the anchor in the band, which had numerous personnel issues, breaking up in 2000 before reforming with a slightly different line-up a few years later.

I found myself pottering around the house and not really knowing what to do. So, I took a road trip around America and started writing songs.

William Patrick Corgan

“Somewhere in my 40s I started to say, 'Just call me William',” Corgan told Double J's Myf Warhurst.

He was joking around, he says — if you called him Billy, he’d still respond — but the American music press grabbed hold of it.

“Suddenly then America — as only America could do — started running articles [saying] how dare I change my name back to my real name,” he says.

“In typical Pumpkin fashion, I thought, if there's a bit of controversy here, I am just going to go with it.”

And that’s how Billy Corgan became William Patrick Corgan. Ogilala, out this month, is his second solo album and the first under his full name.

Corgan says he was “about to lose [his] mind” in the period before writing the record. He was working on a new Pumpkins album, and nothing was panning out.

He considered taking a long break from music. He had recently bought the National Wrestling Alliance, and owns a tea shop in Chicago, his hometown. He had also recently had a child, Augustus Juppiter.

The Spaniards by William Patrick Corgan

“You're going through the motions and you don't want to,” he says of that period.

“You know you should feel enthusiastic, and then you kind of reach a point where you're like, 'I've either got to figure this out and move forward, or I have to get off the ship'. So, I jumped off the ship for the first time in my life, which was a bit strange.

“I found myself pottering around the house and not really knowing what to do. So, I took a road trip around America and started writing songs. After I had a pile of songs, I started thinking, ‘Oh, maybe there's a record here’. I wasn't expecting it. It came very naturally. I had no idea if the songs were good or bad, I just knew I was writing songs again.”

You go from low and kicking yourself to you're working with the best producer in the world and he's telling you what you are doing means something.

William Patrick Corgan

He worked with heavyweight producer Rick Rubin to develop the songs, some of the most spare and gentle he has released. Gone are the searing guitars and big drums of the best-known Pumpkins records. Ogilala is mostly piano- and acoustic guitar- based. A string quarter is crucial to the sound.

“It was really fortuitous in the strangest way,” he says.

“You go from low and kicking yourself to working with the best producer in the world and he's telling you what you are doing means something.”

Corgan says the response to the record is the best reception he’s had since 1995’s Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.

So, as he pursues his solo career, what does that mean for the Pumpkins? Will the original line-up, including key members Jimmy Chamberlin and D’arcy Wretzky, ever reform?

“I think that the door is open to us playing again,” he says.

“Things are really good behind the scenes, but there's a lot of moving parts there - people have children and schedules. I remain optimistic.”

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