Smashing Pumpkins: Jimmy Chamberlin and the business of drumming up a different legacy
Long-serving drummer of one of the most successful alternative bands of the 1990s and now chief executive of the LiveOne music company will offer a dual perspective at the Music Summit
Jimmy Chamberlin, Smashing Pumpkins drummer turned LiveOne chief executive: “I hope to bring my perspective as a kind of elder statesmen of the music business.”
Best known as the long-serving drummer of one of the most successful alternative bands of the 1990s, The Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Chamberlin will rock into Dublin to speak at this year’s Music Summit, a spin-off from the Web Summit.
Chamberlin will be representing LiveOne Inc, a company, of which he is chief executive, that seeks to revolutionise and monetise the live streaming of online content via social media integration.
The Illinois-born drummer attributes part of his interest in business, specifically the Chicago tech scene, to his relationship with Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon. Early on, Chamberlin identified similarities between the technology and music industries. “It’s a pretty cool company that I have got involved with,” he says. “I left the Pumpkins in 2010 and I just took a year off to hang with my family and be with my daughter and my son and my wife, and just get acclimatised to being off the road. Then I started looking at what was going to be the next part of my career/legacy, whatever you want to call it.”
As a contributing member to acclaimed and commercially successful albums such as Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Chamberlin’s route up the corporate ladder is no doubt different from that of the many chief executives and other industry stakeholders attending the Music Summit. But involvement with the lucrative business side of The Smashing Pumpkins brought him to the conclusion that the economic side of things is usually intertwined with the creative side.
“I’m not saying I only want to make fun and I don’t want to make money . . . It was the same thing in the Pumpkins,” he says. “We wanted to be extremely creative, but our goal even at the height of indie rock, when it wasn’t cool to sell records and indie band X and indie band Y were making fun of us because we were having commercial success, we only wanted to participate at the highest level and we only wanted to sell the most amount of records.”
As expected, the question of U2’s choice of delivery mechanism for their latest album brought multiple viewpoints from the dual perspective of the chief executive/rock star. “So, yeah . . . I forgot we’re going to Dublin, right?” He laughs. “I think people often forget U2 are in the U2 business. Let’s not forget about that. U2 owe it to themselves to find the best possible way to market their music. Did they jump the shark a little bit? Maybe, but again the Pumpkins fell into this category in the 1990s, where we were arguably one of the biggest bands around, then all of a sudden you’re not only responsible for just your own career but somehow everyone else’s career as well, and that’s just not right.
“U2 are a great band, they’ve given us an unbelievable body of work, and all of us musicians owe them at least something. I can honestly say that every time I have played the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, as soon as my drums are set up I go into the beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
Although Chamberlin will be immersed in the buzz of “summit season” at his appearance in the RDS Dublin this month, the live presence of The Smashing Pumpkins in Ireland will always be recalled with sadness. In 1996, 17-year-old Bernadette O’Brien died as a result of crushing at a Pumpkins concert in Dublin’s Point Theatre. Chamberlin speaks slowly and calmly as he describes how he dealt with this event, with the fatal overdose in the same year of Pumpkins touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, and with his own much-publicised struggle with substance abuse. How did he pick himself up to get to a more positive place?
“Those are huge, monumental events in my life and those are things that I still think about a lot,” he says. “The way, at least in my opinion, that we pay respect to those types of things is that we change our behaviour. We listen to the universe and we go and we make adjustments. For the day I came out [to find] Jonathan was dead and the day that unfortunate individual died in Dublin, I mean, you have got to look at those events and do something about it . . . Those events have everything to do with my life with my wife and my success at a company and my ability to have the intact relationships I have right now. If we don’t learn from those events it just devalues them.”
Some years ago he and his wife made the decision to raise their family away from drugs and alcohol. He has been sober throughout the lives of his children.
At the summit, the LiveOne chief executive will no doubt have to field questions about his former band mate Billy Corgan. According to Chamberlin, the two are still great friends despite reports of a falling out after Chamberlin’s departure from the band in 2010.
Advice to new bands Despite having sold millions of units in the heyday of the CD, Chamberlin should be able to advise techies and music fans alike on the tough times bands face starting out.
“Corgan and I spent two or three years sharing cans of spaghetti and Beefaroni, and sometimes living in our cars,” he says. “Sometimes when people look at the Pumpkins they forget that the band was started in 1988. Siamese Dream came out in 1992-1993, so there are a lot of lean years in there.”
At next week’s summit, he adds, “I hope to bring my perspective as a kind of elder statesmen of the music business . . . As a young CEO, I am a huge student of my business. I approach it like I do the drum set and I try to go out there and hone my craft, and I hope to be a sponge and a fly on the wall and learn as much as I can from the great people that are going to be there.”
Jimmy Chamberlin will speak at the Music Summit in the RDS, Dublin, on Thursday, November 6th, at 1.35pm, on Music in a Digital Age, with Adrian Grenier (Shft) and Eric Wahlforss (Soundcloud)