Billy Corgan is like the bad kid in class. You can chastise him all you want, but it won’t be long before he’s pulling on your arm, asking you for a new crayon. Merely months after the 2000 dissolution of the Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan began recording new songs with little more than the moniker that came to him while vacationing in Italy: Zwan. Now a full-fledged five-piece rock monster, Zwan makes its rounds to San Diego for the second time when it plays RIMAC Arena on April 21.
The Smashing Pumpkins was one of the most fascinatingly idiosyncratic bands of their time. Its unique brand of grandiose rock bombast won them both legions of diehard fans and jeers from skeptics, peaking commercially in the mid-’90s with hits like “”Today”” and “”1979.”” As the years wore on, the Pumpkins faced a string of internal problems including drug abuse, messy breakups and the death of their touring keyboardist. They went on to record two final, underappreciated albums but were rebuked by fans and the press for straying too far from their original sound.
Once the Pumpkins broke up, Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain agreed to work together again after taking at least a year off. After three months, Corgan, Chamberlain and guitarist Matt Sweeney were writing and rehearsing new music under the name Zwan. Sweeney and Corgan were longtime friends and mutual admirers of each other’s music (Sweeney fronted the indie guitar bands Skunk and Chavez) and had long before promised to work on music together. Together with indie legend Dave Pajo (of Slint and Tortoise fame), Zwan made their explosive live debut at Anaheim’s Glass House in late 2001. As Zwan ripped through their opening number, very little of the music could be heard over deafening screams and fanatical chanting of “”Billy! Billy!””
Zwan was already impressive at its outset, but they still needed a final push to further escape the shadow of the Pumpkins and establish their own identity. Enter beautiful Paz Lenchantin, formerly of A Perfect Circle, to handle bass and backup vocal duties, move Dave Pajo from bass to guitar, and you have Zwan’s current lineup. Chamberlain is one of rock’s most underrated drummers, now playing with more subtlety and clarity than ever. Lenchantin’s propelling basslines and Sweeney’s and Pajo’s intricate riffery set the stage for Corgan’s emotional voice and guitarwork, creating a swirling three-guitar attack that is unrelentingly flashy and dynamic.
Zwan’s debut, Mary Star of the Sea, is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Exuberant song titles like “”Baby, Let’s Rock!”” and “”Yeah!”” give only a glimpse of the in-your-face positivity present on the album. Corgan sings lines like “”There’s no place I could be without you,”” and “”Baby I’m the greatest thing you’ve got”” with the excitement of a 13-year-old discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the first time. Brilliant pop songs like current singles “”Honestly”” and “”Lyric”” spill over into acoustic gems like “”Of a Broken Heart,”” and epics like the 14-minute “”Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea.”” Zwan performs each one with equal dexterity and excitement, the rainbows and soaring birds of the album’s artwork perfectly matching the band’s giddy transcendence.
Zwan is an extremely multifaceted band, as evidenced by the press’ inability to accurately categorize the band’s music, spouting off meaningless descriptions like “”prog-pop-metal-arena-folk.”” One reason for this is the expansive catalogue of songs Zwan has at its disposal.
Billy Corgan is easily one of the most prolific writers in rock, having written over a hundred songs for Zwan already. Zwan has never played a song from one of the band members’ former bands, but they are known to indulge in a score of covers ranging from the Beatles’ “”Don’t Let Me Down”” to Alice Cooper’s “”I’m Eighteen.””
The band has a number of more acoustic-based songs that they previewed during shows in the Midwest in early 2002. New songs like “”Riverview”” and “”Friends and Lovers,”” both of which are in Zwan’s current repertoire of songs that are performed but not on the album, show off Zwan’s softer side. They have plans to record an acoustic album and DVD later this year under the alias The Djali Zwan. Corgan says that the band will be its own entity separate from Zwan and will give him an outlet for his acoustic material without worrying “”how it’s going to stand up against some rock epic.””
In the meantime, electric Zwan has been touring all over the U.S. and Europe to favorable live reviews. This is not only due to the great songs they have written but also the zeal with which these five rock ‘n’ roll survivors tear through them. You’ll never see another band so happy to be alive and making music together, united by a shared musical vision: bringing peace and love to the people and rocking the shit out of you.