If you’re a rock drummer who grew up on alternative music, chances are Jimmy Chamberlin will be on your list of music idols. The 55-year-old co-founder of the Pumpkins changed the way that drummers approach rock music, given his technical playing, melodic instincts, keen ear, and background in jazz. We checked in with Jimmy on the Pumpkins’ tour to chat about his return to the lineup after his 2009 departure, and what it’s like playing in a rhythm section with Jack Bates.
Does it feel good to be back on tour?
It feels good and it feels like we never left. This has been such a huge chunk of my life that it really never went away. This configuration of the band is really special, and the addition of Jack has been a natural fit for all of us. The way he feels the bass and his pocket is perfect for this music. This has easily been the best the band has ever sounded, and a lot of that is due to his ability to recreate those parts.
Having been away from the band for six years, how did it feel getting back into it?
The time away was really good for me. I was able to explore a lot within my playing and get into some different projects that I had been wanting to do for a long time. But coming back to this band is so natural, because it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. And having James [Iha] back in the lineup feels like home in this band again.
What’s it like playing in a rhythm section with Jack?
It’s been such a pleasure to play with him. He is so spot-on and precise with everything he does. For so long I was reliant on listening to the guitars and following my cues by locking in with them. Now with Jack, and with bass being instrumental in time-keeping and as the band foundation, it makes my playing much easier, and the band sounds so much better because of it. In the past, the music was more of a manic presentation. Now, we’ve really tightened up and locked everything down tempo-wise and in being one machine together. Jack has an incredible sixth sense for knowing where things should be, and it allows me to not be concerned with subdividing things for people or putting the road map down — now I can play some quarter-notes or use displacement and modulation, and nobody freaks out because Jack has it all anchored down. In the past when I would modulate, people would lose the one and fall offbeat, so this really frees me up within the music, like I used to be able to.
What elements of Jack’s playing do enjoy most?
Definitely his pocket. What’s most interesting is that it’s reminiscent of the early bass playing on the Pumpkins records, because Billy is such a big fan of Peter Hook and he loved the Joy Division bass. So much of the pocket in the early Pumpkins music replicated that. Peter plays so high that it has a guitar profile; it’s not your typical laid-back bass. So, we would get bass players who tended to play behind everything, when the bass in the band is really on the line with everything. If you pull it back a bit it can get too bluesy, and Jack is always just right there. And he’s there instinctually — not just because we told him to move things up on the click or play on top of it. It’s a DNA thing.