Smashing Pumpkins’ Jack Bates discusses marathon performances, drop tunings, playing in an iconic band & what it’s like being the son of bass legend Peter Hook
It’s a rainy day on the road amidst a long stretch of touring for The Smashing Pumpkins — but for England native Jack Bates, rain is something he’s used to. Playing over three hour-long sets in one of the most successful alternative bands, however, is something that Bates is still getting accustomed to. Having held the bass chair since a round of tours back in 2015, and rehashing his role when the band members reunited in 2018, Bates is starting to get used to the rock star life. You could say it’s something embedded in his DNA, being the son of legendary bass player Peter Hook of Joy Division, New Order, and Peter Hook & The Light, the latter of which Bates himself has been a member since 2010. And while the father–son bass duo shares similar looks, mannerisms, demeanor, and vocation, Bates has blazed a trail all his own with his role in the Pumpkins.
Stepping out of his tour bus and into the rain to greet us, Bates sports a Manchester United team soccer shirt and a welcoming smile, although it’s quick to fade once I ask him how his team is currently doing. But stepping onto the stage to check out his vast collection of Yamaha touring basses, that smile returns with ease as he explains the tunings for each bass. It’s easy to tell how thankful Jack is to be in his current position as a member of the Pumpkins, a band that he idolized from a young age and which produced bass stars in his predecessors D’arcy Wretzky and Nicole Fiorentino. His iconic bandmates are quick to praise the 30-year-old, each eager to point out how reliable of a player he is and how instinctually he holds down the low end from a massive catalog that spans ten albums over 30-plus years. And while Bates has mastered playing his father’s high-end-heavy, frantic, and technical lines in The Light, he knows that the importance of staying true to the Pumpkins’ music is of utmost importance.
Leaving the stage and walking into the green room, we’re greeted by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarists James Iha and Jeff Schroeder, who are each preparing for the night’s performance in their own ways. A door to a private room in the back opens, and through it steps frontman Billy Corgan. He greets Jack and props himself against a table with a wry grin. “I’ve written all of the bass lines for this band for years. Shouldn’t I be the one you’re interviewing?” Assuring him that I’d gladly oblige that, the room quickly turns into a bass forum of sorts, where Billy, Jimmy, and Jack discuss the Pumpkins’ low-end history, which shifts into Billy excitedly explaining his adoration for Yamaha basses. “The BB734A is the only bass I used on our new album [Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., 2018], and it’s the first time in Pumpkins’ history that I didn’t use a Fender bass to record. That bass has the tone I’ve been searching for. It has the low end I want in the mix, but it really cuts and comes through in the mids. Jack and his dad knew what they were doing using them all those years.”
Later that night, once the curtain rises and the Pumpkins take the stage, it’s obvious that not only does Jack know what he’s doing in conjuring his tone, but that Corgan knew exactly what he was doing in enlisting his new bass player. Through a three-set marathon of a show packed full of beloved hits spanning decades to a fanatical crowd, Bates confidently nailed each of the songs while expertly locking in with Chamberlin. The rhythm section’s interplay brought energy to the wild barrage of guitar solos and instantly recognizable riffs, heightening the Pumpkins to an electric form that one imagines they had when they first blew up in the early ’90s. But this is a new era for the Pumpkins, fueled by the young and hungry talent of Bates, who is looking to make a name for himself in an industry that his father has long conquered. If there’s one thing Jack has taken to heart from his dad, it’s that you have to put all of yourself into the music you play, and do it really damn well.
What led to you becoming the bass player for the Smashing Pumpkins?
The first time I met Billy was when I was a little boy, when he was briefly a touring member of New Order in 2001. At that time I just knew him as a guy coming in to play guitar. I used to go on tour with my dad a lot, so I’d meet a lot of musicians along the way. Fast-forward to 2010, when my dad started touring on his own. I was a big fan of Smashing Pumpkins at that point, and Billy would come and sing with us when we played in Chicago. He had seen me play before, and then in late 2014, Mark Stoermer of The Killers was playing with the Pumpkins, but he had to go off to play with his band, so Billy asked me if I was interested. I agreed right away. It all started with Billy’s relationship with my dad, so it really feels like family at this point. The first time Billy met my dad was when he was a teenager, so it’s all kind of full circle. He’s always said that when he writes bass for the Pumpkins, he tries to play like my dad, so I guess I was a natural fit for this.
How did it feel when you first stepped out to a sold-out arena with the Pumpkins?
It was crazy, a surreal experience. I did the tour with them back in 2015, which was a co-headlining run with Marilyn Manson where we were doing amphitheaters, and that was the biggest tour I had ever done. This tour has just been huge with the size of the places we’re playing and the size of the crowds. Sometimes I get more nervous playing smaller venues, because it seems more intimate and you can see more of the fans. It’s a different feel, because when we started this tour we were playing sets that span about three and a half hours.
What was it like playing those sets?
It was tiring. I’m used to playing for over two hours with my dad, but the Pumpkins shows just kept going. When you look at the set lists before the show, it seems like a lot, but once you’re playing and into the set, it can really fly by. It came out to around 32 songs each night. On one song I would play the organ, and one song had no bass, so I got a couple of quick breaks. The trick is to pace yourself. The hardest thing can be just being on your feet for that long, but once you get three or four of those under your belt, you start to get used to it.
This is the first tour in nearly 20 years with original members Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha. How does it feel to be included in this lineup?
It’s been incredibly cool. I had been a fan of them since I was a boy. The first tour I did in 2015 was with Billy and Jeff, and then Jimmy came back for it at the last minute. To be in the room when Billy, James, and Jimmy played together for the first time in 20 years was unbelievable. I just slipped back into fan mode and I didn’t even think about what I was playing, because I was looking at them the whole time wondering how I ended up in this room. The first song we played was “Cherub Rock,” and it was just like, Well, there it is. That’s the sound.
You guys play in a lot of different tunings. Does it get hard to keep track of all of them?
We’re currently using five tunings on this tour, and I have a different bass for each one. We go E, Eb, drop D, D standard, C#, and sometimes C as well. There are times when I learn a song in one tuning and play it for a couple of months, and then I show up the first day of rehearsals and figure out I’m supposed to play it in a different tuning, so everything is one or two frets off and I have to relearn it all over. Usually, the heavier the song is, the lower the tuning is. A song like “Today” has a lot of flat notes, but it’s actually played on a standard bass. So it can get confusing in that way.
Do you try to honor Billy’s bass lines and the players who came before you, or do you put your own touches on playing them live?
I’m literally trying to replicate what I hear. I don’t want to be one of those players who tries to put their stamp on songs, especially with iconic music such is that of the Pumpkins. That’s the thing funny thing about the guy who is playing bass in New Order right now [Tom Chapman]. I read an interview where he said he’s going to “put his own stamp” on those iconic bass lines. I just think if you’re a New Order fan, you’re going to want to hear those songs as you know and love them from the records. My dad changed the game when it comes to bass playing. You’re not going to make them better.
Billy Corgan is a polarizing figure in music.
We’ve always had a great relationship. He’s really laid back when we’re on the road, and he’s a really funny person to be around. He has some great stories about touring back in the day and about everything. He has a story to tell about everyone, including my dad, some of which we won’t repeat. Musically, he’s such a hardworking guy and puts so much of himself into this. But he never makes it feel like a drag, because it’s so exciting. I get blown away every night when he plays these crazy solos. I just focus in on him and can’t believe how good of a guitarist he is.
What’s it like playing with Jimmy Chamberlin?
It is like nothing you could imagine; he’s the greatest of all time in my opinion. And he’s the nicest guy you’ll meet. I’ve learned so much from him. I can’t begin to describe how fun it is to play with him every night. If you can nail the bass down in this music, it lets him off the leash so he can just go off, and as a fan of his drumming that’s exactly what I want to hear every night in my in-ears. Most of what I play is the same every night, but his drumming is different in every performance. He always has new fills, and he switches time signatures mid-song and all kinds of crazy stuff that’s really exciting to play to. I can’t sing his praises any higher than I do.
How does your playing in Pumpkins differ from your playing in The Light?
My dad plays mostly on the high strings right on the top of the neck, with really harsh attack and a lot of treble. The Pumpkins playing is a lot different. Songs from Gish  have the bass up in the forefront of the songs, but on a lot of the stuff, you’re following the guitars, and it’s more subtle than a lot of my dad’s songs. Jeff always jokes that in the Pumpkins you play bass on the lowest two strings, and with Peter Hook you play on the highest two strings. So, when you put those two together, you should meet in the middle and be a fairly decent bass player.
Your dad is a certifiable bass icon. Do you ever feel pressure to live up to his legend?
A little. Whenever I’m name-checked in a review, the writer will include that I’m Peter Hook’s son, which is cool and I don’t have a problem with it because I’m super-proud of my dad. But there is the expectation that because your dad is so good, you have to be that good. A lot of people ask me if my dad taught me everything about bass, and I tell them that he didn’t, actually, and I learned on my own. I’m used to it by now; I realize that if you’re writing an article, it’s a cool angle. I obviously won’t be offended if you include him.
Definitely going to.
I would expect that much. This is a bass publication.
What was it like growing up as his son?
It’s different for sure, but in a cool way. I was born in 1989, which was the peak of New Order, and then they broke up in ’93 when I was four, so I don’t really remember anything from that time. The first band I remember him being in was Monaco, which was a side project of his in 1997. Then New Order came back around 2000, and I was 11 or 12 when I started to understand what was going on. He was just my dad before that, and I didn’t really pay attention to what he was doing outside of the house. Then I started going to New Order shows all the time. And that was when I took an interest in bass, because they were laying around my house everywhere. Even when I was younger, he would let me pick them up and bang them around.
How much of your bass playing came from listening to your dad at a young age?
You can’t escape it. But it’s a cool thing to not escape. It’s not a burden or anything, and I’m really thankful that I’m in the unique position that I’m in with having him as my father. We argue most about his own riffs, which is kind of stupid. His thing is playing the albums chronologically on tour, so let’s say we get to Brotherhood  and there’s a song that New Order hasn’t played since the ’80s — we’d show up to a rehearsal to play it, and I get into it, and he stops and says that I’m not playing it how he wrote it. Then we argue about it for a while, but it never gets bad. It’s just banter.
What does your dad think of you playing in the Pumpkins?
His initial thought was, What do I do now that my bass player is gone? But then once we got past that, he just wants me to have fun. He comes out to watch us when we’re in the same city, and every time we’re in London, he’ll come out and either join us onstage or watch from the crowd. I know he’s really proud of me for doing this and he’s really supportive of me.
How has playing in the Pumpkins impacted you as a bass player?
It’s improved me as a musician so much. It’s taught me as a bass player when to play and when not to play — that’s such an important thing to learn. When I play with my dad, I’ll double up on his riffs a lot because I think it’s cool, but now I think maybe I shouldn’t and I should just let it breathe more. Playing with these super-high-level guys has helped me to be more of a well-rounded bass player.
Bass Yamaha BB734A
Rig Two Ampeg SVT Classic heads, Ampeg SVT 810
Pedals (With Peter Hook & The Light) Boss DD7 Digital Delay and GEB-7 Bass EQ, Electro-Harmonix Bass Soul Food distortion and Stereo Clone Theory; (With Smashing Pumpins) Radial Engineering SGI Interface, Master Effects Transmission 1200 preamp
Strings (Pumpkins) Clear Tone Heavy Strings, (Peter Hook) Bass Centre Stainless Steel Elites
Picks Dunlop Tortex 1.0
Accessories Mono Straps, Divine Noise Cables