Billy Corgan Talks Love, Lotteries, and the Late Lisa Marie Presley in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Stern Show Return

Legendary rock act also performs live after announcing dates for “The World Is a Vampire Tour”

March 28, 2023

Legendary rockers the Smashing Pumpkins stopped by the studio on Tuesday to unveil “The World Is a Vampire Tour,” promote their upcoming album, “Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts,” and perform two songs live in the studio. But before bringing in bandmates Jimmy Chamberlin, Jeff Schroeder, and James Iha for the show-stopping musical performance, frontman Billy Corgan sat down with Howard for a captivating interview covering everything from the concepts behind his band’s new music to how he proposed to his fiancée. The candid conversation also touched upon Corgan’s childhood, his rocky relationship with his parents, and the loss he felt after the death of musician Lisa Marie Presley as well as how life’s bleakest moments inspired some of his most cherished hits, including the ostensibly jolly chart-topper “Today.”

Just as Billy’s darkest clouds often had silver linings, the silver linings sometimes contained touches of grey. Even after the band found fame and success, Billy couldn’t drown out his detractors.

“Maybe there was a lot of praise, but I didn’t hear it because when you’re in that mindset you just hear the criticism,” Corgan told Howard on Tuesday. “My memory was like, we would get on stage and play to 15,000 people, and I’d walk off stage, and somebody would [say], ‘You shouldn’t have done that … You’re such an idiot.’”

He recalled feeling like a world-class chef asked to dumb down his menu. “You made an amazing meal, and somebody takes you in a room and goes, ‘If you’d just make a fucking hot dog you’d be 10 times bigger and make a ton of money,’” he said.

Photo: Getty Images

Howard wondered if Billy’s tumultuous childhood factored into his internalizing of music industry pushback.

“If your own parents tell you you’re a fucking idiot, and then a guy 15 years down the road is calling you an idiot — and he’s the manager of [successful bands] — you’re thinking, ‘Well, that’s just how it is. What do I know?’” Billy said, explaining that even after writing and recording a mega-hit like “Disarm” he didn’t feel supported by those around him. “Not once after that song did anybody in my life — anybody — pull me in a room and say, ‘Can you give me more of that?’ … They were like, ‘Give me more of the ones that sell sausages.’”

Billy felt like a caged animal in an industry full of vampires and that sentiment inspired his next hit song, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” “It was [me] saying, ‘You want me to be this rat in the cage? Here I am. Here’s the dumb beat. Here’s this big rock chorus — and it was a big hit. They were like, ‘Great, give me more of that.’”

Thankfully, Billy seems far less concerned these days with what other people think.

“When I think about what plagued me in the ‘90s, I just laugh,” he said at one point. “I was so obsessed with a bunch of stuff that didn’t matter.”

The Music Gene Wasn’t Free

Billy spoke about his father several times Tuesday morning, explaining the late William Corgan Sr. was “a great musician [who] blew every chance he had” on drugs and other such pursuits.

While Billy inherited the gift of musical genius from his dad, it came at a literal price. “He stole money from me multiple times,” the frontman said shortly before sharing a wild anecdote about how his father once invited him out to dinner despite being so broke after being released from prison that he was living in a drug den underneath Chicago’s “L” train.

“He showed up — new clothes, new car. I said, ‘Did you rent this car?’ He laughed and said, ‘Sorta,’” Corgan recalled. Shortly thereafter Billy learned his father’s fortunes had quite drastically changed. “His wife’s aunt had won the Florida state lottery — $27 million, clean … but my father didn’t want me to know because [he thought] I would ask him for my money back that he stole from me,” Billy told Howard. “That’s how my father’s brain worked.”

Billy Getting Married

After 10 years and two kids together, Billy recently proposed to partner Chloe Mendel. But the songwriter admitted he was uncertain about the future of their relationship right up until the day his son was born. “I saw it, or I felt it [then]. I understood that this was different,” he told Howard.

Despite any insecurities, Billy appreciated Chloe’s honesty when it came to the idea of getting hitched. “She just wouldn’t give up on the idea of being married. I made her admit all the reasons she wanted to get married, one of which was also financial security,” he recalled. “But that made me trust her because I was like, ‘At least you’re putting your cards on the table.’ … Anybody who’s worth their salt should want to be in a successful relationship and security should be part of that.”

Even so, the rocker went back and forth on whether or not to pop the question – even on the day he pulled the trigger. Ultimately, it was his own internal dialogue that sealed the deal. “‘You’ve lived your whole life a certain way and it hasn’t worked. You’ve been with this person for 10 years … You have 2 kids, your kids are great, your home is stable … Stop waiting for somebody to do for you what you wish they’d do for you. Why don’t you do for somebody what you think is right?’” he remembered thinking.  “And I finally was able to call that out in my head.”
That’s not to say he asked for Chloe’s hand in marriage in a traditional way. “It was her 30th birthday and I gave her a picture of a ring that I had designed,” he confessed. “She’s still mad I didn’t propose – I just kind of gave her a picture of the ring.”

Remembering Lisa Marie

When Lisa Marie Presley passed away suddenly earlier this year, Billy performed at the singer-songwriter’s funeral. In addition to being friends, Corgan co-wrote a song off her 2003 debut, “To Whom It May Concern.” “I wish I’d sort of taken more possession of it because she never really got her music thing off the ground,” he said, noting he was too busy at the time to work more on the project. “She was actually really talented … If you get a chance to hear her voice, she inherited a lot of her father’s great depth and the voice and it’s a shame that she didn’t make more music.”

The loss was profound for the musician. “She was awesome – that was a tough one,” he said of Lisa Marie’s death. “That was really hard for me because she was a one-of-a-kind person and the world really didn’t know her because they of course always knew her as Elvis’ daughter, but she was a really, really, cool, unique person.”

Elvis passed away when Lisa Marie was just nine years old, but from Billy’s vantage point the King had left a memorable impression on his only daughter. “She did remember him, and she had really glowing things to say about her father,” Corgan revealed. “I got to know her father through her in a way that I’ve never seen him in public. So, I got this like front-row seat of what Elvis the person was like and, if you know what Elvis the person was like from her perspective, Elvis is even more amazing.”

As a fan of the King, Billy gave an honest and unbiased breakdown of the icon. “If you look at it completely from a musicology point of view, he’s arguably the single most important music artist since they started recording artists because no one changed things more than he did,” he told Howard before adding some of his career choices, including “shlocky movies,” put a shadow on his legacy. “His talent was at a level that’s almost incomparable … but unfortunately, it’s mixed with a lot of things where people don’t see the talent because he just comes across as a personality.”


The band kicked off its live set with a passionate rendition of its most celebrated songs of all-time, “1979.” Billy told Howard the song, which was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rock Performance at the 39th annual Grammys, was less about the literal year 1979 than the general feeling of leaving youth behind and venturing into the unknown.

“Whoa, that’s beautiful,” Howard said after hearing it.


The Smashing Pumpkins finished off the early-morning set with “Empires,” an explosive new single and the band’s go-to opener on their current world tour. Appearing on Act 2 of the band’s rock opera “Atum,” the song details the horrors of a technocratic government.

“Whoa! Yeah!” Howard said after witnessing Billy and the band bring down the house. “You know what I say? ‘Fuck you, government!” he added with a laugh.

“That was hot!” co-host Robin Quivers agreed. “I can see how that can get the audience going right away.”

“Atum: Act One” and “Atum: Act Two” are available now. “Atum: Act Three arrives” April 21.