In September, former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha released Look to the Sky, his first solo record since 1998’s Let It Come Down. However, Iha hardly has been idle since the first incarnation of the Pumpkins broke up in 2000. After relocating to New York City, the Elk Grove Village native has played in the alternative metal band A Perfect Circle and the power pop supergroup Tinted Windows, and opened a recording studio. Prior to his November 20 concert at Schubas, Iha talked with Chicago about his new record and eclectic post-Pumpkins career.
It’s been 14 years since you released a solo record. Why did you take so long between them, and what prompted you to finally record Look to the Sky?
After the Pumpkins broke up, I made a conscious decision to get out of being in a band or trying a solo record. I started a recording studio. I started producing people and doing remixes. After 12 intense years of rock music, I was happy to get away from making a record and going out on a tour. When I did it, I wanted to feel inspired. After a while I finally had my fill working on other people’s music, and I started coming up with music on my own and said ‘this could be for me.’
What did you set out to accomplish musically with this record?
The first record was more acoustic, more stripped down. On this record, I wanted it to feel more varied and reflect my tastes. Like a lot of people, I like a lot of different kinds of music. I wanted the record to be more than a one-note thing. [The album has some] electronic elements like synthesizers and drum machines, some atmospheric rock, there’s acoustic stuff, and [also what’s] in between all of that.
Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle both are bands that play an arty kind of hard rock, but your solo records are much more gentle kinds of music.
I play and I’ve played in heavy bands, but when I write for myself, I don’t particularly feel like writing huge rock riffs. It just doesn’t work for me and my voice.
You’ve had a very diverse career since the Pumpkins broke up. What leads you to pursue such varied projects?
I just take things that come my way and work on [them] if I think [they’re] good and something I feel comfortable in. I’m playing with a Perfect Circle early next year and I’m producing a band from Brooklyn called Hunters, who are more of a noise punk indie band. I like the challenges of doing different things. It keeps things fresh for me.
James Iha performs Nov. 20 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N Southport. $15. For info, schubas.com
Kevin McKeough is a contributing music critic for Chicago.
Photograph: Big Hassle PR