The Smashing Pumpkins Fan Who Became the Band’s Bassist | Trending Viral hub

Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features bassist Ginger Pooley.

When Ginger Pooley was in high school in the Nineties, she cut out a photo of the Smashing Pumpkins from Rolling Stone and taped it to her bedroom mirror. She was just learning to play bass, and no band meant more to her. “The emotion that Billy (Corgan) conveyed lyrically and sonically really connected with me,” she tells Rolling Stone. “And obviously, D’arcy (Wretzky) was so cool to me as a female bass player. The first time I played live during a high school talent show, we played (the 1993 Pumpkins song) ‘Hummer.’”

When Billy Corgan reassembled the Pumpkins in 2007 following a seven-year breakup, Wretzky was nowhere in sight. Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, who played with the Pumpkins for a brief time between 1999 and 2000, wasn’t there either. The job went to Pooley, who found herself once again playing “Hummer,” only this time as an official member of her favorite band. “It was like I accidentally manifested it,” she says, “by taping that photo to my mirror.”

This wasn’t an easy gig. Fans were overjoyed that Billy Corgan and original Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had put the band back together, but dismayed that Wretzky and guitarist James Iha weren’t a part of it. They were also playing sets heavy on their new LP Zeitgeist, and relatively light on Nineties hits. “We were given spaced-out, fuzzed-out, guitar-drenched odysseys that started to quickly wear down the crowd,” read a typical live view from this era in the Oakland Tribune. “The voyage through the new album’s ‘United States’ felt longer than a cross-country trip.”

Fortunately for Pooley, little of the negativity reached her. “Social media was just starting,” she says. “I didn’t see much of it. I was conscious that some fans were hoping to see D’arcy. I hoped they weren’t disappointed. I was like, ‘Sucks for them, but hey, I gotta do this.’ I was just looking at what was happening at that moment, and looking ahead.”

Pooley’s road to the Smashing Pumpkins began three decades earlier in Orange County, California. Her first musical memories involve listening to the the Carpenters and the Bee Gees on eight-track. By the time she reached middle school, she’d moved onto Paula Abdul and other Top 40 acts. Everything changed one day when she was rollerskating with a friend. “We switched our Walkmans and she had the Doors and Led Zeppelin,” Pooley says. “I remember going, ‘What in the world is this?’ It was my big moment of hearing rock & roll for the first time. It tapped into my middle school angst.”

When she was 14, she saw a local metal band play a party in a field. Her friend was on bass. “That was the first time I saw a band play with a group of people my age,” she says. “It was also the first time that I saw the bass. I was like, ‘OK, that’s the instrument I’m going to play.’ From there, I had a couple guy friends in high school, and they would show me Metallica songs or riffs or whatever, and then I started taking lessons at the local music shop.”

Her love of aggressive music quickly grew to the point where she snuck into a Danzig concert. But an even bigger moment came when she caught Rush on the Roll the Bones tour. “Geddy became an aspirational figure to me,” she says. “He represented the bass on such a high level. The bass in Rush songs is so prominent and he’s such a melodic player. As a fan, you’re always listening to what his bass line is doing.”

Pooley joined a pop-punk band in high school called Foundation that she dismisses today as “corny.” It wasn’t until she enrolled at UCLA to study history and teamed up with the Christian Ska band the Israelites that music started seeming like a possible career path. But it would be several frustrating years before the call came from the Smashing Pumpkins that forever changed her life.

Is it accurate to say that the Israelites were a Christian ska band?
Yes, they were. I’m not sure they were at first, because they were around a long time before I even became a part of it. The guy who started it was definitely a Christian.

Were those your beliefs back then?
Yeah. I was a Nineties latchkey kid. There really wasn’t a lot of guidance or any adult presence. I think that youth group in high school helped me have that support. And also for my own benefit, looking back, it helped give me some boundaries and parameters of what maybe I should and shouldn’t do.

Why did you leave the band?
I was let go. They were a little bit too preachy for me, and I’m not very good at hiding my feelings. I was like, “I don’t think you need to be preachy. Your lyrics say enough.” But the singer, God bless him, he was so passionate, and that was what he felt called to do. I think they had enough of my eye rolling and feeling uncomfortable with the preachiness.

That was probably for the best since you joined the Halo Friendlies right after that.
Yeah. But I had put so much of my effort into that band. I was in the band for two years. When you’re 20 or 19, that’s a lot of time. I was bummed. We were in Arizona when they were like, “You’re fired.” I’m like, “OK, cool. Now I have to drive back to California.” Then as soon as I got back, a friend of mine called and was like, “Hey, the Halo Friendlies need a bass player.” There wasn’t any gap at all. I learned their songs and went on the road with them.

You were enrolled in UCLA at this time. How did you juggle these two worlds?
I just saw what was in front of me. I’m like, “I’ve got these classes. I’m going to do this homework. And then we have band practice.” I would drive before traffic down to Long Beach where we practiced, get there early, do some homework, and then practice. And then we would have shows on the weekends or summer tours, so I just fit it in. It was stressful, but I don’t think I knew any different. There was no health and wellness on my radar.

You went on the Vans Warped Tour with the Halo Friendlies in the late Nineties and early 2000s. What was that like?
It was the best. Being a 21, 22-year-old, you’re out with your favorite bands, and you’re playing music and you’re just hanging all day long. We would play a couple shows a day, because (Warped Tour founder) Kevin (Lyman) was really cool. He would let us do that so we’d get more exposure. But we were loading our own gear, we didn’t have any crew, and we were driving ourselves. It was a ton of work, but it was an adventure. Our per diem was three dollars day. We’d pull into a Taco Bell or a Wendy’s in the middle of the nowhere and just get a hamburger or a Frosty.

The song “Me vs. The World on the Freaky Friday soundtrack gave you a lot of momentum, but why do you think the group never broke out?
We asked ourselves that question all the time. At the time, we were a band for seven years. It was so discouraging, but we did have a lot of fun. We got to open for Rancid. But we ultimately broke up. We were all getting into our mid-twenties, some of us even older, and we wanted to explore other things. I was ready to just keep going.

You changed your name to Ginger Sling at this point and started releasing pop songs like “Faith.”
I changed my name to Ginger Sling since I’m a huge Beatles fan. That’s a line from “Savoy Truffle.” And after the breakup of the Halo Friendlies, I decided to keep going on by myself. I paid people like $50 to play shows with me. I’d walk away breaking even, but that was good enough for me.

How did you hear that the Smashing Pumpkins were looking for a new bass player?
I had a friend who was friends with Billy. And one day I was driving home and she called me and she’s like, “OK, this is probably not going to happen, but I just talked to Billy.” She knew I was a big Pumpkins fan, so she would tell me when she talked to him. She said, “They’re looking for a bass player. And I told him about you, so you might be getting a call.” I was so stoked. I don’t remember exactly who reached out to me for my first audition, but that was how it happened.

Tell me about the first audition.
I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was up in the Valley. It was this kind of hippie-ish rehearsal studio. I walked in and Jimmy Chamberlain was there, and I just could have peed my pants. He’s my favorite drummer, so to be able to play with him…I think I had to learn five songs. And so we played, and it sounded good, and he was really nice.

I left and I was like, “That was the best thing that ever happened, and I can’t believe that I can check that off my bucket list.” And that was it. That’s all I really expected. But then I got called back again and again and again and again.

What happened at the other auditions? Was Billy there?
It was building up over a matter of months to where it was obvious that it was gelling. And I’m not sure at what point they stopped auditioning anybody else. After a month or two, they were like, “Billy’s coming in.” And Billy and I were already friendly by this time. We were communicating here and there. Billy came in and we all played, and it sounded amazing. This all started in October or November (of 2006). By March (of 2007) it was like, “OK, we’re in the band.” On April 1, we went to Chicago. A summer tour was all booked. I was like, “Oh my God. This is amazing.”

Who told you that you had the job?
Jimmy did during one of the rehearsals.

What was that feeling like?
I think I just fell to the floor. By that point, I kind of had a hunch. It’s like how if you’re dating somebody for a long time and everything’s going great, you have a hint that you’ll get engaged. But when it happens, you’re still excited, and it’s still an amazing moment.

Did they tell you it was top secret and you couldn’t tell a soul?
Yeah, pretty much. They had a whole plan. They were releasing the record (Zeitgeist). There was this suspense of, “Is D’arcy coming back? Is James coming back? Who is in the band?” It was a mystery right until they announced our first show in Paris.

Was Zeitgeist completely done by the time that you joined?
No. They were still working on it. I would go into the studio and hang around while they were recording. It was just Billy, Jimmy, and (producer) Roy Thomas Baker.

Was it hard not telling anyone that you had this job?
I took it very seriously. I did have a going-away party with my friends before it was officially announced. It was basically like, “I am going to be gone forever.” I don’t think it was difficult to keep the secret. There was just so much work.

They have an enormous catalog, a new album, and he was still writing new songs. The set lists were massive. How did you learn it all?
I just worked really hard. I feel like I didn’t sleep a lot during that time, especially when we went to Chicago and we did production rehearsals. It was learning hundreds of songs, and they’re not easy songs. They’re all really complicated with different structures.

You’re also working alongside perhaps the single greatest drummer of his era. Did that add to the pressure?
Yeah. There was pressure with everything. I just remember being so worn out. I’d come back from eight or 10 hours of rehearsals, go to my apartment, maybe eat some yogurt real quick, and then get on my bed and just start playing more bass. It was exhausting.

Did they make it clear to you and guitarist Jeff Schroeder that you were hired hands? Were you full band members?
They said, “You’re in the band.” I was in the band. Jeff was in the band.

The first show was in Paris. Do you recall walking on the stage for the first time?
I kind of have a memory of it. By that point, we had rehearsed so much, and we had soundchecked already. So yeah, it felt really good. There were camera crews filming us, and the lighting was very much for that. And so there was a lot going on. It wasn’t just a rock show.

The tour hit all these huge festivals across Europe. What was it like to suddenly face a sea of 30,000 people?
Oh, it was so awesome. It was like a dream come true, especially to play with this band that I love so much, and the songs I love so much. My husband (musician Kris Pooley) didn’t know me then, but he’s watched videos and said I was smiling so hard. That’s because it was such a dream. I had been to Reading as a fan. I had gone with some friends. But now I was playing Reading. It was crazy.

These weren’t the most crowd-pleasing sets. You played some of the big hits, but then you’d play “Gossamer” for 40 minutes straight.
I know. It was so, gosh, aggressive, I guess, but it was kind of funny. In a way, that speaks to my punk-rock roots. It’s kind of like, “Fuck you, I’m going to play what I want to play.” I think there was a lot of pressure. But with Billy, he’s not going to be told what to do, so it may have been a little bit of a fuck you to anybody who was asking him to play the hits. I think it’s cool.

The Pumpkins documentary If All Goes Wrong chronicles the residencies the band played in Asheville, North Carolina, and San Francisco after Europe. Billy seemed pretty frustrated much of the time. Is that the way you remember it?
Yeah, I could see that. It was a lot for me because those rehearsals that we did were all day long pre-tour. They never ended. I was like, “OK, we’re done. Now we’re just going to play the show.”

It was never that. You’d sleep, eat, then go to soundcheck, which was really rehearsal, for three hours. Then you’d get a bite to eat, and then you would play a three-hour show, a different show from the night before. You’d have to practice those new songs. Then sometimes Billy would write a new song at soundcheck that you’d have to remember for that night. It was a lot. And with all the other stuff he had to do on top of the music, I could see him being stressed.

As you see in the movie, Billy is so creative and he had so much music in him. But the fans and the press kept saying the same thing: “Where is James? Where is D’arcy? Why are you playing so many new songs?
I could totally see how that would be annoying, and even hurtful. He is so creative, and he was trying to put out new music. He’s trying to be seen. When you’re not seen for what you’re doing, it’s so frustrating. It’s hard to find that balance because you have to be true to yourself first, but that might not pay the bills. It might not be satisfying your customers, but that’s not what art is.

What’s your best memory of playing Live Earth at Giants Stadium?
I remember Roger Waters checking his guitar on the side of the stage when we were about to go on. I remember seeing Sting walk up with Trudie (Styler). Every artist had really good intentions, but I realized later there was probably a bit of greenwashing going on. My husband played later with Melissa Etheridge and she was left with a bad taste in her mouth after that concert.

The travel schedule was pretty brutal. Did it eventually start to wear you down?
I think so. I was exhausted. But I loved playing those songs. The experience was so new to me because I was used to roughing it my whole life as a musician. I wasn’t used to getting a paycheck. I wasn’t used to staying at a nice hotel or any of that. I felt like an adult.

After a short break, the group went back out in 2008 to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary. I remember reading about these marathon shows where you’d play an endless version of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and some fans started walking out. There was a really confrontational show at the United Palace Theater in New York where Billy started yelling at the crowd.
I don’t really remember that. As a musician, as the bass player, you’re in the music. I wasn’t paying attention to how the audience was reacting. It was more like, “OK, now it’s this part of the song. Now it’s this part of the song. We’re going to do this now.” I was very in the moment, not in a bad way. But I did miss a lot of the audience reaction.

Most bands of that size learn a single set and play it all tour. That wasn’t Billy’s approach at all.
No. It wasn’t. I found that out in time. In the documentary, there’s a funny scene where Billy says something like, “We’re changing this song and that song. Ginger is going to kill me.” That’s because I was always like, “Can’t we just keep the same set so I can breathe for a second?”

Your husband joined the group as a keyboard player that tour. Did you meet him prior to that?
No. Our tour manager at the time and Billy were having…they weren’t the best fit I guess is the best way to say it. He left and went to Gwen Stefani’s tour since he’d worked with No Doubt years earlier. My husband was Gwen’s keyboardist and musical director at the time. They became friends. He said to my husband, “You remind me so much of this girl that I just worked with on the Pumpkins tour. You should reach out to her. You guys would really get along.” That’s how my husband reached out to me. He MySpaced me.

When did he join the Pumpkins touring band?
That came the following year. We met on Halloween (of 2007), got engaged in February, and we married in June.

How did he wind up joining the band with you?
He was out with Morrissey for a while, and then I started rehearsals. He would come on tour sometimes with me, and he became friends with Billy. Sometimes he’d come out at the end of our set and play accordion. When we were doing the 20th anniversary tour, Billy said he wanted a horn section with some strings. Kris and some other people ended up joining for that tour.

Your last show was in Chicago at the Auditorium Theater. Do you recall anything about that night?
I remember Billy was wearing a sun outfit. I think there was a coffin he carried out that last night. It was a whole production. I don’t remember what the coffin meant, but it was supposed to be symbolic of something.

It was definitely the end of something because Jimmy left the band after that show.
Yeah.

Did you stick around at all in 2009 when he brought in Mike Byrne on drums?
I was going to stick around. I went and saw Billy when he was doing the Sky Saxon tribute band. But I got pregnant in January. The band was already planning on taking time off. My plan was to take my daughter on the road after that. But after I had her…I just knew it wasn’t going to work out. The Pumpkins was so much work. I knew it would have meant I wasn’t going to be able to be as involved as a mom as I wanted to be.

Billy did reach out and was like, “We’re going to start up rehearsals.” I was like, “I can’t do this.” I’d also heard about Jimmy. And to be honest, I didn’t want to play without Jimmy.

You left on pretty positive terms. That wasn’t the case for most of your predecessors.
Yeah. It was definitely good. Billy gets what family means. He was very respectful about that.

You went on tour with the cast of Glee a few months later.
I did. That was obviously not in any way going to be as stressful as the Pumpkins. It was just pop songs, and two-and-a-half-minute versions of those pop songs.

How did that happen?
I had left the band, but then the manager of the Pumpkins was also the manager of this Glee tour. It was a little bit weird to be like, “Hey, I’m leaving the band, but I would like to play bass for this other thing that you are doing.” I went back to Billy and was like, “Hey, just so you know, I’m going to be doing this thing. Kris is doing it, and we’re going to be together as a family, and are you cool?” Billy was like, “Oh, yeah, totally.” It was great.

The Glee tour was so radically different than a Smashing Pumpkins tour. It’s pretty hysterical to go from playing a 40-minute “Gossamer” as fans walk out to playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” with the Glee kids.
Totally. It was weird. That show was so huge. It was like the Beatles of the time. I didn’t get it, or I wasn’t part of that mania. But then to be on the performance side of it, and to see the mania, was very interesting. And they were younger, so it was a different generation. I was learning something totally new and different.

It’s sad to watch the videos of the tour and see Cory Monteith, Naya Rivera, and Mark Salling. They were so young and full of life.
I know. They just had everything in front of them, the world at their feet. We went to Cory’s funeral on the lot where they filmed the show.

Naya was really friendly. She was so sweet to our daughter. She invited us to her Christmas parties and to her wedding when she was going to marry Big Sean.

In 2015, you did some shows with Gwen Stefani.
That was awesome. Obviously, she was like an idol being from Orange County and having seen her so many years before. And then my husband had played with her, so I’d seen her solo shows. I already thought she was so cool, but to be able to play with her was amazing.

Personally, it was a little hard because my husband was working on Katy Perry’s (Super Bowl) halftime performance, and the first week of rehearsals, my daughter got the flu, and I had no babysitter. It was all just really stressful.

Your husband is now the musical director for American Idol. Do you go to lots of tapings?
I did during the first few years because my daughter really wanted to go, and that was fun. But it’s a lot to be an audience member. You just have to be there early and then you have to sit for hours.

I’m in awe of what he does on that show. There’s so many moving parts.
It’s a lot of work. It’s almost like he’s going off on a work trip when he starts American Idol. It’s like, “OK, we’ll see you in May.”

You’ve been married for 15 years. In terms of rock marriages, that’s an eternity.
We really like each other. I mean, it’s still marriage, so there’s ups and downs, but it’s great. I’m really grateful.

Tell me about your group Burning Pools that you started with Kris.
This happened during the pandemic. Kris and I both really enjoy heavy music. He’s friends with (guitarist) Max (Bernstein). We all came together during the pandemic and worked in the room I’m in right now. We made some videos and that was fun too, but the pandemic got worse and we couldn’t really promote it.

So, if a big band wanted to hire you as a bass player for a tour, are you game?
Yes. I would love to play heavy music again. I loved the heavy stuff we did in the Pumpkins. That was just so fun and freeing. So I would love to do something like that on a big scale. Maybe Dave Grohl wants to start a side project or something.

Do you ever think about making a solo album?
Yeah. But I do love collaborating, so I don’t know if that would be a solo or with my own band or with someone else. I do love to write. I miss people. And I miss the creative process that you get with bouncing energy and ideas off people.

Do you see the Pumpkins in concert when they come to town?
Sometimes I do. I didn’t go to the last one. I did go the year before when they were here in Hermosa Beach or Redondo, which is right down the street.

Do you go backstage and say hi to Billy?
Yeah. I was going to maybe play last year. The bass player (Jack Bates) had a conflict, so we did talk about that. I was pretty excited about that because it wasn’t going to be a long commitment. It was going to be this short tour or this short string of shows, but it fell through. But that was very exciting.

So you’re basically on the reserve bench?
Well, yeah. Billy knows that if he ever needs somebody that I’m willing and I would love to play again. But obviously it’s his call.

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When you see an old Pumpkins video from your time, how do you feel?
It’s really heartwarming because when I had my daughter, it’s almost like I got amnesia. It was all just what was right in front of me, which is taking care of a child. So for a while there, I didn’t even think I did that. Rewatching some of that stuff, it’s just so exciting to be like, “I did that. I can do that.”

I’ve talked to so many rock stars that tell me their biggest regret in life is not spending time with their kids when they were young. Many of them are super famous and insanely rich, but they need to live forever with that regret. That’ll never be you.
Yeah, if anything, it’s the opposite. My daughter’s probably like, “Can you just leave me alone?” But I’m very proud of how I’ve been able to be present for my daughter. And even more recently talking to Billy, he was like, “I think you made the right choice.” Which I thought was really a nice thing to say.

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