Following the disbanding of the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan quickly founded a new band: Zwan. In 2003 they released their first and last album. The story of Mary Star Of The Sea.
After the end of the Smashing Pumpkins in 2000 Billy Corgan was unsure on how to proceed. Solo, or another band, but this time more loose?
The story starts with Corgan’s faith. He had encountered religion in his youth, but it never stuck with him. He found inspiration in a renewed introduction to (his) faith. In April 2003 Corgan told Rolling Stone magazine: “I don’t think God really cares how you do it, just that you’re willing to do it. God wants you to amble toward the right spot on the horizon. You might fuck up, but the idea is that you’re willing to get up and keep moving toward that light”. Anyway, it provided him with (a lot of) inspiration for new songs.
He went on holiday to Italy, where the name Zwan popped up. Corgan’s new songs were initially intended for a solo adventure. Together with Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and friend Matt Sweeney the new music was developed further.
Corgan liked playing together, very much so. In 2013 Corgan said that he realized he was actually having fun. Could that work (again) with a band? In late 2001 the band Zwan was founded. Bass player David Pajo was recruited and the band made its live debut in 2001. In 2002 bass player Paz Lenchantin was hired, making Pajo move to (third) guitar. This line-up was known under the moniker “The True Poets Of Zwan”.
Mary Star Of The Sea
The band regularly played live and recorded their debut album in 2002. The trepidation among the band members about the return of Corgan’s dictatorial tendencies once he entered a studio again, proved to be unjust. The recording process took place in a remarkably pleasant and happy atmosphere, where everyone’s input was kept intact.
After the release of their debut single Honestly in November 2002, Zwan’s debut album, Mary Star Of The Sea, appeared on January 28, 2003.
The album was received reasonably well, but comparisons to the Smashing Pumpkins were (predictably) made frequently. The success in the first week of release was encouraging (90.000 copies sold, debut at number 3 in the charts), but sales soon dwindled and were just a fragment of prior (Smashing Pumpkins) success.
On January 30, 2004, Billy Corgan addressed the naming of the Zwan album.
Mother Mary saved my life. No, this is not a typographical error, so I will say it again just to be sure… Mother Mary saved my life. That is why the Zwan album was titled Mary, Star of the Sea. I was asked the question many times during interviews about how the album came to be named, and I only partially answered the question. What I usually said, which ‘was’ true, is that when zwan was rehearsing in key west, florida during the winter of 2001, I used to go and hang out at this church called Mary Star of the Sea. What I didn’t say is that off to the side was a grotto of the Virgin Mary that I used to go and pray at to find some clarity and solace. I asked Mother Mary there to help me change the direction of my life, my negative attitudes, and to heal my broken heart. I promised Mary that in tribute to her, I would name the album in her honor, and thereby honor the place when I found comfort in hours of need. Now, some may scoff at the notion that Mary, the mother of! Jesus, saved my life, or changed my life at all. Anyone could opine that it is all in my mind. So let me say this. I have received probably 2,000 letters in the last 12 years where strangers have told me that I saved their lives. Many have said that at the time they were writing the letter, they had recently been contemplating suicide, and that my music had helped them to find the courage to not do such a horrible thing. Other letters would be about whether the person could find the strength to get out of bed, to face another day of their often unhappy life. They would say that a particular lyric, or something I had said in an interview, had reminded them of their own dreams. Now did I actually come into their room? Did I hold their hand to keep them from jumping out a window, or from cutting their arms, or from throwing up their dinner so they wouldn’t gain weight, or keep them from taking drugs? The answer is no, I didn’t. I was not there for them like their parents, or h!usband, or wife, or best friend. But I did help save their life.
To be clear, I love Billy Corgan’s music. I think Corgan is a heavily underrated composer and musician. At times, his previous work with the Smashing Pumpkins was superior by far to everything that was released around that time, including classics by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Ironically, Pavement was the only band that could compete.
But, this is Zwan. Or is it? A lot of the ingredients persevered, the layered guitars, Corgan’s identifiable nasal voice, drummer Chamberlin’s jazzy influences and vocal harmonies with a female bass player. The comparison to the Smashing Pumpkins is easy to make.
Yet, in contrast to the Smashing Pumpkins the music sounds looser, more natural and, dare I say it, happier. The fun Corgan felt when compiling and working on the songs with a band, really translated itself on tape and created genuine positive music.
As is the case with more musicians, Corgan’s (renewed) faith translated into his music, the sound and the overall mood. Lyricially, the album opens with the phrase “Here comes my faith to carry me”. It may very well be the reason for the rejuvenation and Corgan’s more than generous stance to his fellow musicians.
Two singles were culled from the album.
(released in November 2002 and on February 24, 2003)
(released on June 3, 2003)
All songs written by Billy Corgan, unless stated otherwise.
- Settle Down (Billy Corgan, Paz Lenchantin)
- Declarations Of Faith
- El Sol (Billy Corgan, traditional)
- Of A Broken Heart
- Ride A Black Swan (Billy Corgan, traditional)
- Endless Summer
- Baby Let’s Rock!
- Jesus, I/Mary Star Of The Sea (traditional, Zwan)
- Come With Me
The album was also released in a deluxe edition. This contained a DVD entitled For Your Love, a 40 minute video collage with interviews, studio performances and clips from a movie Zwan was working on (but would never see the light of day).
- Billy Burke (Billy Corgan) – guitar, vocals
- Jimmy Chamberlin – drums
- Paz Lenchantin – bass, vocals
- David Pajo – guitar
- Matt Sweeney – guitar, vocals
With the help of
- Ana Lenchantin – cello on Of A Broken Heart
After Mary Star Of The Sea
Following the album’s release Zwan went out on a world tour, playing lots of huge festivals. In interviews Corgan mentioned an acoustic version of Zwan, that was bound to record an album and movie under the moniker “Djali Zwan” in the autumn of 2003. This incarnation has in fact released film music for the movie Spun.
So, it was somewhat shocking when Corgan announced on September 15, 2003 that the band had split up: “I really enjoyed my experience with Zwan, but at the end of the day, without that sense of deeper family loyalty, it just becomes like anything else”.
The years following the disbandment Corgan addressed the real reasons behind the split: “The music wasn’t the big problem, it was more their attitude”, “Sex and drugs and junk”. When asked if Zwan would ever reunite, like the Smashing Pumpkins had, Corgan said: “I’ll never go anywhere near those people. Ever. I mean, I detest them. You can put that in capital letters. Bad people”. So much for the good atmosphere and a renewed faith. The only side we will ever hear on the reason of the break-up will be Corgan’s, as the other members were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements. Even though Corgan has played the occasional Zwan song since, the majority of the more than 100 (!) songs remains and will remain unreleased. Let’s hope Corgan will realize the Zwan project is deserving of a re-release with an expanded edition.
The first new release from Corgan was on June 21, 2005. That day Corgan’s debut solo album was released, TheFutureEmbrace. In 2006 the Smashing Pumpkins were re-founded and recordings commenced on a new album. Ever since, Corgan has kept the Smashing Pumpkins active, where Corgan and drummer Chamberlin have been the only constants.
What’s your opinion on Mary Star Of The Sea and/or Zwan? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Zwan, the story of Mary Star Of The Sea.
Because Zwan’s music isn’t available on Spotify, the A Pop Life play list has not been updated.
Zwan – Mary Star Of The Sea image: spotify.com
Billy Corgan icon: billycorgan.livejournal.com image: billycorgan.livejournal.com
Zwan – Mary Star Of The Sea – Singles image: discogs.com
Zwan (The True Poets Of Zwan) image: sloucher.org