Keith Moon, Neil Peart, Lars Ulrich and Jimmy Chamberlin—arguably four of the best drummers of all time. But Chamberlin, formerly of the alternative behemoth Smashing Pumpkins and the short-lived Zwan, has something the other legends don’t: a solo album.
Life Begins Again, his sprawling and kicky jazz-fusion album, combines Chamberlin’s powerhouse pounding with languid guitars reminiscent of early Pumpkins material. Throw in a few notable cameos by old buddies Billy Corgan, Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and you’ve got the recipe for some seriously smooth ear candy.
Chamberlin said he didn’t want his solo album to be just him hammering away on the skins.
"I kind of look at it less of a drummer record than a music record," he said.
But he also wasn’t keen on providing vocals himself.
"I’m not that great of a singer," he said with a chuckle, citing his sole singing stint on one song on the 1995 Pumpkins album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Hence, he enlisted the help of Billy Mohler, an associate he met in 2001 when Mohler auditioned for Zwan. He didn’t get the gig then, but Chamberlin vowed to work with him in the future. Together, they crafted surreal, surging melodies under the guise of the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex.
Mohler attended to most of the song structuring and guitars but left most of the lyrics to Chamberlin (nix the ode to the drummer’s daughter AudreyElla, "Lullabye," sung huskily by Medley. The former Pumpkin said Medley signed on because "he’s actually Billy Mohler’s godfather. It speaks volumes about Bill’s character to branch out and do something that’s really not his style.")
As a fledgling lyricist, Chamberlin drew influences from "everything from my cat, my daughter, my mother, my world experience" to tell dreamy pop tales of positive energy. He said the album’s themes are "freedom of spirit, adventure, passion for what you do."
Especially close to his heart is "Loki Cat," an ethereal track featuring Corgan on vocals. "Loki was my cat who died of lymphoma," Chamberlin said. "The song is basically about loss and physical gain in a spiritual sense."
Whatever Chamberlin does when it comes to music, reflects just how full of love he is. The Complex played two nights in January at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles and the drummer’s smile practically illuminated the dark club. The live act, consisting of Chamberlin, Mohler, Sean Woolstenhulme of Abandoned Pools on guitar and Adam Benjamin on keyboards, brought a more sonic and commanding flavor to the lush sounds of Life Begins Again.
The wickedly raw pulse of "Cranes of Prey" incited an ocean of bobbing heads in the audience and the jovial groove "Newerwaves" showcased Mohler’s agility on bass and his sensitive vocals.
But the concerts belonged to Chamberlin, one usually accustomed to churning out furious beats in the background.
He finally took center stage to thank the fans, sign autographs and pose for pictures as bewildered gawkers hailed him as the best drummer ever.
Life has truly begun again for Chamberlin, 40. He kicked a heroin habit that got him fired from the Pumpkins in 1996 and survived the swift rise and fall of his other band with Corgan, the giddy guitar-laden Zwan.
He recently relocated from his native Chicago to Los Angeles because "besides working with Billy [Corgan], I felt my music was stagnating. The music community [in L.A.] is great. And it’s certainly a lot warmer."
Chamberlin said the SoCal atmosphere is more accommodating for raising his daughter with wife Lori and for the type of unique music he longed to create.
"I just don’t think they [the public] realize there is honest music out there in this world of prepackaged sound bites," he said.
Jam master Jimmy had such a great time recording the album and working with his new cohorts that he hopes to return to the studio as soon as possible to make a sequel to Life. He said that he never intends on retiring from the music biz.
"I don’t really envy people who look forward to retirement because that means they’re doing something they don’t like." Chamberlin picked up the sticks at a young age and immediately felt liberated.
"I retired at age 8," he said.