Zwan was an American alternative rock supergroup that was formed by members of The Smashing Pumpkins, Slint, Tortoise, Chavez, and A Perfect Circle. Zwan was started in late 2001 by Billy Corgan, lead singer and guitarist of The Smashing Pumpkins, after the Pumpkins disbanded in December 2000. The band released only one album, entitled Mary Star of the Sea. The group disbanded acrimoniously after their 2003 world tour.
Formation and first shows
Following the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin joined forces with Matt Sweeney (formerly of the bands Chavez and Skunk) to start Zwan. Corgan had been friends with Sweeney since early in his career and Sweeney was thanked in the liner notes to The Smashing Pumpkins album Siamese Dream. Sweeney recruited David Pajo (member of Slint, Papa M., Stereolab and many Drag City Records acts) as a bassist, and the band debuted as a four-piece in late 2001.
Paz Lenchantin completed the group in spring 2002, at which time Pajo switched to guitar duties. The band initially played low-key shows in California, while slowly touring in small clubs throughout 2001 and 2002. Their first large-scale performance was at WKQX's Jamboree Festival in May 2002, in the Chicago area. Most songs they played during this era did not make it onto their album.
True Poets of Zwan
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Zwan had two different incarnations. The first, and more common, version, the True Poets of Zwan (or simply "Zwan"), used an intricate three-guitar attack to craft a sound often compared to that of the Smashing Pumpkins album Siamese Dream. Chamberlin's frenetic drumming furthered the Siamese Dream comparison.
Paz Lenchantin's bass technique was considerably more elaborate than that employed by D'arcy Wretzky in Smashing Pumpkins albums, particularly in the song "Settle Down", which Lenchantin co-wrote. This incarnation of the band also made extensive use of backup vocals, by Lenchantin and Matt Sweeney. Zwan's only album, Mary Star of the Sea, is attributed to the True Poets of Zwan in the liner notes.
Djali Zwan, an acoustic incarnation of Zwan, which also featured cellist Ana Lenchantin, was to film and record the making of a new album in the studio in the fall of 2003, with an album and DVD to be issued in early 2004. Corgan spoke with Rolling Stone about his plans: "We're going to do it Let It Be-style," Corgan said, referring to the documentary about the 1970 Beatles album. "The album would be recorded live, with the cameras rolling. When you get the DVD, you can watch the takes on the album being done." He described the songs he'd written for Djali Zwan as "more folk-driven, rooted in traditional music. I don't want to compromise veins of material to fit into an electric band, which I often did in the Pumpkins. With Djali Zwan, I can write an acoustic song and not worry how it's going to stand up against some rock epic."
Djali Zwan made their live debut as a quartet?Corgan, Sweeney, Pajo and Chamberlin?at the end of 2001; Paz Lenchantin joined the two Zwans in '02. But the roots of Djali Zwan go back to Corgan's last years with the Pumpkins, who broke up in December 2000. Corgan had been writing material adapted from old folk and gospel songbooks. From that came new originals such as "Friends and Lovers," "Love Lies in Ruins" and "Rivers We Can't Cross," all slated for the abandoned album.
"We're not trying to be country blues," Corgan said of Djali Zwan. "But Djali Zwan is its own thing, a totally separate band. It would be exciting if we could pull this off." The Djali Zwan album never came to be, but several studio Djali Zwan tracks did appear on True Poets of Zwan releases - specifically, the "Honestly" and "Lyric" singles. Some of their songs can be heard in the soundtrack of the movie Spun, directed by Jonas ?kerlund.
After the initial press junket surrounding the release of Mary Star of the Sea, fractures became apparent within the band. In June 2003, Zwan cancelled most of its scheduled European tour. Not long after, Dave Pajo embarked on a solo tour as Papa M, and Paz Lenchantin formally left Zwan to join him.
Billy Corgan announced the band had broken up on Chicago's WGN, on September 15, 2003. "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," Corgan said. "Our attitude in the Pumpkins was, it was a do or die proposition, and that got us through all the hard times we went through, particularly with the Pumpkins where we had two members with serious drug problems."
Corgan's post-breakup comments in the press
In the years following the breakup, Corgan began elaborating more on the circumstances of the breakup, and specifically, his disdain for his former bandmates. It started with a blog post on , 2004:
I see that ex-zwan people are running their mouths again...the day will come when I set the record straight (not today), but let me say this to you now... I am not afraid of dirty, filthy people who have no self-respect or class...never have I met such creatures who feel so entitled to all yet contribute so little, not only to my life but the culture and the world in general...the world is on the brink of wars and mass terror, and their main concern is whether or not their indy friends still like them...kinda funny, kinda sad, kinda pathetic... my version of the zwan story is a good one, a sad one, and ultimately a tale of wasted moments and people who told me they were my friends but were really just there to take, take, take... time will reveal them to be the poseurs they truly are...don't let their dirty faces fool you, they painted them that way...their filth is in their larcenous hearts, if they have them at all...
On , 2005 in the Chicago Tribune, Corgan commented briefly on the breakup of the band: "The music wasn't the big problem, it was more their attitude... Sex acts between band members in public. People carrying drugs across borders. Pajo sleeping with the producer's girlfriend while we were making the record."
In the , 2005 edition of Entertainment Weekly, Corgan elaborated on his version of what went wrong:
Sex and drugs and junk. Tick off the list: heroin, band members having relationships...You don't trust the person next to you. I'm on the bus. I send an email to somebody and I throw my BlackBerry in my little day bag. The next day, my ex-girlfriend calls me screaming. Somebody in the group went into my BlackBerry and forwarded her an e-mail that another girl sends me. I mean, that's the kind of stuff we were dealing with.
Pajo denied Corgan's accusations in the same article. "Pretty much everything that he said has been exaggerated and blown out of proportion," he said. "The drug stuff in particular. I know there was no heroin." Adds Lenchantin, "I believe that we were a really good team. I am moving on and onward. I hope that our paths will meet again in peace." Sweeney declined to comment.
In the same Entertainment Weekly article, Corgan disclosed that things went wrong at some of the very first recording sessions. "...it was like, 'What do you mean the guitar's out of tune? What do you mean I have to be there at 11? What do you mean I can't order $100 of lobster every day?' I mean, like, bad. But it was too late. It was already public. The album was going out. So I did what I always did: Try to make the best of a situation and start covering up. Put on a good face. And honestly, I'm glad the thing didn't sell, because if it had sold well it would have been really tough. I would look like I was going to walk away from something that I'd just built."
He also stated that he can no longer listen to Mary Star of the Sea, because to him it sounds like "thousands of lies upon lies upon lies. It's a shame because there's tons of music unreleased that will just sit in a box until I can stomach it." When asked which of his two former bands would ever reform, he said, "Pumpkins. You'll never see Zwan. I'll never go anywhere near those people. Ever. I mean, I detest them. You can put that in capital letters. Bad people. James and D'Arcy are good people. They might be misguided people, but they're good people."