Venice on Fire waste no time in spinning addictive rock songs out of the intricacies of our everyday. While you wouldn’t initially expect such rich nuances to emerge from the stylings of ’90s rock, the Queensland band somehow make it happen. Slicing through the scene with their poignant lyrics and sweltering hooks, they are ones who you definitely want to keep on your radar.
Fresh off of the release of their latest single Burning, the band were kind enough to share something very close to their hearts with us. Their love letter to alt-rock legends The Smashing Pumpkins is a stirring tribute that reveals the deeper inspirations that have made Venice on Fire what it is today.
When faced with a band as brilliant as Venice on Fire, you can’t help but wonder which artists inspire them? Lucky for us, the group were kind enough to share a letter they had penned to their idols The Smashing Pumpkins.
Venice on Fire’s love letter to The Smashing Pumpkins
“Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.” “Homer Simpson, smiling politely”.
And just like that, an iconic episode of The Simpsons opened the door ajar for me to discover the intensive and majestic beauty of one of the greatest albums of the 1990s.
The album, itself a signature landmark in a decade of dazzling highlights by some of rock’s finest talents, which helped shape the sound both myself and Che (guitarist) would harness in our time as Venice on Fire.
I had watched the Simpsons episode in question many times during my childhood – I laughed aggressively at Homer being sent to the vet because of too many cannonballs to the stomach, Sonic Youth stealing watermelon from Peter Frampton’s esky, and Billy Corgan summing up the career of a band so relentlessly chaotic and magnificently explosive that it imploded by the time the new millennium arrived.
“We envy you Homer. All we have is our music, our legions of fans, our millions of dollars and our youth.”
But it was the Pumpkins’ performance of Zero during the episode that helped me personally discover the world of 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and magical place where the egos are massive, the guitar overdubs are numerous, and the themes are both endlessly epic and yet essentially meaningless.
While there are possibly better songs on this 28-track double album, Zero was the perfect encapsulation of MCATIS, the song that arguably summed up the listening experience. Aggressive guitars, pounding drumwork, and the agitated nasality of Corgan’s singing combined with the lament of a profane existence and unrequited desire. It’s absolutely a masterpiece in itself.
I bought the album on CD during high school around 2007, having explored this single and musical colleagues like the blistering Bullet with Butterfly Wings, the gorgeous Tonight, Tonight, and the reflective 1979. The 28 songs were on an old iPod mini I used to get from one side of Brisbane to the other to go to school: it was the soundtrack to my adolescence.
My sister and I would pour over the tracks, each their own unique journey and teaching me something new about Corgan’s self-imposed suffering and most base desires and vices. If I wanted to be indulgent (and considering the nature of this album, that wouldn’t be untimely), I could break down every single song in this rambling love letter.
But all I can truly say is this album is the Smashing Pumpkins at their most hideously beautiful. This arrogant, self-indulgent, and often obnoxious work features some of the most magnificent music I’ve ever heard. The themes are scattered, the influences ranging from the 1960s right through to late 80s, the craftsmanship is sublime.
Some songs have one guitar track; one has at least 70. There are songs about stalking, vampires and the dangers of inner-city living. Jimmy Chamberlain pounds the drums like a madman at times, James Iha contributes his singular guitar style and songwriting, and even undervalued bassist D’arcy Wretzky has her share of vocal highlights. Corgan displays all his beauty and ugly in two hours of unforgettable highlights. He dares you to recoil with horror at his antipathy towards his family and friends, the consuming guilt of fame and its excess.
But he also invites you to a sense of purity and innocence that he is very clearly chasing. He wants to be loved and accepted, even if he doesn’t quite understand how to do so. There is admiration to be found in that desire. Jesus Christ, it’s a wild ride. I feel like I’ve completed a lifelong quest every time I listen to front-to-back.
The rich guitar tones and over-dubbing are some of the most notable ideas Che and I have borrowed when recording our latest single Burning. In some parts, there are up to 10 guitar tracks at once, played on a Fender Stratocaster and Fender Jazzmaster, with warm tones that cut through you like a dentist drill.
But on a deeper level, I wanted to borrow the naked ambition of Mellon Collie. I was chasing the uncomfortable realism that Corgan inserts into his lyrics. I am hoping to make the listener almost want to turn away from the scene. Burning is about confronting an unstable friend with their toxic behaviour and discovering the immediate consequences. People hate confrontation, after all.
Am I successful? Well, that’s for you to decide. But most importantly, this album taught me so much about the nature of life. Is life a perfect ride? Absolutely fucking not. It’s almost non-sensical at times, there is no pattern to its cause and effect process and the highs and lows can give you vertigo.
Is this album perfect? Also, of course not. The sheer ambition of 28 tracks filled with the whining and bemoaning of a millionaire rockstar should’ve been a recipe for disaster, and I can understand why this can turn people off. But this album, like life, is beautiful because of its flaws, not despite them.
It is a singular work that is equal parts ferocious, mournful, gorgeous, spirited, envy-filled, and hopeful. I adore it, and always will.
Listen to Burning below: