Meet Nicole Fiorentino, who is the latest addition to the Grammy award winning band Smashing Pumpkins. Nicole is the fourth female bassist that joins this legendary band. D’Arcy, who was a member of the band since they formed in 1988, spent just over a decade with the band before departing in 1999. Auf der Maur joined the Pumpkins for the tour in support of Machina/the Machines of God, up until Billy Corgan broke up the band in 2000. When Corgan and former drummer Jimmy Chamberlin resurrected the Pumpkins in 2005, Billy was handling the bass duties for Zeitgeist, however later he recruited Pooley.
I had the privilege of interviewing Nicole. At the beginning I was fooled by the soft as well as very polite character of bassist Nicole Fiorentino. I expected someone to be equally subtle on the bass guitar. However, Ms Fiorentino can really play the bass and shreds like a true “Smashing Pumpkin”!
Nicole gives some great insights on how she evolved as an artist, her influences, advice, as well as how she developed and found her voice on the bass!
Andreas: As with all good stories, its best to start from the beginning. When and what first drew you to music as well as the bass guitar?
Nicole: Growing up, my Dad was a drummer in a variety of bands, mostly rock, but some country too. They would rehearse in our basement and I would always sneak down and hang out with the guys. I was really comfortable in the rock-n-roll atmosphere from a very young age! I would mess around with the instruments, but I wouldn’t say that I started taking music seriously until I was about 14. At that point I was really into grunge, punk, and riot girl, so I started a band with my best friend called Sweet 16. Between the two of us, she had more of the “front person” personality, so it was decided she would sing/play guitar. My parents bought me a bass for my birthday and I instantly connected with it in a way that I hadn’t with any other instrument. We found a drummer shortly after and formed our little band. We recorded a session on tape called “School Boy Glamour” and played locally around the Western, MA area. That was my first taste of what turned out to be many many more years of touring and being in bands!
A: New England has a very reputable live scene. How did the MA music scene in general, usually known for its unique musical culture, influence your music and your career?
N: It was interesting because my band was one of the only riot girl bands in the area at the time so we would get booked constantly. It was great because in a way helped me to figure out that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I loved playing out, I loved the atmosphere of the clubs, and I loved meeting other musicians. My friends and I went out to shows or played shows. That’s what you did in New England. And, it was great because so many cool bands hailed from MA.—The Pixies, Belly, and Dinosaur Jr. to name a few. So there was a real sense of pride when it came to the local music scene. For my friends and me it was all we had. So yes, the fact that music became my livelihood had a great deal to do with where I grew up.
A: Let’s talk about more recent stuff – hence Smashing Pumpkins. How does Smashing Pumpkins usually work with the songwriting process?
N: Well, I can really only speak for the way that we worked on this record, Oceania, as this is the first album I’ve worked on with them. Generally, Billy will come in with either a song idea or a well-constructed skeleton of a song and we will all jam on it for a while. Once we have all established basic parts we will record what we had and Billy will tinker with that for a while. Usually he will re-work it and we sort of keep tweaking the arrangement and the parts until it is where it’s supposed to be. It’s really great to have those moments where you’ve been working on a song for awhile and it finally just all comes together. There’s nothing more rewarding than those moments to me, except of course playing those songs live for fans!
A: Do you and Mike (Byrne-drums) ever jam out and write as a rhythm section by yourselves? How do you view your relationship as part of the rhythm section?
N: As far as writing parts as the rhythm section, Mike and I are a powerhouse! Usually, we will write our own parts separately and then work through them together to find accent points. So I will re-work my part according to where his accent points are and vice versa. We work really well together on that level. I think we’ve gotten to the point in our relationship where we understand each other’s psychology of how we play. I think that’s super important for live purposes because as a rhythm section, you really have to memorize the other person’s pocket so that you can be totally locked in.
N: We all get along really well, and I think there is a mutual respect between the four of us. We are all here for the same reason and we have the same goal in mind. We work really well as a team, which I think can be a very difficult thing to find when it comes to musicians!
A: I totally agree with that! Do you have any advice to give to our readers as well as other musicians/bass players?
N: Practice a lot, stay focused, play music that you are emotionally invested in.
A: Do you have any advice to give to other girls/women that look up to you and want to learn music?
N: It can definitely be more difficult at times for girls/women to be taken seriously in the music industry. Be confident, know your instrument, know your gear and always remember the women before us who paved the path and let that inspire you!
A: Can you tell me more information about the upcoming album? When will it be released?
N: The new album Oceania will be released in Nov. There will be a physical release, that is the plan, but I’m not sure how that will manifest. Either way you will be able to listen to the new songs before the year’s end. Have no fear!
A: Apart from the new album, what will the near future hold for you and the smashing pumpkins? Any tours?
N: Yes, we are actually in rehearsals right now for the fall tour that will include 12 U.S. dates and European shows to follow. This tour is basically going to be the lead up for a long year of touring next year.
A: 1979 & Tonight Tonight were both a critical and commercial success. These tracks were the biggest Smashing Pumpkins hits so far. In addition they define the Smashing Pumpkins style and sound. Do you see the band delving into new territories creatively with the new album currently being written? Do you feel that the new album has something new to offer? Why?
N: I think because we are all working together on this record it is naturally going to have a different vibe than any of the other records on which Billy played most of the instruments himself. I think we delved into new territory for sure, but what I love about this record is that it has that familiar old-school Pumpkins feel to it, with a modern twist. The cool thing is he was able to capture the energy of the old material without ripping it off. Billy’s definitely found his way back to whatever he was tapping into when writing Gish and SD. You can’t explain it, but as a listener, you just know that you connect with it when you hear it. That’s how I felt when I first heard those records and that’s how I feel about this one, albeit it’s a slightly different experience because I actually played on this record!
A; How did you approach learning to sing and play bass at the same time? I know many bass players have trouble dealing with this subject.
N: Honestly, I didn’t really start singing on stage until I played with Veruca Salt. I would sing the occasional background vocals in my other bands, but it was Louise Post who told me I was a singer trapped in a bass player’s body! She really challenged me and brought out my confidence in regards to singing and playing bass simultaneously. It can be difficult because in general, vocals and melodies are not written according to a bass melody. Playing and singing conflicting melodies can be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time! It takes a lot of practice and can be very frustrating, but I think once you get used to it, it’s just like any other challenge you can overcome as a musician.
A: Are you involved in any other “side” projects?
N: Yes I actually have a band called The Cold and Lovely with the super talented Meghan Toohey. We have a record coming out in the fall as well. We actually had Patty Schemel from Hole drum on most of the record, I played bass and sang background vocals, and Meg did everything else. It’s got this really cool dark, sexy PJ Harvey/Arcade Fire vibe to it. We are really excited about its release. You can check it out on the single on www.thecoldandlovely.com.
A: How do you achieve your heavy Fat tone?
N: Well, on stage I use a Mesa Boogie Big Block Titan head and an 8×10 Mesa cab. My primary bass is a 78 Fender Precision. For pedals, I mainly use my Line 6 M13 Stomp-box, which I love. It’s super user friendly and has really great effect options.
A: Do you feel that women are treated differently in the music industry?
N: I think women are treated different in every industry, so, yes, I do think we are treated differently in the music industry. It’s totally a boy’s world and I think it’s really easy to not be taken seriously as a woman. I get comments to this day, even as a professional musician, to the effect of “you are a really great female bass player”. I know people mean well, so I try not to take offense to it, but it’s kind of a backwards compliment and proves that we are still viewed as a separate entity. Moreover, I think the only thing we can do when we are put in that position is to force people to take us seriously by really knowing our craft. The majority of my experiences with my old band Radio Vago (all women), involved sounds guys or techs or engineers blowing us off, or treating as if we had no idea what we were talking about, until they heard us play. Suddenly the energy would shift because we demanded respect through our capabilities and our music. I can only speak from my experience, but when it comes to equality within the music industry it’s still an uphill battle. That’s why I love programs like Rock Camp for Girls/Ladies. It’s all about women inspiring other women/girls to be self-confident and trusting and supporting one another. Lastly, I will say that it gives me great pride to know that because of my hard work and conviction I am being taken seriously in this male-oriented industry. I encourage other women to just keep working hard and remaining true to their passion.
A: How does it feel to be touring with one of the most famous rock bands? Any interesting/funny tour stories?
N: It was strange at first, being that I grew up on the Pumpkins, but honestly, everything came together so quickly and felt so natural right through the gate that it doesn’t really occur to me anymore that it’s strange! What’s amazing to me is how the fans have embraced me as the new bass player. I mean, some are more opinionated than others as to who should/shouldn’t be in the band, but for the most part I have received positive feedback and an over all sense of being welcomed with open arms from the fans. What’s really fun for me about playing the old songs is not only that I get to play the songs that I grew up listening to, but that I get to give them my own twist. Billy is very open to adaptation when it comes to the catalogue of old material. We have a lot of fun with it!
A: What are your favorite songs to perform, and why?
N: My Favorite songs to perform are Eye, Hummer, Geek U.S.A. (which we will play on the next tour), Stand inside your Love, Tristessa, Ava Adore, Astral Planes, and That’s the Way. I’m extremely excited to start playing songs from the new record on this tour because I will be playing my own parts! I feel really good about the work we’ve been doing these past 6 months—I’m like a proud mama.
A: Last question. I, as well as many fans are wondering if it is true that you are one of the girls on the cover of the Pumpkins’ 1993 album Siamese Dream? Or is it a twitter joke?
N: I will leave that for you to decide.
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