Guitarist James Iha has rarely had a free moment since leaving The Smashing Pumpkins in 2000. He has guested on Fountains of Wayne albums, joined A Perfect Circle, released solo material, and produced myriad artists, including Michael Stipe, Cat Power, and St. Lucia. Recently he scored Hulu original series "Deadbeat." James Iha talks about why mobile television is the wave of the future, working with Billy Corgan versus Maynard James Keenan versus Taylor Hanson, and his favorite app for rare moments of boredom.
How would you compare solo work to playing in a band or scoring a TV show such as "Deadbeat"?
They're all different things. As a working musician, you have to be creative in different ways. When you do a solo record, you're kind of doing everything. The big difference is singing and writing pretty much everything -- the lyrics and the music. In a band like The Smashing Pumpkins or A Perfect Circle, you want to be a team player. I play guitar in the Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle, and you just want to fit in. I sound like a sports player now. [Laughs] But your role is guitar player, and you just want to bring as much as you can, doing that. For "Deadbeat," scoring or writing cues for TV shows is like a different part of the brain. There are no lyrics, so the lyrics are basically the images on the screen. The producer is sort of the director, and the writer is giving you references and telling you what they're imagining, and they also want you to do your thing at the same time, so it's a collaboration in a different kind of way.
How do you consume your television: Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime?
I'm still old school, although my TV viewing is more limited these days. I either watch sports or HBO. But of sports, I like baseball a lot, and I can just watch that on my phone. But I'm getting into Hulu and Netflix, and it's like I can obviously see that that's the wave of the future. I've done that a lot where, because of my schedule, I'll just download from iTunes or use Hulu to watch something. It is just more convenient, looks good, and is as easy to do as watch TV.
How would you compare your Smashing Pumpkins experience to that of A Perfect Circle?
I played in The Smashing Pumpkins for 12 years, and both bands are big, heavy bands that make dramatic music. I'm lucky to have played in both. Both of the singers are really talented people. I currently play with A Perfect Circle, and Maynard James Keenan is great to work with. He's a funny guy and very creative. He has a great voice and is a great lyricist.
How did you begin working with Taylor Hanson?
I had a recording studio and a record label with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, and he came up with the idea of Tinted Windows, which was a power-pop side-project band that we did, and that's how I know Taylor. Adam said to me one day, "Do you want to be in a band with Taylor Hanson?" I was like, "Yes." It's so very different than Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle. Taylor is unbearably nice, a super talented guy, and a great frontman. We had a lot of fun doing that record.
You always had a certain indie cool cache, yet you weren't afraid to reference Bon Jovi lyrics onstage with The Smashing Pumpkins, back in the '90s, or work with a Hanson member more recently.
I've definitely had people point that out. Like, "Dude, you've played with Billy Corgan, Maynard James Keenan, and Taylor Hanson? I am always open to different things and always try to play in good bands. I don't limit myself. I've been in bands for a long time, so to play with Taylor Hanson is not weird. It's fun for me to score a TV show like "Deadbeat." It's great working with creative people like director Troy Miller, and they have great writers on the show. I think it's great to do stuff that's outside of people's perceptions of you. You can't do much if you're just going to stick to one thing. It's kind of boring to live and work that way if you're just doing what's expected of you. So I just try to work on things I like and things that are good.
You've produced so many talented artists. Who was the easiest, and who was most challenging to work with?
Michael Stipe was great. I did a track with him. He's very nice and obviously incredibly talented. He was easy to work with. He had strong opinions and at the same time is easy to work with. But I've been lucky. Most of the bands I've worked with, I haven't had a terrible time or had it be gut-wrenching.
What are your top mobile apps?
For news, I look at The New York Times. I have the MLB app for baseball. It's a lot better to watch it on TV as far as the experience, but because my schedule is all over the place, it's hard to do that. So I either watch the games or just check the scores on my phone. For games, I play Katamari, which is fun. For "Deadbeat" I used an app called the Thereminator. It's like a theremin. I didn't have one, so I just downloaded it and ended up recording with it on "Deadbeat." I live in LA, so I use Uber now. I also like 23,000 Great Quotes. In times of boredom or times where I'm waiting, sitting around the studio, I'll look at quotes. There are some great quotes in here.