Jeff Schroeder looked at a music industry in chaos. No live gigs, album sales stalling, hundreds out of jobs. And, in coordination with Tommy Mars, he decided to do something about it. The Smashing Pumpkins guitarist is putting on a virtual benefit gig “For the Crew,” meant to raise funds for the hundreds of roadies and techs that are currently out of work. Jeff got on the phone with mxdwn to discuss how the project came together, some of the songs he will play and why it’s more important than ever to support roadies.
mxdwn: So first of all big, big gig coming up tomorrow then I suppose.
Jeff Schroeder: Yeah, we’re really excited and put in a lot of work and in the end the edits that came out even exceeded expectations as far as the show, so very happy about that
mxdwn: So, first of all, can you tell me a bit about the gig and how it came together? And what the process was like?
JS: Yeah. So I organized this with my friend in the industry, Tommy Mars. He’s first and foremost a musician, but he’s also a writer, podcaster and whatnot. So he’s always talking to different musicians. We were just talking on the phone one day, and he said, ‘Hey, you know, kind of have this idea for doing an online benefit show, what do you think?’
Well, I thought about for a second, then said, of course! It’s been such a grossly overlooked part of the industry, especially in regards to COVID-19. And what’s happened and with the stoppage of shows, you have a massive segment of the music industry that’s completely out of work. We as musicians, we may not be able to play gigs, but we can kind of continue to do what we do and find alternate ways to get income, even if it’s not the same. You know, I mean, it’s very hard, but at least there are some opportunities. But for a lot of these crew people, it’s really what they’ve dedicated their lives to. And there’s nothing else to do really. So it’s been really hard. And I have a very good close personal relationship, many of my previous techs, including my current guitar tech, and so it’s something that touched me very personally. And kind of knowing the day-to-day, month-to-month struggles that many of these women and men that work for bands have been going through. So, really putting on a concert is just a small drop in the bucket. So on the one hand, it raised a bit of money, trying to help as many people out. But, maybe another benefit is just to start bringing awareness to that this is an important part of the music industry that really makes the shows happen.
mxdwn: Right. And you said that you’re, you’ve been in touch with a few a few of your roadies and your techs and stuff. What have they been doing over the past year?
JS: Well, some bands have been trying to help. For example, my current tech, Drew Foppe, he’s just one of the best people I’ve ever had to deal with. He’s extremely kind, gracious, hardworking, family oriented. He’s just a great person. But he’s also one of the most knowledgeable all around techs I’ve ever had. And not only can he obviously tune guitars and set up an amp and pedals and change strings and whatnot, but he’s quite an accomplished guitar luthier and amp pedal builder as well. And so he’s been building amps that have done fairly well. But if you know anything, building amps is a lot of work, though. For him to be a one person operation to build amps and, you know, sell them and ship them, especially during the middle of pandemic, isn’t always the easiest thing, but he’s persevered and worked hard. Also, he converted his garage into a workshop and so he’s been taking on as much local repair work as he can. But he’s told me there have been some times where he was like, ‘okay, I have maybe two weeks of money left. I hope something comes through the door because I don’t know what’s going to happen.’
We have our rock and roll fantasies about what it’s like, and especially what it’s like backstage at a concert. We grew up seeing Van Halen videos and thinking like, ‘wow, is that what it’s really like?’ And, let me tell you, that’s really what it’s not like, especially for someone that’s like a guitar tech and a backline tech. They’re one of the first to show up to a gig, and especially for a band like Smashing Pumpkins in an arena, they got to start loading in at like, seven or eight in the morning, start getting the gear and the guitar lined up. And then they’re some of the last ones to load their gear back on the truck, because they can’t start taking stuff down until the very end of the concert. So, you know, these people work really long, hard hours, and get a nap somewhere in the middle. And also too, with the kind of advances in guitar rigs now, especially in a band like ours, are very complex. Basically, we’re using real amps in conjunction with devices that are essentially computers. So it’s kind of like the knowledge of old school analog technology with the forefront of musical digital technology — it takes a highly skilled person to do that job. And so, again, the music industry has has no infrastructure set up to have, you know, retirement funds, health insurance or anything for any of these, let alone pandemic insurance. It’s just a very small gesture and trying to bring some support and awareness to this segment of the industry.
mxdwn: Sure. So what’s the response been so far?
JS: The response has been overwhelmingly positive, because everybody recognizes it’s something that needs to be done. And then, you know, from my friends that are, that are crew guys, or women, you know, the, the, you know, the amount of thank you messages that I’ve had…I’m not doing it to be patted on the back. But I think they’re always the last people to be looked or cared for, even though they have to. They’re the kind of the side that you don’t see of the show. People go to a concert, and they see the band up on stage that rock hard and, have fun and putting on these great shows. but it’s really those people, we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
I want you know, the show really turned into something very, very, very cool. And so I asked a lot of people, for my set, I have a lot of guests. And so my guests include Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order crew, we do a New Order song and that came out just unbelievable. I did another song with Mark Lanegan from Screaming Trees — and that came out unbelievable. I had an old band before Pumpkins, a shoegaze band and so I did a couple songs with it and that came out really great. And then I did a version of Steve Earle songs with Katie [Cole] who plays with the Pumpkins, but we had Arion Salazar, who was the original bass player in Third Eye Blind. And he is like just this crazy accomplished musician. And then I have Scotti Hill from Skid Row, do a song as well. He and I, we did a Kiss song that came out — it’s so good. He’s become a good friend of mine over the years, and he’s just a fantastic human being. He was always one of my favorite guitar players from the era, and he played a solo on this song and just the first time I heard it, just put the biggest smile on my face.
So above and beyond the positives of what the concert is for, just the actual music itself, the performance is great. The people are awesome, I think it can be really awesome, really special. And very unique. It’s different because of this pandemic, people are so receptive and open to kind of working in this way. And so you get the kind of like these kind of small fantasy groups and get to do and play songs we wouldn’t normally play together, which is, which is great. So for me to be able to play a New Order song, as the guitar player, you know, with Peter Hook was amazing. It’s really fun to play guitar with someone like Mark Lanegan — it was just a wonderful experience.
mxdwn: Did you just reach out to people? Was that kind of what it was like for you? You were just like, hey, I’ve got this gig coming, do you want to play with me?
JS: Pretty much. I told them, “Hey, I’m doing this thing.” And as soon as people heard what it was I had zero resistance from anybody. We could have done even more things, but just ran out of time. What’s wonderful is when you’re doing something, those ideas tend to kind of bloom and blossom. And that’s really what happened. People went above and beyond, above and beyond what they had to do.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Fried
mxdwn: So just a couple questions about the Smashing Pumpkins stuff. There’s some talk of new material coming up?
JS: Yeah, we’ve posted a little bit about it. We’ve been working on it already. But kind of more like behind the scenes, been working on it. But we finally kind of broke ground on it earlier this week. We’re kind of working remotely. So Jimmy [Chamberlin] is in Nashville, I think, recording drums right now.
So in November, we came up with a new album called Cyr, which was a 20 song double album. What we’re doing now is going to be a 33 song triple album, that is a completion of a trilogy of Mellon Collie/Machina. So me and Billy, we’ve all kind of been working on it. And so in the over the last couple of months, James and I have been kind of working with Billy on our guitar parts, you know, all of us have like home studios, so we can work on it remotely like that, and, and trading ideas and files back and forth. So it’s been something that’s already been ongoing for a few months.
mxdwn: Do you have a sense of when that might come out?
JS: I think in all reality, it’ll be done by the end of summer. So, you know, once that happens, I think it’s a little bit, you know, once we kind of get towards the completion, I think that we’re going to have to see where the industry is at. And then because obviously we want to make the most of it. So is there a possibility to, to start planning a tour or shows? I think we’ll have a better idea, have a clear sense. But we kind of figured we have this time where we can’t play or do anything let’s try and make the most music that we can. And so it’s been fun. It’s been it’s been great. I mean, like I said, like, I miss playing live, for sure. But at the same time, like I can totally get inspired by doing something like this as well.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Alyssa Fried