Zwan were a short-lived superband started by Billy Corgan, former frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins, in late 2001. They toured a little, put out one pretty good album, Mary Star of the Sea, and disbanded, probably, because of Corgan's ego and the lack of dedication by the other bandmembers to Corgan's vision for the band.
The Birth of the Zwan
On November 16, 2001, former Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan reunited with former fellow Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) and took the stage with David Pajo (bass, of Slint, Tortoise and Papa M) and Matt Sweeney (guitar, of Skunk and Chavez). The band was called The True Poets of Zwan and played 4 shows in California between November 16 and November 21.
The band returned on December 13 as The Djali Zwan and played only a couple of shows. Djali (pronounced JAW-lee) is a Wolof (from Senegal) term meaning storyteller -- the role of the Djali is to preserve and perpetuate the history, stories, tradition and legends of the tribe. The word also has a larger meaning which can mean poet, musician, and generally artist. That other incarnation was equally short lived, however the name Djali Zwan stuck as the softer, more acoustic version of the band.
However in April of 2002 the band returned, simply called Zwan, with Paz Lenchantin (of A Perfect Circle) playing bass, Pajo and Matt Sweeney on guitar and Jimmy still beating the skins. They played several shows before leaving the stage and finishing up work on their debut album.
On January 28, 2003, Mary Star of the Sea hit the shelves, as an album and a collector's edition including the DVD "For Your Love". The tracklist is as follows :
- Settle Down
- Declarations Of Faith
- El Sol
- Of A Broken Heart
- Ride A Black Swan
- Endless Summer
- Baby Let's Rock
- Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea
- Come With Me
The sound of the album surprised many. The Pumpkins were known for their angsty, distorted and innovative alt-rock, and Zwan's debut was a cheerful pop-rock tribute to old school rock and roll. To the former Smashing Pumpkins frontman a change of state of mind also meant a dramatic change of sound for his music. Here's what he had to say about it:
"From my mouth to your ear, here's the deal: We set out to make the loudest fucking rock and roll album that was humanly possible. No detail was too small, and by that I mean that everything, and I mean everything on the album is distorted by yours truly. I became obsessed by the sound of the great mono albums of the sixties, whether it be Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, etc. and their compressed excitement. so if our album is blowing up your speakers or making your dog cry, I can't say I'm sorry, but I do apologize for any worries this may have caused. Mary Star of the Sea uses everything but the kitchen sink in the analog or digital domain to push the sound of Zwan past the blur into something that feels fresh and exciting, and most importantly, LOUD at any volume."
Including the songs from the album, the band has composed over sixty songs, and their concerts always include a large portion of B-sides which the fans recognize from all the bootlegs that are available on fan sites and file-sharing networks.
The album was accompanied by the release of the single Honestly which includes the acoustic B-sides Number Of The Beast and Freedom Ain't What It Used To Be. They have since then released their second single, Lyric, which includes the live B-sides Nobody Cept You and Autumn Leaves.
Despite being well received by critics, the album's sales were disappointing, probably because it lacked large-scale promotion. Also in this day and age, making unusual-sounding music probably forbids mass appeal.
Well since then, a lot has happened for the band and its future has become uncertain. Their fall 2003 European tour has been cancelled, at first invoking "family matters", but it turns out that Paz has left the band to join Pajo's other band Papa M. And even though Pajo has not officially left Zwan like Paz, he is now focusing his original band, which will be touring in October and recording an album later. There have also been rumours of Paz LenchantinPaz's sister Ana (a talented musician in her own right, who has played the cello parts of the album) taking over for her spot in the band.
Zwan have also collaborated to the soundtrack of Jonas Åkerlund's grungy movie Spun, earning Billy a cameo role as a doctor. Tracklists for the soundtrack are available on the movie's official site, however plans to release it have been cancelled.
Rumours that the band had been planning to release an other album as Djali Zwan have also been semi-confirmed, since the band will soon go back to the studio to release a DVD, about which little is known -- only that it will include Djali Zwan songs playing to live in-studio footage, and that there won't be a CD version.
The band has however hinted to an other album after that, possibly also as Djali Zwan. Even though the band has been tight-lipped about their long term projects, they have specified that their future music will draw a lot more from the band members' specific skills, instead of the Billy-centric music we have seen so far, with Jimmy going back to his jazz roots, Pajo taking the lead on a lot of songs, and the whole band going towards a more prog-rock sound, with long tracks like the meditative Mary Star of the Sea (as opposed to the streamlined pop-rock of the rest of the album), live tracks and so on.
This is obviously a time for transition for the Zwans, very interesting, full of promise and also dangers.
What's a Zwan?
Billy's bands' names don't often make sense. After the still enigmatic inside joke-like name of The Smashing Pumpkins, even though Djali is actually a word, what Zwan means is anyone's guess, as Billy said himself:
"Zwan is actually a made-up word. Then we found out it means all these different things. Zwan means: a) swan with a z; b) design in Japanese; c) the sound you make when you ring a bell; and d) a form of Greek Spam. And the answer is e) none of the above."
A personal theory is actually that Zwan is a person's name: Billy.
When the Pumpkins were on the verge of breaking up, Billy posted on the band's site a piece of writing titled "Glass and the Machines of God : A Modern Fable", a reference to both the Pumpkins' last album MACHINA/The Machines of God and a track on that album, Glass and the Ghost Children. It tells the story of a man, Flass, "formerly Zero of the Smashing Pumpkins," who falls in love with a girl, and hears God talk to him on the radio, telling him to change his band's name to The Machines of God. However, the demands by the voice of God, and his love interest's drug addiction destroy his couple and the band.
Zero is one of the singles off the Pumpkins' best selling album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness where Billy sings "I'm your lover/I'm your zero/I'm the face in your dreams of glass," the fable states that Glass was formerly Zero of the Smashing Pumpkins, i.e. Billy, who wore a t-shirt which said "ZERO" in big letters during the entire Mellon Collie tour... My theory is that after The Machines of God fiasco, maybe Glass has heard other things from God through the radio, to change his name to Zwan, start an other band and become God's djali. Maybe Zwan is formerly Glass of the Machines of God.
Or maybe Billy just made the name up while looking at a rainbow.
Zwan is no more.
Today (Sept. 15 2003), Billy Corgan terminated the band, because he didn't feel it was a family, on the same level that the Pumpkins were, something understandable after Paz abruptly left the band and Pajo went back to fronting his other band, Papa M.
He said he will now focus on writing (he's planning to publish a poetry book next year) and, when asked what his future musical plans were, declared : "I'm 36 years old. I'm ready for a solo career. I feel really good about what I've done."
Yes, those really were interesting times, full of dangers for Zwan. Too bad the outcome was so abrupt, Zwan really had a lot of potential, possibly more than the Pumpkins. But I suppose it's impossible to reach that potential if the band isn't really a band.
I, for one, will be looking forward to Billy's prose, poetry, and solo album.