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James Iha Biography

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James Iha In-depth Biography

Throughout their existence, the main focal point of the Smashing Pumpkins was undoubtedly singer/guitarist Billy Corgan -- due to the fact that he was the group's main songwriter, as well as his penchant for colorful quotes in interviews. But of course, there were other members of the band, and behind Corgan, the one who contributed the most in the songwriting department was guitarist/co-founding member James Iha.

Born James Yoshinobu Iha in Chicago, IL, on March 26, 1968, he found himself playing in several obscure local bands during the late '80s (including such names as the Feds and Snake Train), before meeting Corgan through a mutual friend in 1988. Playing its first few shows without the aid of drummer (a drum machine kept the rhythm), the duo eventually formed the Smashing Pumpkins, with D'Arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlin filling the bass and drum slots, respectively. Melding together psychedelia, alt-rock, and heavy metal, the group had a sound and look (thrift-store clothing) that was completely different from its competition at the time.

The band eventually signed on with the indie label Caroline and issued its debut full-length, Gish, in 1991, which included the Corgan/Iha co-penned highlight "I Am One." Touring alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, the Pumpkins were poised for a breakthrough with their next album, but inner-band turmoil almost split the band up. Despite the fact that Corgan supposedly played nearly all the instruments on 1993's Siamese Dream, the album catapulted the group to the top of the charts, and once more, Iha had co-penned some of the album's best tracks along with Corgan -- "Soma," "Mayonaise," and "Spaceboy" -- in addition to singing lead on a European B-side, "Blew Away" (the first song completely penned by Iha to appear on a Pumpkins release). Up next for Iha and his bandmates was a bombastic double album, 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which made the band one of the biggest rock acts on the planet (momentarily, at least), and included another tune sung and penned entirely by Iha, "Take Me Down."

Iha and bandmate D'Arcy formed their own record label the following year, Scratchie Records, which over the years issued recordings by the likes of the Frogs, Fountains of Wayne, and the Sounds, among others. Also, Iha found the time to issue a solo album, the lukewarmly received Let It Come Down, in 1998. Lineup fluctuation within the Pumpkins ultimately led to their downfall however (Chamberlin left for a spell before returning, while D'Arcy exited shortly after Chamberlin's re-entry), and after several more releases that failed to live up to the lofty artistic and commercial expectations set by their earlier efforts (1998's Adore and 2000's MACHINA/The Machines of God, as well as the unreleased Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music), the Pumpkins called it a day.

Iha kept a low profile subsequently but appeared on albums by Brookville, Fountains of Wayne, the Sounds, and Whiskeytown, and even rumored to be part of a planned supergroup, the Virgins, which was to have also included Evan Dando, Ryan Adams, and Melissa Auf Der Maur but failed to materialize. Iha reappeared in 2003, though, as a touring member for Maynard James Keenan's A Perfect Circle (however, he did not play on the album they were supporting, Thirteenth Step). ~ Greg Prato, Rovi
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