Article by Shaharaine P. Abdullah
(with additional input by Arthur van Pelt)
Pumpkins of the Past continues with D’arcy Wretzky (birthdate: May 1, 1968)
D’arcy Elizabeth Wretzky is the original bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins. Known for her trademark platinumblonde hair and rather laconic persona, D’arcy’s tenure with the Pumpkins lasted through 6 albums, before abruptly leaving in the midst of recording for “Machina/The Machines of God” to reportedly pursue an acting career.
Born and raised in Michigan, D’arcy grew up in a brood of 3 girls (the older sister is Kelly, while the younger sister is Molly). Their mother was a lounge singer, while their father worked as a pipefitter. She joined choirs and learned to play the violin and oboe at an early age. A self-described tomboy, the young D’arcy displayed a propensity for music and yearned to join a band from her childhood.
“I never could have withstood being in a band without training from growing up with my sisters. It started when I was born – my older sister was very jealous. Once, in winter, she locked me outside in my diapers. I was thrown into large bodies of water countless times. I had to retaliate. Remember in ‘Apocalypse Now,’ when Brando said you have to horrify people into submission? Well, I was a tiny, scrappy kid that did outlandish things. I was known for throwing knives. Defending myself helped turn me into a tomboy. I played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ instead of with dolls; most of my friends were boys.” – D’arcy Wretzky on her childhood.
(D’arcy Wretzky – photos from her high school yearbook, L.C. Mohr High School)
And retaliate she did. D’arcy learned how to defend herself from physical and mental abuse, shifting from her classical training to learn bass guitar. With the influence of males in her hometown, combined with her bass expertise, D’arcy was able to get into bands and express herself musically.
“I was always like, I’m going to be in a band when I grow up. Always. Ever since I was probably six years old.” D’arcy Wretzky on her determination to play in a band.
After graduating from high school, D’arcy traveled to France. A French exchange student she knew had a friend who needed a bassist, so D’arcy flew to Paris with him to meet with this friend. But, by the time she got there, the band had already broken up. After the Paris incident, D’arcy decided to travel around Europe for a while. After finding herself in Europe, she traveled back to the United States. On the way back, she was stranded at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, carrying what she brought with her on the plane (her bass guitar and her prized teddy bear). She called her parents in Michigan to come pick her up, but they weren’t home at the time. D’arcy started wandering around Chicago, and ended up liking the city so much that she didn’t want to go back to Michigan. D’arcy lived with her sister (who lived in downtown Chicago) for a while before moving in with the lead singer of the band she was in. Besides dating this guy, he was also her boss at the diner she worked at. After months of living with this friend and going to gigs, she ran into Billy Corgan outside one of the local clubs she frequented at the time, leading to that fortuitous event in The Smashing Pumpkins’ history.
(D’arcy Wretzky and Billy Corgan)
“[It was at a] local Chicago goth club called The Avalon. They played that Bryan Ferry song at Avalon every night at the close, when they were kicking everyone out. I was outside talking about a live band that plays there all the time and that I liked. Some asshole just butts into my conversation while we are standing on the sidewalk and says, ‘What the hell were you talking about? That band was crap and besides that, they were put together by a record company’. I said, ‘How would you know that. Can you tell just by looking at them?’ And he says, ‘I can tell by the way a guy jumps around on stage’. I said, ‘I jump around on stage and I wasn’t put together by a record company’. He says, ‘Yeah well, what do you do’. I say ‘I play bass’ and he says, ‘I have a band and I’m looking for a bass player. Here’s my number. Give me a call’. And that was it. My friends came and tore me away at that point because we were about to come to blows. It wasn’t as calm as it sounds.”
“Looking back, if that happened today, I would probably just write him off as an idiot.”
“I went to his house because he said he was looking for people to write with. But he said, ‘Before we can write together you have to learn these songs.’ And he handed me a tape of 40 or 50 songs. Of his. We’ll start writing when you learn these.’ But every week there’d be 10 more new songs. I’m thinking, this is completely insane, but I really loved the music!” – D’arcy Wretzky on meeting Billy Corgan for the first time.
The first time she went over to his house to audition she was so nervous she couldn’t even hold the instrument, but Billy decided to have her join The Smashing Pumpkins because he thought she was nice and interesting and he needed to get the band off the ground. Billy Corgan and James Iha had already met, and soon, the trio started playing as a three-piece unit backed by a drum machine. During those sessions, D’arcy had to sneak out of her house just to attend band practice. They eventually met Jimmy Chamberlin through a guy Billy knew. They had a lot of help from Joe Shanahan, the manager of the Cabaret Metro, who booked them with many gigs. With local Chicago label, Limited Potential, the first and very limited vinyl-only single, ‘I Am One’, was released in May, 1990. Sub Pop Records eventually heard the band, which allowed The Smashing Pumpkins to put out their second official single (again vinyl-only) in November, 1990, titled ‘Tristessa’. The quartet eventually moved on and found a more permanent place at Caroline Records where they recorded their first full album: Gish. After releasing the Lull EP in October, 1991, on Caroline Records, the band formally signed with Virgin Records, which was affiliated with Caroline. With Virgin Records, the Gish album was re-released, and thus began an illustrious career for The Smashing Pumpkins that currently spans numerous studio and live albums, EPs and singles, and still counting after 25 years.
“I’ve never been friends with the name. It’s a stupid name, a bad joke.” – D’arcy Wretzky on the name of the band that made her famous.
D’arcy is the credited bassist for the 6 Smashing Pumpkins studio albums following the band’s inception, from Gish to Machina/The Machines of God. She provided lead vocals to ‘Daydream,’ and Smashing Pumpkins‘ cover of Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’ as well as backing vocals on some Smashing Pumpkins songs, such as ‘Beautiful,’ ‘Cupid De Locke’, ‘Farewell and Goodnight’, ‘1979’, ‘Where Boys Fear To Tread’ and ‘The Bells’. D’arcy also co-wrote ‘Daughter’ and dabbled in other musical projects. She provided vocals for Catherine’s ‘Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories’ and even appeared in their video for the single ‘Four Leaf Clover.’ At the time, D’arcy was married to Catherine’s drummer, Kerry Brown, who has also produced several Smashing Pumpkins songs and collaborated with The Smashing Pumpkins countless times. Along with D’arcy, James Iha, Adam Schlesinger (bassist from Fountains of Wayne, Ivy and Tinted Windows) and Jeremy Freeman, Kerry Brown is a co-founder of the independent record label Scratchie Records. D’arcy has also contributed vocals for Filter’s ‘Take A Picture’ and ‘Cancer’.’
D’arcy Wretzky and Kerry Brown
“In high school, I was buddies with guys. It got really weird when they got crushes on me. But I was always interested in some man I didn’t know at all. I completely broke that pattern with my husband. Kerry and I knew each other from the studio [he’s a drummer]; then he came on tour with us [for the group’s first album, Gish] as a producer. We were a poor rock band, and he had to share rooms with me and Billy [Corgan]. So I had known Kerry for several months, and I knew all his good points. Like, he talks in his sleep – basically, that’s how I found out he liked me. And you know what? He doesn’t even remember.” – D’arcy Wretzky on how she met her ex-husband Kerry Brown.
With all the stress of the non-stop touring, Billy Corgan was starting to become depressed. His childhood problems started to resurface, and he was losing focus. When they finished touring, and went into the studio to record their second album, Siamese Dream, they had about seventy-five percent of their songs written. It was a stressful time for all of the members of the band, and Billy ended up recording all the string parts for the album by himself. Unfortunately, Billy, being a guitarist, didn’t add many prominent basslines to Siamese Dream, leaving D’arcy bass parts either drowned out by the guitars or taking the back seat in most tracks.
“You have to have a lot of faith to make all the compromises and give up a lot.” – D’arcy Wretzky on recording Siamese Dream.
“It’s like being married to four people you never even wanted to date.” – D’arcy Wretzky on being a member of The Smashing Pumpkins.
Siamese Dream was the album that really placed The Smashing Pumpkins into the spotlight, but problems began to arise in the band. Jimmy Chamberlin began to have problems with drugs, which never seemed to go away completely. The band went on, but there were always disagreements from then on. After Siamese Dream came the third and fourth albums, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double album, included a lot of writing from all of the four members of the band. In Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, D’arcy found an outlet for her classical training. She was able to branch out musically, going from grand orchestral basslines blending with the strings of ‘Tonight, Tonight’, to the straight rock of ‘Jellybelly’ and ‘Tales of a Scorched Earth’. You can ever hear the influence of these myriad basslines in the music of Paz Lenchantin, another female bassist that Billy Corgan would meet in Zwan in later years. After Siamese Dream, this musical freedom was definitely a welcome change. The whole band was on a high.
After Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Jimmy Chamberlin was kicked out of the band for his recurring drug habit, and The Smashing Pumpkins went on as a three-piece band to record the album Adore. Adore was a darker, more electronic album that didn’t sell as well as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, despite the efforts of D’arcy and her provocative posing. Once again, D’arcy‘s distinctive classical style was slightly squashed on this album. The one song that really stands out, bass-wise, is ‘Shame’, a track reminiscent of the Gish era. D’arcy leads the song, her thick bassline entwined with a simple guitar lead. But aside from her contribution to ‘Shame’, D’arcy was not a very noticeable part of the album.
During Adore‘s release, the Pumpkins immediately went back to touring. They toured internationally, but it wasn’t the same without Jimmy. Billy re-hired Jimmy as a drummer late into the Adore tour, but the band still wasn’t the same. After the international Adore tour, The Smashing Pumpkins went back to their roots, and went on an eight-show club tour. During this tour, the band showcased some fan favorites from older albums, as well as material for a new album, Machina/The Machines Of God.
Unfortunately, D’arcy never got to play on the Machina tour. After the small club tour was finished and the new album was recorded, D’arcy decided to quit The Smashing Pumpkins to pursue an acting career. It wasn’t a made out to be a major thing; D’arcy just wasn’t there one day. It was announced in a press release a couple days after she left, and she was replaced by Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur.
“I’m like James [Iha], I need a creative outlet outside the Pumpkins… I need to do things my way, with my ideas. I come from a classical music background and sometimes no one understands my way of reasoning and of doing things.” – D’arcy Wretzky reflecting on herself.
Despite leaving The Smashing Pumpkins to pursue an acting career, D’arcy hasn’t been seen much since late 1999. There were rumors that she was slated to play a comedic mafia hitwoman in the indie film “Pieces of Ronnie” alongside Mickey Rourke, but the film never went through.
She was arrested January 25, 2000 on the west side of Chicago after she allegedly purchased three bags of crack cocaine. She could have faced a felony charge, but was not formally charged with a crime. She succesfully completed a court-ordered drug education program and charges were dropped. This incident only fueled speculation about the real reason behind D’arcy’s sudden departure from the Pumpkins, as reportedly revealed by Billy Corgan in one of his blog posts. “D’arcy was fired for being a mean spirited drug addict, who refused to get help,” Corgan disclosed. Whatever the reason, the seemingly troubled ex-bassist of The Smashing Pumpkins has never publicly confirmed nor refuted these claims and has, in fact, retreated from the public eye to become something of a recluse.
D’arcy is said to own 3 antique stores in Michigan and since leaving The Smashing Pumpkins, she has become a trained and registered masseuse. In December 2004 she was known to study acupuncture, having been inspired by her sister Molly‘s successful acupuncture treatment to quit smoking.
In July 2009, D’arcy resurfaced in a phone-in to Chicago’s rock radio station Q101 and chatted briefly with host Ryan Manno. The 13-minute conversation revealed that D’arcy had been holed-up at a horse farm in Michigan since disappearing from the spotlight and had been keeping busy running the farm. She also spoke about missing Chicago, Marilyn Manson’s family, the sad passing of her boyfriend just days prior to the call, a piqued interest in Davy Jones of The Monkees being a horse jockey and the Silversun Pickups (the latter of which she denied sounding anything like Billy Corgan at all). D’arcy went on to describe Corgan’s voice as “unusual” and compared it to that of a Tibetan monk’s, further commenting that she wished he would “pay more attention to his pitch.”
– D’arcy is a Trekkie and fan of The X-Files: “I’m a big STAR TREK fan, but I’m not into the conventions or the ears or anything like that. I’m surprised they put THE X-FILES on the air, because the theories on there are so close.”
– During her senior year of High School, D’arcy got into a bad car wreck and hurt her leg. She had to have surgery on it. After the surgery they overdosed her on morphine which gave her the nick name “Sister Morphine“.
– Filter’s song ‘Miss Blue’ is said to be about D’arcy, who collaborated with the band on 2 of their songs.
– A journalist once wrote that D’arcy didn’t care about music, only make up, so she attacked him with her lipstick. On another occasion, a reporter asked: “D’arcy, is your hair really that white?”
D’arcy‘s answer: “No, do not let your eyes deceive you. It’s actually a big black afro. The white that you see is really a trick we do with mirrors.”
– D’arcy once dated and was engaged to former Smashing Pumpkins band mate, James Iha. They split in the middle of the Gish tour. As mentioned above, Kerry Brown was talking in his sleep, which was how D’arcy found out that Kerry really liked her. D’arcy then broke up with James Iha, and started dating Kerry, putting a large strain on the band. It is rumored that D’arcy also dated actor Mickey Rourke.
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