March-August 1995 – Pumpkinland and Chicago Recording Company

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March-August 1995 – Pumpkinland and Chicago Recording Company
Flood at the mixing console
Studio session of The Smashing Pumpkins
ArtistThe Smashing Pumpkins
AlbumMellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
FromMarch 1995
ToAugust 1995
LocationPumpkinland, Chicago Recording Company
Producer(s)Flood, Alan Moulder, Billy Corgan

The Smashing Pumpkins' March-August 1995 – Pumpkinland and Chicago Recording Company sessions were massive, proper for the massive Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album. Sessions initially began at the band's rehearsal space Pumpkinland, largely tracking the songs live. Sessions were later moved to Chicago Recording Company for further tracking and overdubs. Many songs were recorded, aside from the 28 album tracks: "Cherry", "God", "Set The Ray To Jerry", "Tonite Reprise", "Tribute to Johnny" and "Ugly" were all released as B-sides; snippets of "Knuckles", "Speed", "Star Song" and "Zoom" all appeared in the "Pastichio Medley". The full-length "In the Arms of Sheep", a rough vocal version of "Muzzle", "One and Two" with a Billy Corgan lead vocal, two takes of "Envelope Woman", two takes of "X.Y.U.", an instrumental "Cupid de Locke", an alternate take of "Where Boys Fear To Tread" and a full-length "The Tracer" leaked as MP3s on the internet in 2010.

Tracks recorded[edit | edit source]

Officially released[edit | edit source]

Available on bootlegs[edit | edit source]

Unreleased[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

Whiteboard with working song titles

Before recording began, Corgan knew he wanted to make a double album. Flood and Alan Moulder, friends since their early days at London's Trident Studios, were brought in to co-produce. The band rehearsed at Pumpkinland, their home recording space, and Corgan began create demo cassettes to share with Flood. Roughly two-thirds of Mellon Collie was tracked at Pumpkinland on an Otari MTR-90 MKII, and Studer A820s were used on the rest at the Chicago Recording Company.

"I love recording at 15 ips NAB, but with Dolby SR, because it just adds a whole different dimension to the sound," says Flood. "Apart from the obvious benefits of Dolby, if you tweak the Dolby unit really, really well, it's a bit like adding an Aphex and a dbx sub-harmonic bass enhancer on every channel. Also, the way that tape changes the sound or modifies the sound, 15 ips is technically not correct, but I find it to be so musical, particularly on the bottom end. This was very much a conscious decision, and very much a part of the album’s sound."[1]

The group consciously changed the way they recorded during these sessions. Previously, they used only one room to track, which limited only one recording to happen at a time. This proved frustrating as band members had to wait hours for just one person to finish up their part. For Mellon Collie, generally Flood would work with Corgan in the A room on the Otari and an MCI board, and Moulder worked with D'arcy Wretzky and James Iha in the B room on a Pro Tools rig slaved to both TASCAM DA-88 digital recorders and two-inch tape. The mixture of both analog and digital opened up a huge range of sonic possibilities, and aided the adventurous strengths of Mellon Collie. Songs like "Thru the Eyes of Ruby", which contained approximately 70 guitar tracks,[2] would surely have been impossible to pull off with only analog tape. Similarly, "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" contains roughly six sections recorded at various times and with different configurations for the instruments, all fused together—another beneficial byproduct of editing in Pro Tools.[2]

"Flood felt like the band he would see live wasn’t really captured on record," says Corgan. "So a lot of Mellon Collie was tracked by the band at deafening volumes. I mean deafening. There was so much SPL in the room that it was physically uncomfortable. Your ears, your emotional resistance, would wear down."[2]

In the sessions, Flood learned that Corgan performed better as a singer without the use of headphones, so he had Corgan use a Shure SM58, singing in front of open speakers.

When the band played particularly difficult songs, like "Fuck You", Flood would have them practice the song first thing every morning. Every workday started with an hour of band practice, followed by two or three takes of "Fuck You", or "whatever was the crazy, prog- gy, heavy song of that day". "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" brought a similar experience. The band put themselves in a really good, almost live, frame of mind. Then they would track it, which Flood sometimes replied with, "Ehhh, wasn't very good. We'll do it again tomorrow." We would never get too stuck on anything.[3]

"My experience with U2 taught me that a lot of things you’d expect to become problematic with monitors in the room aren’t, and by careful use of screening, by positioning the monitors and what you put in the monitors you can actually get a lot of benefits," Flood said. "For instance, Jimmy used to love having the kick drum and a bit of snare going through his wedges, which were directly behind him. So if you've got a kit that’s lacking a bit of bottom end, you pump the kick and the snare through the wedges and you start to tweak them to get extra weight. We also developed this system whereby we had what was called 'rehearsal mode' and 'tape mode.' In rehearsal mode, everybody was on the floor, the amps were blaring, and you wouldn’t have to worry about spills. We had the speakers inside these big coffin flight cases in the back of the room and miked them close up, then miked them about six feet away. Then we’d close the lid. When you were tracking in tape mode, everybody could flick over at the flick of a footswitch and their amps would be quietly purring away in the corner. When you’d give a little bit back to them in their own respective monitors, automatically the sound of the room cut right back and you’d get the vibe of four people playing on top of each other."[4]

Corgan on guitar, as viewed from his Mellotron

Although two of Siamese Dream's most memorable tracks, "Soma" and "Mayonaise" were co-written by Iha, that album seemed very much the work of one man. Corgan's aim for perfection ruled above everything else, and he also played roughly 90 percent of the guitar solos. For Mellon Collie, the lead guitar is split between Corgan and Iha at closer to 50% each, and the album as a whole has a less spontaneous ambiance. "I think that the fact that we had two rooms going gave us the scope to say whatever works, works," muses Iha. "It was studied, but it was less perfectionistic. And we were less inclined to revert to a formula-like here's the Big muff pedal and let's triple track it. This time it was, Oh one guitar sounds okay let's go with that. I used the Digitech Whammy pedal a lot on the record, and I used an E-bow a lot too, which is something we haven't used for five years or something. Flood helped a lot. His thing is not going for the perfect take but the take that feels best. There was less technical obsessiveness and more feeling-which was totally refreshing. And the producers kept everyone busy. Flood would ask Jimmy to come in a little earlier, just so they could work on a bunch of drum loops before the rest of the band arrived. I'd go and check out D'arcy recording her bass and them later on I would just fuck around with the guitar. It was just 'funner', and we ended up learning a lot of cockney slang and discovering Reeves and Mortimer."[5]

Equipment[edit | edit source]

Guitars[edit | edit source]

From a May 6, 2020 Instagram story

Guitar and amplification choices were the main difference between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie. Corgan said the ultimate goal for the album was to capture the band’s live, unbridled sound, so he largely used touring gear. The Siamese Dream fuzz pedal setup for instance sounded great in the studio, but sounded horrible live.[3]

On "Where Boys Fear to Tread", Corgan used a Les Paul Junior Reissue, and on "Tonight, Tonight" he used a '72 Gibson ES-335. He is also known to use a '74 Strat which has since been painted baby blue. That guitar was used on the recordings for "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and also "Muzzle", because the heavier wood gave it the basic Strat sound with a bit more bottom.

Corgan still owned the same Marshall 1960A cabinets from the Siamese sessions, but switched to a Mesa Boogie Strategy 500 and a Marshall JMP-1 preamp. He also noted that he used an Alesis 3630 to drive extra gain into a Marshall.[6] In addition, Corgan used his 1984 Marshall JCM 800 100-watt amp, which he considered his favourite at the time, and had used it on every Smashing Pumpkins record.[6]

Iha used a Fender Twin on some tracks for a cleaner tone.

As for guitars, the simple formula remained as it has since the beginning: the '57 reissue Strat (Bat Strat) and James' Les Paul. There were some exceptions, such as when Corgan used a 1972 Gibson ES-335 on "Tonight, Tonight", usually played through the Vox AC30.[3]

For pedals, Iha and Corgan caked on a Big Muff fuzz, Fender Blender, a DigiTech Whammy, Eventide harmonizers, a wah, among others. Occasionally they laid down 8 to 10 guitar tracks in a single stretch.

Bass[edit | edit source]

D'Arcy Wretzky

For bass, Wretzky used a '60s-era Fender Jazz Bass reissue with Ampeg and Mesa Boogie amps instead of a P-Bass. A Fender Bassman was used on some songs such as "To Forgive". A 1964 Vox AC30 was also used on many tracks, including "Tonight, Tonight" and "By Starlight".

Drums[edit | edit source]

Jimmy Chamberlin's primary Mellon Collie drum kit was a Yamaha Maple Custom with a 16x22-inch kick, a 22-inch ride, 18-inch and 19-inch Zildjian A Custom crashes, 22-inch swish knockers, and 10-inch and 15-inch fast crashes. He had a background with big band music, so he often changed out his snares, and built his kit around the snare and the ride as opposed to the kick. The drum rolls heard throughout "Tonight, Tonight" can be attributed to Jimmy’s classic 5 1/2x14-inch Ludwig Supra-Phonic.[6]

"From there I go to microphones as far as how I want the drums to sit dimensionally in the track," Chamberlin informs. "If I want the drums up front and aggressive, I’ll use a lot of AKG C 414s so they sit in front of things dimensionally. If I want the drums to sit in a rhythm section configuration, I’ll lean back towards the 414s and maybe some Shure SM98s. Then maybe go for Shure 12As on the bigger drums."[7]

Production[edit | edit source]

Roughly two-thirds of Mellon Collie was tracked at Pumpkinland on an Otari MTR-90 MKII, and Studer A820s were used on the rest at the Chicago Recording Company.

Thanks to computer technology, Corgan and Iha confronted their post-guitar challenge. For Mellon Collie, the band employed Opcode Studio Vision Pro for sequencing, with Pro Tools running on a Macintosh 8100 to do loop samples and manipulate basic tracks. Potential was found in the techno-rig: Pro Tools could handle up to 128 tracks. However Corgan didn't learn about the technology until midway through the recording process, so he and Iha applied their newly acquired techniques only during post-production. For all their previous work on the record, the band used a 24-track analog machine and an additional 16 tracks on Pro Tools, which was believed to be used again to its full advantage on their next project.[3]

Newfound admiration for technology aside, Corgan and Iha used their traditional setup when laying down most of the basic tracks for Mellon Collie. Corgan played predominantly through his super-tweaked live setup: an Alesis compressor, a Marshall rack preamp and a Mesa/Boogie 500 Series power amp.

Quotes[edit | edit source]

Billy Corgan on Flood[edit | edit source]

"People don't always articulate their expectations," says Corgan. "I think whenever we would work with producers, they would do their best to try and balance those forces between what somebody would want, what I would want, and what was best for the record.[6]

Flood on Billy Corgan and the band[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Classic interview: Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, Butch Vig, Flood and more on the Smashing Pumpkins' recording history". MusicRadar. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Thomas, Richard. "Signal to Noise: The Sonic Diary of the Smashing Pumpkins". EQ Magazine. October 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Brown, Jake (October 2016). "Smashing Pumpkins: A studio history with Billy Corgan, Flood, Jimmy Chamberlin, Butch Vig, Alan Moulder, and Tommy Lee". Tape-Op. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  4. Kylee Swenson Gordon (1 May 2012). Electronic Musician Presents the Recording Secrets Behind 50 Great Albums. Backbeat Books. pp. 149–. ISBN 978-1-4768-2136-8.
  5. Danny Eccleston, "Gourd Vibrations", TGM Magazine, December 1995
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Brown, Jake (October 2016). "Smashing Pumpkins: A studio history with Billy Corgan, Flood, Jimmy Chamberlin, Butch Vig, Alan Moulder, and Tommy Lee". Tape-Op. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  7. Richard Thomas, "Signal To Noise: The Sonic Diary Of The Smashing Pumpkins", Electronic Musician, October 1st, 2008