November 1997-March 1998 – Sunset Sound

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November 1997-March 1998 – Sunset Sound
Studio session of The Smashing Pumpkins
ArtistThe Smashing Pumpkins
FromNovember 1997
ToMarch 1998
LocationSunset Sound
Producer(s)Billy Corgan
Engineer(s)Neil Perry, Howard Willing

The November 1997-March 1998 Sunset Sound sessions was the second session for Adore, after relocating to Studio 2 at Sunset Sound. After months of aimless recording, Flood was brought in to sift through the 40-odd songs and assess what needed to be done to make an album out of the mountain of recordings. The final Adore album was a patchwork that drew from these sessions as well as the failed Chicago Brad Wood Sessions, the live CRC sessions and even some home recordings at Sadlands.

Billy reached out to Nitzer Ebb's Bon Harris, who contributed additional programming and sound design with the aid of his Nord Modular, Oberheim Xpander, and massive Roland System 100M. But the songs didn't come into full focus until Corgan reconnected with Flood, whose experience with bands like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails made him the perfect candidate to help actualize Adore's hybrid vision.

Tracks recorded[edit | edit source]

Unreleased[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The dissonance was evident to Flood upon arrival. The mix of disparate Pro Tools sessions and oneinch tape created a textured canvas that proved difficult to homogenize, and the tension between band members was palpable. The band worked at Sunset Sound until reoccurring technical difficulties with the Neve console forced them to complete the project at the Village Recorder in Santa Monica. To further Adore’s maudlin, Goth-tech spirit, Corgan assumed a Max Schreck-like persona, emphasizing his shaved head with lighting and make-up and donning long, flowing garb that accented his 6-foot 4-inch frame.

Many fans attributed Adore’s stylistic shift directly to Chamberlin’s lack of participation. Chamberlin himself later said "I don’t feel excluded from Adore. When I listen to that record, I hear decisions that I totally influenced because I wasn’t there."[1] Contrary to favorable reviews and another Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album, Corgan insists “nobody got the record.” “To Sheila” pumped blood through its mechanized heart, “Ava Adore” flashed her crooked teeth, but the bite wasn’t as strong. Chamberlin’s raw power was replaced by reverberating, distorted 808 kicks. Shuffle and swing turned into quantized grooves and fills. Predictable ticks marched along in place of glittering cymbal embellishments.

Studio whiteboard

Corgan attributed some inspiration for radically different album to the early-1950's Sun recordings of Howlin' Wolf. "I was really blown away by the visceral energy. There's other things I was listening to: Son House, Muddy Waters. But I wasn't attracted to the song form per se. I was attracted to the spirit in the music. It seemed more rock & roll to me than any other rock & roll I could listen to." Corgan was so attracted to the idea of an roots 'n' groove record that he at one point reached out to Daniel Lanois and T-Bone Burnett about producing the album.

As recording concluded, the band felt unsettled about touring as a three-piece, especially for an offbeat album like Adore. Corgan had made plans for a solo acoustic record and tour over time as an outlet for the songs that didn't make the album. "The energy around the new record is going to dictate what happens.", Corgan told Rolling Stone. "Fuck, everybody might hate it. I don't know. I'd be lying if I said, 'The record company hates it, the fans hate it - right, I'm going to go out on tour.' I'll just stay home."[2]

Equipment[edit | edit source]

Guitars[edit | edit source]

Production and engineering[edit | edit source]

Corgan's LiveJournals[edit | edit source]

Way Out in Outpost Canyon[edit | edit source]

We are recording at Sunset Sound, a famed studio on Sunset Boulevard where the Doors recorded their first album (a huge influence on me, so I take this to be a good sign)…the room we are in every day is where Van Halen did their first 3 records (another good sign)…I am now the de-facto producer, so it’s me, Bjorn on pro-tools, and an engineer from L.A., Howard, who will man the board, etc…Howard, though a bit conservative (he doesn’t like Led Zeppelin!!!) turns out to be a good guy, and a friend in the end, so he and Bjorn form a sort of support team…(they believe in what I am doing, and encourage me a lot in the months to come)…the band sets up work on a song that will ultimately be called “Once Upon a Time”…the band is in a circle (which is how we usually work), with me facing the drums…right away, I zero in on Matt…I want him to be “Jimmy”, and lift this song higher…he is capable of doing this on his own (in his own way), but unfortunately I want him to be Jimmy, to play just how Jimmy would play…this creates an impossible dynamic…without realizing it before, or admitting it openly (even to myself), I want Jimmy to come back…but I have stubbornly backed myself into a corner…when we (the band) fired Jimmy, just days after the fateful overdose that left him facing prosecution (and Jonathon dead), we had talked amongst ourselves that it would only be a temporary thing…I said “let him sit and clean himself up for 6 months, and then he can come back”…James and D’arcy both agreed this was the best idea…the plan was never, ever to fire him FOREVER…the honest reason we had taken such a hard stand publicly is we wanted and needed Jimmy to believe that there was no coming back…this way (we figured) he wouldn’t just stall for time, or tell us what we wanted to hear like all the times before (hence the dramatic interviews and quotes of “never, never, ever”-essentially we lied to the whole world!)…we figured that he would clean himself up (rehab, therapy), call us up to apologize, ask to come back, and then the door would swing open and we would be there with open arms… but sadly that didn’t happen…as we toured without Jimmy to finish the remaining Mellon Collie dates, our own bitterness set in (as did his for being abandoned), and of course, he never called (looking now, why would he?)…he did, unknown to me for the most part, stay in touch with Gooch the whole time…if I had once found the courage to tell him the “truth/lie” of his firing, (which was more like a suspension) this all could have been averted, and he would have been sitting in front of me listening to me blab on about the arrangement of this song, etc…I missed him badly now, and needed his guidance to make this record, but couldn’t bring my pride around to admit that the situation could have been handled a lot better by us (not to mention letting him know that from my heart, he was forgiven)…Matt had done a very admirable job filling in, and now, out of nowhere, I was turning on him for a situation he had no part of (we had even gone so far as to ask him to be a part of the band, figuring at this point Jimmy really wasn’t coming back)…everything that Matt did was suddenly “wrong” in my eyes, and like someone who wants to break up with somebody but doesn’t have the courage to just say ‘I’m done’, I made the situation so miserable for him and me that it became a certain inevitability that he would go…he truly did his best, but I had already made up my heart…and so, within just a few days, maybe a week of starting in L.A., Matt was on a plane back to Chicago…

So far, I had blamed the co-producer, the drummer, my hometown, of course James and D’arcy, and even Jimmy to a certain extent for putting me in this fucked position… I was losing the ability to just keep chewing up ground without paying any kind of toll… I refuse to really see what I am really doing to myself, the band, and everyone around me…the studio becomes a fortress, where I just shut the door for 12 hours and close the world out…all of this stress, and a rising conflict about where we were now headed, starts to bleed heavily into my relationship with my partner…we start fighting all the time, usually when I come home at night… I am trapped, but I refuse to give up…the very act of making this record (and writing these sad songs) is really one of the most painful experiences of my life…on the other side of me (and the album) was all of the “thems theys”, which turned out to be whoever didn’t understand or agree with what I am trying to do…what I really need is help, not on the album, but for me…I drew the circle around me, and pushed everyone out…

So we find ourselves back to where it had essentially begun in 1988, which was the 3 of us and a drum machine… before Jimmy had ever joined the band, we had played about 12-15 shows as a 3 piece (with drums I programmed to sound like a “real” drummer)…so I try to put a positive spin and say “great, let’s just go back to the way we used to work in the old days”…it doesn’t feel that unnatural, as everyone sorta falls into their old roles… I think that maybe this truly is a return to our roots, not just sonically, but emotionally as well…James and D’arcy seem fine with the idea, and no talk of Jimmy coming back is ever raised during the remainder of the sessions…

The first song we tackle (post-Matt) is one I had just written, first thing in the morning…by the time we finish recording it, the song will not yet be 3 hours old…I get to the studio, and program a very basic beat into my drum machine (the same lucky beatbox we used on ‘1979’)… the 3 of us play live out in the room as I sing the frosty, ghost vocals into a mike that is usually used for recording guitars…the song is called “Shame”, and I repeat this word over and over again, stuttering (ala “Changes” by Bowie or “My Generation” by The Who)…we only play the song 2 times for practice (not even all the way thru), and I yell “roll it”, wait for the signal (a thumbs up from Howard, we’re rolling) and press ‘start’ on the drum machine…*ba-ba boom, ba-ba boom*…D’arcy’s bass starts out first, and is immediately out of tune…I wait, and then my guitar slowly chimes in, loaded with delays as James uses a device that makes his guitar sustain forever (like a violin)…I am playing a rare maple-necked Jaguar, and the sound is thin and achy…I am singing for my life, so raw is my being now that goose bumps cover my whole body…it is fear and ecstasy all rolled together, and it engulfs me…the band of 3 feel unified, molten, rides the vision slow…this is the sound you can only get when you have played for so many years together that you play a sort of “in time, out of time” feel…if you were to isolate each instrument on it’s own, you would probably say that no one is playing particularly well at all…but somehow together, we create a flying alchemical sound of transformation, and we think little of it as this magic trick has happened so many times… the lyrics are a sketch, scrawled on a piece of loose paper, and I am not even sure what I am singing about as I voice them, but I reach for each word like a prayer… it is like a watching a movie that you have created but you do not know how it will all end…the music, the song seems to go on forever, and you hope silently that you do not make a mistake that will break the spell…and then, fade, it’s over…there is uncomfortable silence between us as the ghost leaves the room…everyone unknowingly returns to the role they are supposed to play in this story…but in that moment gone, we are one…[3]

Coming Down The Mountain[edit | edit source]

The sessions are generally slow paced and technical (we work 6 days a week, by the end 7)…most of my time is spent figuring out how to get new sounds out of old equipment…I have purposely brought none of my usual gear, denying myself access to my most trusted equipment and thereby forcing me to have to work in unfamiliar territory…the amps are old, vintage tube amps, not designed for massive walls of sound…there are almost no guitar pedals to speak of, certainly none that make the guitar distort…I have backed myself into a corner with the hope that I would care enough to fight my way out…the control room we work in is very cramped, which makes it hard for anyone beyond the 3 principals (me, Bjorn, Howard) to hang out leisurely…as is often the case during recording, if they are not needed, James and D’arcy tend to hang out in the lounge, where they can watch T.V…the only problem is this lounge is really small and cramped, so it makes even hanging in there uncomfortable…I tell D’arcy that I really would like her to come and spend the days with me working, that at the worst she can help guide the direction the album is taking (a request I have not made before)…I tell her I need her guidance (she always had a good sense of what is ‘good’), and even though the space is tight, would really appreciate her support…she gets angry and spits at me, “why would I want to sit in there all day with you? It’s so fucking boring!!”…James mostly sits outside in the courtyard and talks on his cell phone…it is a difficult time for everyone…they are used to me working on my own, and any attempt I now make to engage them either doesn’t go so well, or is met with emotional disinterest…things only seem to click if we all play at the same time, but this does not always work for every song, nor is the playing level high enough (on their part) to justify this kind of recording for the whole record…it turns into a case by case, song by song basis, where each song must claw it’s way to a direction, and then based on what I determine is best for a particular tune, set a course that brings the various dysfunctional band dynamics into play…for example, if they aren’t really needed on a song in a fundamental way, they don’t seem to care at all how it turns out …if I ask them to play on a certain idea because I feel their contribution is important (i.e. “why don’t you try out some bass/guitar on this one) our communication is so poor now that if it doesn’t go well fairly quickly, I don’t know how to ‘work’ with them, nor do they feel comfortable enough to put out their best, most committed effort…sometimes things click, like D’arcy’s 6 string bass ideas on the song “waiting”, but more often than not they offer little and less as the days tick by…the situation is just too damaged, and seems essentially beyond repair…having sold myself on the idea of using drum machines and/or samples instead of a “live” drummer, I quickly discover this is not as easy or as exciting a way to work as I had envisioned…so the drums become a source of frustration and concern, and we start thinking that some songs (though not all) would benefit from the use of a real drummer…

We reach out to Joey, from Beck's group, to fill in…his style is basically reminiscent of Jimmy’s playing, so this is an easy fit…work with him goes fairly quickly…mostly, I just have him play to tracks that are already somewhat recorded, and his timing is so solid it is a breeze, saving lots of time and effort…(a month later, I ask him if he would like to do the tour---he immediately says yes, and one week later quits without explanation)…the other drummer we work with is Matt, from the now disbanded Soundgarden…Matt is one of the few drummers I have ever felt rivaled Jimmy in the chops department, and we ask him to come in and record live with us…although his style is different than Jimmy’s, he, like Jimmy, takes the songs to a new level of dynamic…the highlight of our work with him is the song I have written for my mother, “For Martha”, a 7 minute or so opus with lots of parts, stops and starts, and even tempo changes…I play the piano live in an “iso” room, while James and D’arcy are out on the floor with him in the main…we do many, many takes to get the whole piece just right (so the master can be just one whole piece), and it turns out beautifully as everyone plays with a lot of passion and soul (a real highlight of the record)…

After so many months of pressure, the contrast of these incredible moments of grace set against the mundane pursuit of the smallest details start to drive me crazy…the album, and it’s concepts, are now sprawling out of control…there are some 30 songs that are half-finished, and I can’t even say I know what it is I am looking for…it’s not acoustic, and it’s not electronic, it is more of a sad, lost feeling with beams of hope shining thru…band, no band, drummer, no drummer…I am there in person, but not really in spirit…I work, speak, but feel disconnected from all of it…as the writer, it is an odd thing to also be the performer…I enjoy the writing immensely, but am very disappointed in myself as “the artist”…and looming in the background are all the events that brought me here, still unresolved…I haven’t even taken a moments pause to mourn my mom…it is all so painful that I cannot bear to hold the entire truth, so I just break it into smaller and smaller pieces that are easy to digest on a day to day basis…but there is no longer a point on the horizon I am marching towards anymore…I have achieved the greatest of success and tasted the stupidity of my own hubris…the old dreams are dead, and now my life becomes more a trudge of survival, and in some messed up way, as long as I keep working I am o.k….there is a part of me that does not want it to end, because I am afraid of what is waiting for me on the other side…[4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Richard Thomas, "Signal To Noise: The Sonic Diary Of The Smashing Pumpkins", Electronic Musician, October 1st, 2008
  2. David Fricke, "The Soft Parade", Rolling Stone, March 1998
  3. Billy Corgan, "Way Out in Outpost Canyon", livejournal, April 13, 2005
  4. Billy Corgan, "Coming Down The Mountain", livejournal, April 14, 2005