November 1998-September 1999 – Pumpkinland

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November 1998-September 1999 – Pumpkinland
Studio session of The Smashing Pumpkins
ArtistThe Smashing Pumpkins
AlbumMachina/The Machines of God
FromNovember 1998
ToSeptember 1999
LocationPumpkinland, Chicago Recording Company
Producer(s)Flood, Billy Corgan
Engineer(s)Howard Willing
Mixer(s)Alan Moulder

The November 1998-September 1999 sessions were for the final Smashing Pumpkins pre-breakup album, Glass and The Machines of God. Due to the departure of D'arcy Wretzky and label pressure, the album was whittled down to Machina/The Machines of God, with a posthumous self-release of outtakes Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music. A completely different bootleg also called Friends & Enemies of Modern Music contained early takes of "Glass' Theme", "Blue Skies Bring Tears" and "Disco King". Additional Machina outtakes leaked on the internet in 2014, including: two alternate versions of "Raindrops + Sunshowers", "Without You", "Sleeping Giant", a full-band acoustic "Glass and the Ghost Children" and two alternate versions of "Home".

Tracks recorded[edit | edit source]

Officially released[edit | edit source]

Available on bootlegs[edit | edit source]

Unreleased[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

Machina song whiteboard

Jimmy Chamberlin returned to the band in March 1999, and Flood was again enlisted to produce the record. However, unlike Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness where there was immense planning before recording again, few were in the know on Corgan's creative direction. It was to be a concept album about a fictitious rock band, with the frontman whose life was forever altered after hearing the voice of God. The sonic subtext for this would understandably be just as esoteric.

The band wanted to take digital lessons from Adore and apply them to rock, aiming to create the sound of an extraterrestrial band. This was to be accomplished through tape degradation, synth-like mechanized guitars, soaring pads and effects, heavily-processed vocals, and big drums.

To prepare the band for recording the new material, they performed a few select club dates in April 1999 while Flood was on holiday. Upon returning to the studio, the band was able to ride the momentum of the live shows through a week of recording, before taking another break while Alan Moulder mixed. Wretzky's commitment to the band eroded, and she officially announced her departure in September 1999, though it is rumored she left a month or so prior.

Corgan said it wasn't a conscious decision to return to "heavy metal" for the album. "For the two or three very heavy songs on Machina, there are 12 heavy songs that we didn't put on it, because it just didn't feel right", writes Corgan. "It felt like we were repeating ourselves and digging up old bones. What's on the record is what we feel: if it sounds angry, it is angry, and if it sounds pretty, it is pretty. There's no fakery in our world. Believe me, when we're faking, it's as bad as it gets."

Many of the songs evolved considerably throughout the sessions. "The Everlasting Gaze" saw around five different versions, with varying lyrics and chord structures. Corgan has said the original iteration is unrecognizable to the final version. "I of the Mourning" also had four or five different versions, while "Raindrops + Sunshowers" had two. In contrast, "Stand Inside Your Love" and "Try, Try, Try" were largely the same.

Equipment[edit | edit source]

Guitar[edit | edit source]

The Machina sessions were the first time Corgan largely departed from his fleet of Fenders. He instead primarily used a Gibson Les Paul Junior reissue with P90 pickups, often running them through Crate practice amp. An SIB Varidrive along with other Moogerfooger pedals added to Corgan's sonic repertoire.

Corgan felt the band had grown bored with guitar, and aimed for a completely different and unique sound, regardless if it sounded good or not. They also strived for improvisation, winging each take and later returning to identify what worked best.

Both Corgan and James Iha tuned down their guitars to the so-called "C tuning" – standard tuning dropped two whole steps (low to high: C F Bb Eb G C), which led to the album's thunderously low sound. This had a negative impact on the intonation, so Corgan enlisted Joe Naylor of Reverend guitars to build a prototype C-tuned guitar with a longer scale. He also used a custom C-tuned Hamer guitar, while Iha played his black 80s Gibson SG, also in the C-tuning. "James wanted to keep one guitar in C-tuning," explains Corgan, "and the SG stayed in tune the best."[1]

In total, Corgan used more than 40 different guitars in the making of Machina. "Everything from $10,000 Strats to $100 beaters," says Corgan. "During the sessions, we would line up all the guitars and choose whichever ones we wanted to use." While the Les Paul Junior reissue was the primary axe, he also played a Gibson ES-335 and a white Hamer given to him by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. Other electrics included Gretsch Silver Jet with a Bigsby tremolo (heard distinctly on "Glass and the Ghost Children") and a Fernandes guitar with a Sustainer pickup. Both Corgan and Iha used Taylor 600 series acoustic guitars on the album, employing Fishman's Blender System. This consisted of a Piezo bridge pickup, a mini microphone and a compact onboard mixer that allowed signals from each source to be combined.[1]

Corgan has said the Taylor acoustics were integral to some tricks used on the album. "We would run the signal from the acoustic guitar through a cheap cassette tape recorder and into the mixer. Doing this overloads the signal and creates a tone somewhere between an acoustic and and an electric guitar. It sounds pretty cool on it's own, but when it's set within the mix, it fills the tonal gap between an acoustic and electric guitar. It's there on "Try, Try, Try" although you'd never hear it among all the guitars. You feel it, though; it;s totally a harmonic thing."[1]

Amplifiers[edit | edit source]

Corgan and Iha used a number of makes and models for amps. This included Corgan's classic Selmer amps, a Fender Twin and Iha's Eighties vintage Marshall JMP 800 head and cabinet. "I don't know where he got it," Corgan told Guitar World about Iha's Marshall rig. "It's the best sounding Marshall head we have. The amp compresses the upper harmonics and produces that 'Jeff Beck/Yardbirds' sound. You can hear the clean signal, but you get that nice top-end distortion as well."[1]

"This Time" was the only recording from these sessions to use guitar amps and cabs from the Siamese Dream and/or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness eras.[2]

Effects[edit | edit source]

Guitar effects used on Machina included use of the E-bow, an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone and a Boss Digital Delay, all of which were used by Iha simultaneously on the "Stand Inside Your Love" solo. On "Heavy Metal Machine", a DigiTech Whammy pedal was used for the high lead part, while "I of the Mourning" saw the use of a tape-reverse effect from a vintage Eventide delay. A 70s-vintage Roland Stereo Chorus was also used on some songs. Many more effects were used, but Corgan has admitted he has forgotten many of the specifics that made the Machina guitar tone.[1]

Drums[edit | edit source]

Chamberlin entered the studio with a new custom-made Yamaha green maple kit. Distortion was used on some drumming, along with an Eventide Omnipressor on the snare. Chamberlin wrote, "the crispy-and-crunchiness of those drums, and how they interface with the guitar dynamics – from a production standpoint, really is our crowning achievement."[3]

Production[edit | edit source]

Most songs were recorded into Pro Tools through Corgan’s API Legacy board, but the band still had a number of mixing consoles to choose from at Chicago Recording Company. Flood performed a "litmus test", first transferring two songs onto tape using a Studer A280. He ran the tape through each console with all faders set to zero, without any EQ or panning, and then into a DAT machine. Between the Neve VR72, SSL 6056E, and the ’80s Neve broadcast console that Corgan brought in, the SSL was decidedly the best. The low-mid punch from this console would assist with the record's bright sound, despite Corgan not being a fan of SSL boards. Ultimately, Pro Tools wasn't used at all on Machina.[4]

As Machina evolved, Corgan and Flood would reprocess original guitar tracks to further achieve unusual sounds. "For example, if a recorded guitar part sounded too bright, we would run the signal off the tape, reprocess it though effects and run it back to tape. In a lot of cases, we would use the original signal plus the reprocessed signal, because it would produce a larger sound. We did that on "The Imploding Voice", where we used about 75% of the new signal and 25% of the original."[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Christopher Scapelliti, "Machina Shop: The Tools of Billy Corgan and James Iha's Trade", Guitar World, April 2000.
  2. Billy Corgan, October 21, 2020 Instagram Q&A
  3. Christopher Scapelliti, "Smoke & Mirrors", Guitar World, April 2000.
  4. Christopher Scapelliti, "Smoke & Mirrors", Guitar World, April 2000.