December 1992-March 1993 – Triclops Sound

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December 1992-March 1993 – Triclops Sound
Siamese Dream pigs.png
Studio session of The Smashing Pumpkins
ArtistThe Smashing Pumpkins
AlbumSiamese Dream
FromDecember 1992
ToMarch 1993
LocationTriclops Sound
Producer(s)Butch Vig, Billy Corgan
Engineer(s)Jeff Tomei, Michael Richardson

The December 1992-March 1993 Triclops Sound sessions were the proper studio sessions for 1993's Siamese Dream. Around 25 songs were finished, including the thirteen album tracks as well as a number of outtakes: "Apathy's Last Kiss", "French Movie Theme", "Hello Kitty Kat", "Pissant" and "Siamese Dream" were all B-sides; "Frail and Bedazzled", "Spaced" and "Whir" appeared on Pisces Iscariot; "Infinite Sadness" actually dates from these sessions, although released on the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness triple vinyl; Earphoria's "Sinfony" might or might not have been tracked during these sessions. An unreleased alternate mix of "Spaceboy" which features James Iha's slide guitar but no Mellotron can be found on the unofficial Mashed Potatoes box set.

Tracks recorded[edit | edit source]

Officially released[edit | edit source]

Available on bootlegs[edit | edit source]

  • "Spaceboy" (slide guitar, no Mellotron)

Unreleased[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The Unbearable Likeness of Manny, as seen in Vieuphoria

Siamese Dream was recorded on analog tape, and it was "inconceivable how much work it took".[2] Corgan and Vig both set high expectations for the album. There was a lot of attention to getting Jimmy Chamberlin's drum tracks just right. After that was in place, the rest was largely left to Corgan, who performed nearly all of the guitar and bass parts.[3] Long hours were spent in the control room – 12 to 14-hour days – of just Corgan playing guitar and singing.[2]Virgin began to grow impatient with the album's recording as it went over budget and became behind schedule. The band, however, would not let the company cut corners if it meant compromising the sound.[4] By the time recording was completed, Corgan and Vig felt too emotionally exhausted to mix the record. Corgan suggested that engineer Alan Moulder mix the album, due to his work on Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.[5] Moulder booked two weeks in a studio to mix the album; the mix ended up taking 36 days to complete.[6] Moulder had to leave on the last day of mixing, when Vig and Corgan completed the last song, "Luna" at around 4 AM. The album was finally finished after four months and about $250,000 over budget.[4]

Equipment[edit | edit source]

Corgan and Vig at Triclops Sound

Guitar[edit | edit source]

Corgan achieved Siamese Dream's highly stylized tone with DOD brand pedals, along with the now-infamous '70s-era, silver-faced Big Muff Pi fuzz. When the fuzz still wasn't enough, a Electro-Harmonix Microsynth was employed. Corgan's go-to Strat used on Gish had since been stolen, so instead he used '57 Eric Clapton re-issue Strats with Lace Sensor pickups. Triclops sound engineer Mark Richardson had a MSA fuzz unit that, while not designed for loud guitar, provided a high-end white noise gain that can be heard in the solo for "Cherub Rock". "Quiet" featured guitars fully panned to the left and right, both running through the Big Muff with the tone turned all the way down. "Mayonaise" meanwhile had a howling break in the chorus that was merely feedback from Corgan's $60 pawnshop "Mayonaise guitar".[7]

There were "endless" overdubs on the guitars too, at least 40 in "Soma" alone. Vig would sometimes draw out maps as self-reminders on how to approach the mix. His miking technique helped glue the many takes together. Corgan's amp would have the gain at full volume and would set the volume on the guitar itself down. The headphone send on the mics would then be boosted, and Vig tracked them with a AKG C 414, a Sennheiser 421 for the mid-range, and ribbon mics for the mellow transients.[7]

Iha's intro guitar on "Mayonaise" was performed using a Kingston guitar he got at a pawnshop. The intonation was "terrible" according to Triclops engineer Jeff Tomei, and required a lot of persistent tuning. The feedback heard during the pauses in the song was a Kimberley guitar, which is the same guitar that was used on "Pissant".[8]

Corgan's Ovation acoustic was used on "Disarm", possibly miked with a tube 47 or an AKG 414 and with a 1176 or dbx160 compressor. Corgan would often wear a bracelet when playing that was sometimes picked up by the mics. It is subtly exposed almost like faint percussion in "Spaceboy", and more prominently on "Daydream" from Gish.

Drums[edit | edit source]

Chamberlin used his 1939 Radio King snare for most of the album. This and a Pearl 6.5" Chrome Free-Floater were used on "Today".[8]

Vocals[edit | edit source]

The wall of guitars made vocal tracking a difficult task for Corgan. Vig wasn't a huge fan of the mid-range in Corgan's voice. To offset this, a Shure SM7 was the mic of choice, fed through an API Lunchbox preamp, usually cutting the mid range at around 800 hz, and a Summit TLA-100 tube limiter. No auto-tune was used. Sometimes Corgan would sing for eight hours straight to ensure the vocal takes were pitch-perfect.[7] A Eventide harmonizer was sometimes used to add a doubling effect, usually with a 20 or 30 ms delay and a 10 cent pitch offset.[8]

Other instruments[edit | edit source]

Corgan played the Mellotron used on "Spaceboy". It belonged to Triclops sound and was later purchased by James Iha.

The string overdubs involved one violin and one cello player. Jeff Tomai "stacked" them about 15-20 times and had to record on a C reel to bounce back to the B reel. The cello was probably recorded with either a tube 47 or a Neumann fet 47 mics, and a Sony C37A for the violin.[8]

Production[edit | edit source]

The album was recorded into 48 tracks using two Studer consoles, along with a Neve 8068 mixing console that was previously used by John Lennon at A&R Studios in New York. The song "Mayonaise" in particular had many tape edits, so many that Vig transferred to a Mitsubishi digital multitrack in fear the tape would break. The album was mixed at Rumbo in Los Angeles. 40 reels of 2" between "B" Reels and safeties were played back on an Ampex 456 at 30 IPS.[8]

Corgan's LiveJournal's[edit | edit source]

2 Sets of Siamese Twins[edit | edit source]

The studio we are working in is about 20+ minutes outside of Atlanta proper, a distance that escapes us as being too far to have any kind of social life…our first thought of course is to where we would be able to hang out on a nightly basis, and with Atlanta looming just over the horizon, we figured fun was a sure bet (wrong!)…little did we know we were in the beehive of the very white deep south, Marietta, Georgia…we are set up in one of those temporary living communities, where people rent month to month in case they have to leave suddenly…James and D’arcy share one apartment, while Jimmy, Vince, and I share other…James and D’arcy’s place is about a 3 minute drive from ours, which adds to the sense of isolation between the two camps and insures that outside of work, we will almost never see each other…our roommate Vince is one of James’ high school buddies turned employee, and his job is to take care of whatever (whatever breaks, whatever needs to get done---prompting the infamous jam/rant song “where’s vince?”)…

In order to save some money, our first order of business is to spend some quality time with Butch Vig (our producer) in an Atlanta rehearsal space, to go over all the songs and weed out what is in or out…Butch sets up a portable make-shift studio to record us for later reference, and we get to work for a few days in earnest…this is pretty much a repeat of how we work at home, just doing a lot of chopping and cutting and last second lyric scribbling…to add a little something to the sense of urgency, we have booked 4 shows at a local club, hoping that the combo of working with Butch first and the concerts second will get us in gear and over the final hump to fully prepare the songs to be recorded…James and D’arcy are much more comfortable with Butch around because they feel that there is someone new to pay attention to them and heed any of their concerns…this is something Jimmy and I silently find amusing, because there is a bit of a show to the whole thing that we are long bored with…behind the scenes, there is one way we do business, but in front of anyone else, it’s just a charade that I tolerate…

Because we have been cooped up for so long, the shows go fairly well energetically but are a bit of a train wreck musically…without forethought, we have transferred our normal practice set-ups to the stage, which means we are using the Big Muff fuzz pedals live…this proves to be a fatal mistake, because without the density of a small room around us, our guitars sound very thin and undefined rendering us sloppy and loose…jumpy nerves add to muddled arrangements, missed opportunities, and to top it all off, most of the songs do not have any lyrics…I skate by by singing my normal in-practice pig-latin, which to someone not paying much attention sounds relatively close to the actual English language…

Jimmy Chamberlin - Triclops Studios.png

The recording studio itself sits coyly in a very normal office complex…built by total vintage gearheads, our attraction to the place is simple: away from Chicago, able to make the ‘old’ tube sound…the control room is about standard size, which means it fits about 4 people comfortably, 5 is a stretch…the actual tracking room is a prolonged concrete rectangle, acoustically designed for maximum volume and deadly booming drums (for those interested, you can see this studio fairly well in our home video ‘vieuphoria’)…we spend a few days moving the drums around from wall to wall, hoping to find the optimal sonic spot for Jimmy to play in…we end up opting for a back corner, and from that point on, he never moves…for the tracking, we set-up in a variation of our circle, with me in front of Jimmy, and James and D’arcy off to my left and Jimmy’s right…our amps sit in small isolation booths to keep the sound from bleeding in on the drums, and we all have to wear headphones…standard procedure is to pick a song, and focus on arrangement and drum tones…for Jimmy, the snare he uses on a particular song is a big deal, so he and Butch spend a lot of time going back and forth about this head or that cymbal…then we’ll play for a bit, go and listen to the takes, and then make last-second verbal changes…once we all agree upon a ‘final’ arrangement, we play together until one of 3 things happens: we get the take all playing together, we don’t get the take all playing together, or Jimmy complains to me that James and D’arcy’s playing is throwing him off and asks me to remove them from playing along at all…there are various incarnations of the third option, which could be Jimmy asking Butch to town them down in the headphones, or asking me to lose James but keep D’arcy or the other way around...because this is a new album and a fresh opportunity, there is a sense in the air that this time around the recording and the associated processes will be different…any variation in the beginning of the album of the ‘let’s all do it together’ concept causes immediate tension, and Butch is squarely placed in the middle...this is something I bristle at, but at the same time realize that it is possibly a means to an end…James has a very good memory, and the recording issues with him normally center around timing and tightness…D’arcy on the other hand commonly gets completely lost, which throws off Jimmy’s concentration, blowing the take…in addition, he hates her sense of timing, and the way it makes his drum takes fly all over (we know as we record that we will not keep anything that the 3 of us record, we are simply there to assist Jimmy to play with the right ‘feel’)...I try to keep the peace, but quickly realize that the old way, which is essentially me and Jimmy, is still the easiest way across…I privately express to Jimmy that I understand his growing frustration, but to pace himself because it is going to be a long recording process…

After a lot of discussion, Butch and I agree that the best way to save time is to get all of Jimmy’s drum parts done first, before we start to zero in on the bass, guitars, and vocals…Butch, coming off the huge sales of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album, has become even more obsessed with perfectionism as a means to success...where on our first album ‘Gish’, because of time and money, many of Jimmy’s drums were done in just one take, now Butch wants more...with the stakes and budget being much higher, he now pushes Jimmy to a level of idealism that he has never asked of any other drummer...being a drummer himself, Butch picks up on subtle nuances that would escape me, and therefore doesn’t allow Jimmy to get by with less than his best...at first, it becomes a gentle ribbing contest between the two, with Butch tweaking Jimmy that he can do better, and Jimmy pushing back by saying Butch couldn’t even attempt half of what he (Jimmy) is doing...even when Jimmy does a great take, Butch takes the 24 track master and slices it up with a razor blade to create an even more perfect version that no human could accomplish...this sets such a high standard for Jimmy that he begins to lose confidence in himself, and this translates into him making mental errors in arrangements, so focused is he now on perfect timing...because Jimmy is a total savant on the drums, he has never had to examine his playing to this degree before, because drums have come so readily to him...Jimmy starts communicating to me that he cannot handle the pressure, and this adds to his lack of patience with James and D’arcy...whereupon, they start complaining to Butch...and this is the way the circle starts to go round...[9]

The March of Sherman[edit | edit source]

As our days grind on in the studio, all pressure is mounting on Jimmy…the success of every session weighs solely on his shoulders, something he is not used to…the big question every day sits whether he can top himself and play better than he has ever played in his life…we are counting on him to finish all the drums first, and I can tell that even though he is putting on a brave face, this type of microscopic attention is starting to freak him out…Jimmy is the type of musician who is at his best if he is not thinking…this doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he is doing at any given moment (he does), but rather what he does is so complicated that it’s best if he doesn’t pay too much attention, a act like juggling with dangerous objects…because you can juggle 4 knives fairly effectively if you really don’t pay much attention to the fact that you are juggling 4 sharp knives…and this is what it is like for him, playing some of these songs at 100mph…I look for ways to help him, and notice if I give him too many details after a take, he plays worse and worse, overburdened by thought…also, he doesn’t play well if you criticize him openly particularly, or directly, but responds really well to overall grand concepts and encouragement…the general feeling for me when I work with Jimmy is one of true honor…he will absolutely kill himself and play his fingers to the bone trying to get you what you want musically, if you will walk with him thru the darkness of the whole ordeal…take after take strips Jimmy of his natural confidence, and I try to stay in the spot with him, reminding him of how far we have come, and how we are both going to get there…we start to speak a secret language no one hears, not even Butch over the open mikes…James and D’arcy don’t say a word, either because they don’t understand or don’t care, as this part of the process becomes mine and Jimmy’s exclusively…I spend a lot of energy trying to soothe him, to get him to play consistently so that we won’t have to chop up all his drum takes so much, both because the editing is so time consuming (sometimes a whole day) and the very act of slicing apart his grooves destroys his urgent swagger, killing the bands natural feel…I secretly go along with all this idealism, believing in Butch and how it will get us all where we want to go…unknowingly, I am deftly balancing two worlds on a pin, one the world of the mighty Pumpkins and our sloppy yet defined passion, the other the growing perfectionism of a coming corporate age…

To break up some of the incessant drum takes, we focus some on bass and guitar sounds, doing lots of tests with microphones and pre-amps, guitars and speakers, to try to bring the overall picture into a clear vision that seems readily achievable…although we have a fairly large budget (precisely 8 times larger than our first), money is being eaten up rapidly by the accommodations and studio time…even at this fairly early stage, we are already behind schedule and by logic over budget (if you calculate it out)…as is their custom, James and D’arcy pay little attention to these ‘tests’, leaving the technical aspects to Butch and I…since this is now our way of giving Jimmy a break, he is generally not even at the studio during this work…

Jimmy starts to lose it, regressing back into hanging out with losers and making quick friends with local addicts…I had hoped that by coming down to Atlanta (my real reason for getting out of Chicago) that we could keep him isolated from these types of temptations and stay focused…at first, it is a few simple ‘I had a few too many’ mornings, and we work around his hangovers and sudden ‘flu-like’ symptoms…but you can see the storm cloud coming, because he gets this certain look in his eye…at night, I try to engage him by playing video game baseball against him, and we have some wonderful times beating up on each other, each claiming his own bragging rights…many evenings, he just comes home and goes right to bed…but like some hidden clockwork, a ‘friend’ will suddenly appear at the studio to take him into ‘Hot-lanta’ for a night on the town, and he’s gone, quicker than you can say ‘wait’…this has a strange rhythm to it, these calm days and sad, crazy nights, and it is something you can get used to, like a tax you learn to pay…this is all manageable of course…that is until he disappears without a trace…[10]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. https://twitter.com/smashingpumpkin/status/56115867582341120
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jake Brown, "Smashing Pumpkins: A Studio History", Tape-Op, September/October 2016
  3. Azzerrad, Michael (October 1993). "Smashing Pumpkins' Sudden Impact". Rolling Stone.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Azzerrad, Michael (October 1993). "Smashing Pumpkins' Sudden Impact". Rolling Stone.
  5. DeRogatis, Jim (2003). Milk It!: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the 90's. Cambridge: Da Capo. p. 78. ISBN 0-306-81271-1.
  6. Thomas, Richard (October 2008). "Signal to Noise: The Sonic Diary of the Smashing Pumpkins". EQ Magazine.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kylee Swenson Gordon (1 May 2012). Electronic Musician Presents the Recording Secrets Behind 50 Great Albums. Backbeat Books. pp. 148–. ISBN 978-1-4768-2136-8.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "1993 Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream". Gearslutz. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  9. Billy Corgan, "2 Sets of Siamese Twins", livejournal, May 6th, 2005
  10. Billy Corgan, "The March of Sherman", livejournal, May 10th, 2005