In a walk through Smashing Pumpkins' history, we examine the stories and situations that created the studio albums from 1991's Gish to 2014's Monuments to an Elegy. We'll hear from singer, songwriter, and guitarist Billy Corgan, drummers Jimmy Chamberlin and Tommy Lee, and a cast of producers and engineers, including Flood, Alan Moulder, Butch Vig [Tape Op #11], Brad Wood [#99], Howard Willing, and Terry Date.
When did the concept of "produced by" on the back of a vinyl album first occur to you as a music fan growing up?
Billy Corgan: I had a very early awareness of sound that was very personal. Of course later I figured out what I was reacting to, but I do remember having really deep emotional experiences listening to Queen, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, and The Beatles, where I connected the sonic information to an emotional quality that I saw as distinctive.
You've been very hands-on throughout your entire professional career as a co-producer on all of the Smashing Pumpkins albums. What motivated you to begin taking an interest in the recording process?
Billy Corgan: I was intimidated by the recording studio environment early on, and in that intimidation I defaulted to letting the people around me do what they do – get the drum sound, whatever – and I had some early experiences where I questioned people, or I suggested maybe that there was a different thing that they could have done. I didn't get a very positive response, which set me down the path of, "Well, I guess I should know how to do that, so when they say, ‘No,' I can tell them why they're wrong." [I preferred that] as opposed to someone telling me, "No" and, "You don't know what you're doing."
Your debut album, Gish, holds up as one of those life-changing albums for most fans. It certainly was the first time anyone had ever heard a sound quite like that one. What made you feel Butch Vig was the right man for the job as your co-producer?
Billy Corgan: The first time I met Butch Vig was when we walked into Smart Studios to record what became our Sub Pop single ["Tristessa"]. I knew who he was by name and reputation, but didn't know anything else about him. I think [I liked] the fact that he wasn't pretentious; he was a hard worker and he wasn't intimidated by the scope of what Jimmy and I were trying to do. In fact, he seemed to welcome it. Then, in turn, he asked us to play at a higher level than we even knew we could play at, which just fueled our, "Alright, if you meet us there; we'll meet you here." That started this really incredible relationship between Jimmy, Butch, and I – we tended to feed off of one another's insanity.
Butch Vig: When I first met the Pumpkins I was thrilled to work with them because I think I had found someone, in Billy Corgan, who really set the bar high sonically. I knew right away that he was gonna push me, but I could push him right back. Quite frankly, on most of the albums or projects I'd done before Gish there was never any budget or any money. I had to do records really fast, in two or three days, or maybe five or six days, so everything just had to be by the seat of my pants. I'd have to make really fast decisions. When we went in to make Gish, I think the budget was maybe 30 days or something, and I was over the moon. I was really thrilled about that, because I always wanted to be able spend more time finessing a sound. As much as I love punk rock, rock ‘n' roll, chaos, and noise, I like to hear the focus of that sound. I like records to be focused: I like to hear the instrumentation; I like to hear the hooks. Billy and the Pumpkins felt the same way. We were a good pair, and I think that was one of the first things we bonded on initially; setting the bar really high in what we could do sonically.
What made the pocket between Billy and Jimmy so special, and key, to the core of the band's sound?
Butch Vig: Billy and Jimmy had almost a sixth sense, in terms of the feel that they developed within songs. They are both amazing musicians. Billy can play crazy, shredding metal, muso-jazz chords, and rhythmically he's just amazing. Jimmy had rock chops, but he also had...