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Pumpkins plan double disk
December 31, 1993, 11:00 pm

Pumpkins plan double disk

BILLY CORGAN and the band have a smashing good time in the studio
Greg Kot. [Circa 1994]

Billy Corgan ruefully ponders the inevitable question: "The thought of putting out a double album in '95 is..."

"Preposterous?" producer Flood helpfully suggests.

Corgan laughs. "Or a total dinosaur-rock self-indulgence," he says.

"In our position, what are we supposed to do?" asks Corgan, singer and guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins. "Most bands would take the conservative approach, try to perpetuate their success by making a Siamese Dream II, but we wanted to do the most nonconservative thing we could do."

So that's why less than a year after headlining Lollapalooza, Smashing Pumpkins - Corgan, bassist D'Arcy, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin - are neck deep in a 24-song double CD of new material. They're working 12-hour days six days a week in a Chicago studio with their "tag team" co-producers, Flood and Alan Moulder, to finish in time for an October release.

Why the urgency? "We seem to work in two-plus-year cycles, and after this album runs its course, I'll be 30," says the 28-year-old Corgan. "I see this as the end of a creative cycle, at least for the way this band was originally conceived. So I figured as long as we still have this energy, let's do as wide ranging an album as we can do. after this album, we'll have exhausted the rock route."

Not that the Pumpkins have abandoned rock on the new release, the title of which Corgan is keeping to himself. To the contrary: Tracks such as "Zero," with its taut, staccato guitar progressions, and the roaring "Jellybelly," punctuated by Corgan's screams and Chamberlin's hurtling drumming, rock as hard as vintage Pumpkins. And the trippy, midtempo "Forgive" recalls the more contemplative sides of Siamese Dream, the band's 1993 breakthrough, and its 1991 predecessor, Gish.

But the new disc blows out Smashing Pumpkins' horizons on the epic "Porcelina," which layers effects reminiscent of Robert Fripp's "Frippertronic" guitar swirl atop dramatic drum surges, and on "Tonight the Night," a hush-to-roar roller coaster with live orchestration.

The songs are actually more concise and stripped down than those on Siamese Dream, even as they seem destined to alter conventional thinking about what Smashing Pumpkins' "sound" is. "We were in many ways a prototypical rock band with a tendency to write bloated, overly long songs," Corgan says."Flood helped open the window to the future of the band."

To accomplish the task, the Pumpkins laid down basic tracks live at their rehearsal space and are actually keeping a large percentage of the parts recorded there. "Before it was always overdub, overdub," says Iha. "We're getting more live stuff on this album than before."

But now, with the aid of samplers and sepuencers, the Pumpkins are twisting their guitar-bass-drums vocabulary into ever odder shapes. Even some of Chamberlin's rhythm tracks have been sampled and looped.

"If you had told me three years ago that I would be in a band that uses electronic drums," Chamberlin says, "I would have said, 'No way.'" But now I really like where it's taken our sound."

Not everyone in the band embraces an electronic future, however. "I'm a bass player," says D'Arcy. "You won't see me behind a synth."

But the band members all agree that the sessions have been a joy compared to the tense Siamese Dream recording, on which Corgan acknowleges he played most of the instruments. "I was obsessed to meet a standard that was beyond our capability," Corgan says. "I was more concerned about technical efficiency than heart."

Now, Corgan says, "We've learned to stop bickering and be friends."

"And - what do you know - we're even laughing every couple of weeks," Chamberlin cracks.

That internal unity will be reflected in the work, Corgan vows. "This is an album of one-third raw rock, one-third spacey stuff and one-third quiet weirdness," he says. "To make such a vast record and pull it off in six months, I think it's a testament to this band's solidity."

Credit: Greg Kot