EXPLORING THE OUTER FREQUENCIES
Profile- Smashing Pumpkins
By Mike Mettler
Typed by Mark Rowell
"My penchant for feedback came naturally," smirks Billy Corgan of Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins. "One day I connected a supro amp to a Les Paul, turned it all the way up, and waited to see what would happen. What amazed me was that after 45 minutes, the tubes must have heated a certain way, because I got the most unbelievable feedback i ever heard in my life. It had split into octave."
Since his teenage forray into amp frying, Corgan, 24, has experimented with many different ways of harnessing feedback, culminating in one of 1991's finest rock debuts, the explosive gish LP [Caroline], produced by Butch Vig, widely hailed for his work with Nirvana.
That's not to say that Corgan's outbursts are all feedback and brimestone; witness the touching acoustic demo "Bye June" fromn the recently released Lull EP. Corgan explores his varying moods by composing much of his material on an Ovation: "That's the way i find the true essence of how i want a song to be. When I play my acoustic, I sing along with it, so my instrument becomes another voice."
Smashing Pumpkins came together in 1988, bypassing much of Chicago's glad-handing scene. A man with a mission, Corgan hooked up with James Iha, finding Iha's Les Paul tones the perfect compliment to his own Strat wranglings. He got into an arguement with D' Arcy Wretzky outside a club; when he found out she played bass, the arguement subsided, and she was asked to join. The four-piece puzzle fit together once Corgan ditched his drum machine and signed on drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The band's moniker was plucked oput of the air, signaling the arrival of Hurricane Pumpkin, ready to blow through Corgan's carefully orchestrated vision of honest, in-the gut music.
For most of Gish, Corgan's Strats are on the left channel, Iha's Les Paul's on the right, and the solos down the middle; D' Arcy's meaty Fender P anchors the wall of sound ( "I play through a Trace Elliot, so I can cut through all of them," she wryly explains). Corgan claims he settled on the classic Strat-through-Marshall combo not in imitation of Hendrix, but because he wanted to explore "the outer frequencies." "To master that beast and control it is what I'm looking for," he says.
He's on the right track. Corgan's control on "Rhinoceros"-a prime example of layering fiery feedback amid shimmering chords and slower, moodier passages-was hard-one. "I recorded 17 tracks of feedback for that one," he notes. "I wanted it to sound like World War I airplanes divebombing around your head. I took three or four guitars and put them through a stereo vibrato; then I took about six guitars through a Leslie going the other way. I the nblended in some guitars to smooth things out."
Corgan's arrangements are meticulously planned. "Smashing Pumpkins were meant to be an ambitious project, and i want out recordings to be perfect," he states. " An album is a permanent work of art, and to me, nothing should detract from that. That's why I believe in doing things seamlessly; I didn't want to comprimise what I heard in my head because we felt we had to use one guitar all the way through a particular song. I'll take the time to break th4e composition down and find a similar tone on a different guitar, one taht's not distracting to the ear. If you want to see us fuck around, see us live."
Indeed, the stage is where Corgan and Iha push their Marshall stacks to the limit.
There, the plan of attack revolves around creating textures. "Speed playing and pyrotechnics have reached the outer envelope, so sound itself is all that's left to experiment with," Corgan explains. He "grades" his gigs by leaning his Start on the mike stand during the finale to "Window Paine" and letting it squak. "If the feedback is smooth and oscillating nicely, I'm in a good mood. If it's all the way down and shrieking, you know I'm upset," he says.
A four-night stand in New York opening ofr the Red Hot Chilli Peppers found the Pumpkins fighting a spotty P.A. for the first two shows. Once the kinks had been ironed out by night three, the "Window Paine" feedback squealed high and true. Corgan was found backstage after the set in jovial mood. "I'm glad you got to see tonight's show," he smiled. "Everything clicked into place." And as Corgan would willingly tell you, he wouldn't have it any other way.
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