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July and October 2016 - Shangri La Studios, Malibu, CA Edit

Produced by Rick Rubin and Billy Corgan; engineered by Dana Nielsen & Jason Lader

Recording sessions for Billy Corgan's second solo album Ogilala. Largely written on Corgan's first trip touring America in early 2016, producer Rick Rubin urged Corgan to record a stripped-down, acoustically-based album. Basic tracking sessions were held in July with overdubs in October.

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“I started writing songs for me, only for me,” he says. “I was travelling around America and realised there was still a lot to write about, there were still people hurting, it made me think: ‘Get off your pity party and get back to work’.”

Corgan went into the sessions prepared to make his final record. “Have you ever had the fantasy where you were going to write a suicide note?” he asks. “The letter people would read after you die, where you say all the things you wouldn’t have the courage to say? It felt a little like that. Siamese Dream was the only other record that had that same level of confession: something needs to die, something needs to live, something needs to be let go of, something needs to prosper.”[1]

It was a bit of a strange process. I was working on a Pumpkins album, but I became sort of disgusted with the whole thing, so I quit it. I wrote another group of songs, listened to them back, and thought, “OK, I want to do something with these”. I also made up my own mind, at that point, that I wasn’t going to do any more Pumpkins records. That’s when I started moving down this road, and really, I could have called it anything: I could have put it out under a different name entirely. I didn’t give that part too much thought. The whole process really began when Rick Rubin said he was interested in being involved; that’s when it became a serious thing, and the next thing I knew, I was out recording it at his studio in beautiful Malibu.

He told me he liked the feeling of the demos that I sent him, so he just wanted to start there and see where it led us. He didn’t have a destination in mind, I don’t think - he said he wanted to let the record make itself, so it wasn’t like when we were recording, we knew what would and wouldn’t be the final version. We were open to anything, and I trusted him to take it to wherever it’d have some energy behind it. I said from the beginning that I was happy to follow his lead.[2]

Ogilala Studio

I loved it, I turned myself over to Rick and just said, “Work your magic and I’ll just try to follow along.” And I let him guide the process, where usually I am much more hands on. He makes really wonderful decisions and after a while, once I started to understand his vision, which he doesn’t necessarily articulate, it comes out more in his decision making, then I was able to get behind that and push it to something that felt very personal. So I loved it.

I think he has an incredible ear for clarity. If you present something three different ways he’ll pick the way that is most clear. And what I mean by clear is the way that would then translate to people all over the world. What he’s attracted to is what a lot of other people would be attracted to. If you look at that which has been most successful for Rick it’s those things that are super clear, like they’re clear on first listen. And I don’t care if you’re talking about the Beasties or Slayer. He has a way of navigating to the heart of the matter. As an artist, that can be kind of weird because, in many ways, it feels like it’s not enough, like there should be more. I’ll give you a perfect example, during the recording sessions he played me one of his favorite Neil Diamond songs that I never heard. It was mid-‘70s Neil Diamond and he was literally in tears because he loved the song so much. And his point for showing me the song was to illustrate a certain emotional quality that Neil captured on the song. And that was his way of communicating, “Gee, I wish you would get some of this in what you’re doing.” But he wouldn’t tell you how to do that, nor would he want to manipulate you.[3]

There’s an E-bow solo on “Spaniards,” but you just can’t tell. The bit on “Shiloh” was actually a tribute to Glen Campbell. The song reminded me of one of those Glen Campbell songs that Jimmy Webb wrote—it was my tip of my hat to them. I love the music that they made together—“Galveston” and stuff like that. At first I looked at Rick and said, “Is this too obvious?” And he was like, “But I like it.” So we left it in. We got out the Fender VI and made that sound. We tried some electric guitar on a few things, but it just didn’t feel right.

I have an early Sixties Guild Texan that records unbelievably. It’s probably the loudest acoustic I have. That was probably my primary recording guitar. I used a Sixties Gibson Tortoise on one song, I think, but it was mostly the Texan. I brought a number of guitars to California, and then we did kind of blind taste tests. Whatever sounded best is what we used.[4]

It’s noticeable that two of the album’s tracks – ‘Shiloh’ and ‘Antietam’ – are named after two of the bloodiest battles to have been fought during the American Civil War. Gigwise is curious at whether Corgan is attempting to make a comment on contemporary American society or whether he’s a history buff. Or are we simply reading too much into this?

“All of the above!” he chuckles. “’Antietam’ is talking directly about the battle itself. I’ve been to the bridge that was fought over and it’s so weird to look at it through 21st century eyes and try to comprehend how many people died over a fucking bridge.

“The other song, ‘Shiloh’, has nothing to do with war but everything to do with a girl. And it’s basically an ape on Jimmy Webb. If you listen to the track, we’ve gone for the six-string Glen Campbell guitar.[5]

Billy Corgan on James Iha: He came to visit me when I was demoing some of the songs, just to hang out, and because he was sitting there I thought, well, fuck, I’m going to play some of them to him and get some feedback. He was very encouraging, and that encounter stuck with me, so when the record was almost done, and as Rick was saying that it was my last chance to add anything else, I sent James the whole album and told him to pick whatever he wanted, so that it’d be about what he was attracted to. He picked ‘Processional’ and one other song that didn’t make the album. I love the work he did, it’s so cool.[6]

“James was probably the person most responsible for me being more interested in acoustic music,” says Corgan. “James brought that softer side forward. So in many ways, [he] has a long-range influence on me ending up here. That’s why it seemed appropriate to not only play him the songs before I recorded them, which he was very supportive of, but also ask him if he wanted to be on the record. It was kind of my way of paying tribute to his influence.”[7]

Return to Shiny and Oh So Bright

  1. Marc Burrows, "I Had To Get Off My Pity Party", iNews, October 19, 2017
  2. Joe Goggins, "American Processional", Drowned In Sound, October 24, 2017
  3. Steve Baltin, "William Patrick Corgan On Being 'The Auteur Of All This Madness", Forbes, October 17, 2017
  4. Joe Bosso, "Billy Corgan Breaks Out the Acoustics for His New Album, 'Ogilala'", Guitar World, November 1, 2017
  5. Julian Marscalek, "Corgan opens up about his new solo album, a potential Smashing Pumpkins reunion, the death of David Bowie + how he plans to save wrestling", Gigwise, October 12, 2017
  6. Joe Goggins, "American Processional", Drowned In Sound, October 24, 2017
  7. Briony Edwards, "Just William", Louder Sound, October 12, 2017
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