May 2014 - The Village Recorder, Los Angeles and Pumpkinland II, Northbrook Edit

Produced by Billy Corgan, Howard Willing & Jeff Schroeder; engineered by Howard Willing

Drum recording sessions for the Monuments to an Elegy album. After constructing guide backing tracks at Pumpkinland II in April, two sessions are held in the first and last weeks of May at The Village Recorder to track Tommy Lee's drum parts on the masters. Inbetween the two LA sessions, Corgan, Schroeder and Willing then return to Pumpkinland II to work on the masters. 
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The notion to reach out to T Lee came from The Shredder, who in hearing me say ‘we really need to get someone like Tommy to play on this song’ said, “well, why don’t we reach out to him?” And let me tell you something: I’ve had the fortune of being in the room with some of the all-time greats, and when you’re that close to someone who is the best at what they do you gain insight into the way they are able to communicate to so many. Let’s call it a universal language (which music is, obviously), and in applying it with heart/soul they present intangibles that give dimension and depth to a composition which otherwise would not be as kaleidoscopic.

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So on flying out a few weeks ago I presented T Lee with the idea, played him all the songs that I’d worked hard to finish, and discussed the way we’d be most comfortable finding common ground in the studio. Which explains the rush to prepare the arrangements for him to drum on, and also our keeping the work under wraps; so that nothing and nobody could influence the process.

I’m also happy to report that not only did we have a blast, but the 9 ‘MONUMENTS’ songs sound epic in a way that is indescribable. I guess I could toss off hyperbole after pronoun, but it would sell short what I like to call ‘Supersonic Pumpkins’; which is a descriptor in itself. Tommy hits the drums in a crushing manner, but as many fans know this is not without nuance or reaction; as he has a fantastic ear for music and plays with the songs in a means that only enhances excitement. The only other place I’ve heard this phenomena is with John Bonham of Led Zeppelin: where heavy drums can sound soft and expressive. Good company indeed!

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As for the connection, I first met Tommy way back in 1991 when he came to one of our shows, and through the years we’ve run into each other many times at various places. So the coupling is not as odd as some might assume, as he, like I, has pushed into embracing new technologies, electronics, etc where it pertains to making new sounds. He is a wonderful, warm person to be around, and I wouldn’t have come to him with this proposition if I didn’t trust that this was something we’d both be proud of. So we expect to finish up the drums in a few weeks, seeing as we’re in a rush to get this stuff out and oh yeah, Tommy’s got this mega-Crue tour to do.

Let me also add on a personal and public level that I’m truly excited, for there’s an excitement in the music that is vital and necessary; especially when you consider what’s dying on the vine out there. I believe this is soul music we’re making, and I’m proud of who I’m stuck in the foxhole with. Attack, attack, attack…[1]

We’ve fired back up the starship and are back at it, blowing 2 amps today in our pursuit of a physical, muscular sound that will meet what’ll be flying drum-wise in 2 ½ weeks time.

After sorting a bass sound using the same primary gear as ‘OCEANIA’ (’63 Jazz, Reeve amp, SVT cabinet), eyes turned on my phalanx of 60’s-70’s-80’s heads: Marshalls, Laney, Sound City, etc. Though The Shredder and I would classify this as boring work, it does in the end save oodles of time when overdubbing and mixing; saving minutes as always being an imperative goal.

At least now we’ve got demo versions of T Lee’s drums to dial-in against; a huge advantage.

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We’ve also whittled the field down to key guitar cabinets: The Mars (used on Gish, Siamese), and the Silver Ones (Mellon Collie, Zwan, Zeitgeist, Oceania), plus others used for touring and a vintage tweed Marshall. All good, all slightly different by degrees.

Tomorrow begins the additional mapping of overdubs and guitar arranging, as well as taking the bass lines past duh-duh-duh.[2]

We actually have moved on to some other tasks now that ANAISE is in the bottle. With The Shredder working up overdubs on ANTI-HERO and TIBERIUS, I started hacking away at lyrics/better lyrics/any lyrics at all.

I wish I had a computer program that had every couplet I’d ever written, and that could spit back at me if I’m somehow repeating myself. Would save some brain cells, y’all. So I’m goofed to say that I’ve got a decent block of ANTI-HERO cogent, something along the lines of a boy-girl-doo wop-he’s a rebel type schlamazzle. As you can see from this king’s English, there’s a reason I didn’t go to no college. Slow work indeed, but signs that a finish isn’t far off…

Ended the day with TIBERIOUS middle-8 melodies and a clearer finish vocally, and then 90 minutes with Jeff to prepare for the acoustic show in August. Best news is each day is filled with music, music, music; and ANAISE, ANAISE, ANAISE.[3]

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Didn’t see The Shredder and Herr Howard much today, as I was building word webs and they (from what I heard through the wall) were bashing away through TIBERIUS.

The piano you see above is my first, which I bought around 1993 and had once resided in the front of my purple Victorian. It’s a Bauer and was manufactured in Chicago somewhere in the 1920’s, which might explain the good luck I had in writing many of my favorite songs on: BEAUTIFUL, MUZZLE, ANNIE-DOG, BY STARLIGHT, FOR MARTHA, and others too numerous to count. And in certain times I’ve found myself back before the stained keys and mismatched legs: which of course brings memories good and bad, but also a sense that I’ve done this before; as silly as that sounds. For no matter how many songs I’ve written (and I’ve written perhaps over 400) there is always some part of it that brings me to a place of unknowing.

In real time this aligns with my day/evening in the present, where I went over the sparse lines of TIBERIUS again and again; and again. To answer my own question of ‘why.’ I am reminded of the hours I’ve picked over a line, a word, the turn of a phrase, which I’d guess goes unnoticed by most but I’ve also seen where it’s appreciated too; sunsets be missed. But that’s not why I do it, honestly; although communicating is a pleasure. I pour over there fineries because it is like stitching up a delicate quilt, the ‘word’ in many effects that cherry that sits on top of a composition and brings it to life. That though is overstating the case. Poorly too.

Because no matter how I say what I say, and I’d admit too much of what’s said is convoluted, the messages are 3-dimensional enough that they speak forward through the ages; even to me! Is it immortality? No. But it’s close; for vibration, the sound, the first sound, is light; is life; is joy.[4]

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An interesting day: having started with the online sale of AEGEA and ended with another swing at RUN TO ME; which desperately needs a new title. I’m currently considering something along the lines of ‘A LIGHT IN EVERY WINDOW.’ We’ll see.

In between Herr Howard, sans white suit, guided The Shredder through more on where they’d left off (in what Jeff calls ‘putting Howard through an existential experience.’) Howard’s retort was priceless. “I don’t get to make records like this anymore,” he said. “This is fun.” And together we voiced out a clearer map for R2M/ALIEW, stripping away previous guitars so all that was left were T Lee’s drums and a bass played by an unnamed soldier. In this I suggested an arpeggiated figure (ala ‘BABA O’REILLY’ and countless other imitators), Herr Willing making the funny face that says ‘bad idea, Maestro.’

I went on anyway, and within minutes proved him wrong. And showing restraint I didn’t mention our competing sales figures. Ahem! From there I meant to add Mellotron, Howard turning white. “I don’t like them,’ he said, sounding ominously like Veruca Salt’s brother Pepper. Tame strings were used instead, and with a little voila-TONIGHT, TONIGHT style 335 we had ourselves a dangblaster of a tune.

Lyrics for the ever-changing title are pretty much in order now too, after a few hours rhyming and miming. Question: how many different words rhyme with ‘dream.’ Answer: just one. YOU[5]

Jeff and The Shredder debunking MONUMENTS, I at the Bauer re-crafting gothy ANAISE anew. Which was easy enough till I came upon Howard and Jeff in a discussion. ‘Cause Howard likes the song lean (which I agree with), but that said it’s not a trip I totally understand. As in the modern-alt song formula: heavy, sluggy drums, overdriven bass, tinkly keys, and fey vocals over the echoey abyss. I mean, I get it, but it a’int me. Like I said: guitars, guitars, guitars; c’est moi!

Howard is right though, in that that’s what’s getting played. And played. And played. So that was an hour, discussing how I better learn how to rap. JUST KIDDIN! I’m in the lab making techno beats, actually.

ANAISE… When Jeff was done-over it-poking the beat with a stick, we shifted to the newest (squared) version of ANAISE. Which at least we all agree is fab and pretty. Amen.[6]

MONUMENTS was the big snag today, as our producer pointed to an earlier arrangement that started with the chorus. I said I didn’t mind the start but that such a change would cause problems later in the song; which it did. So lots of mucking about there. And although I should bore you with the details let’s just say I’d sound like a broken record. Suffice to say that we made it work, and danced with our hands to the heavens. Ok, maybe not that, but we did celebrate by eating kale salad. Now there’s the kind of deets that’ll keep ya coming back.

This sent me back to lyric land, and no amount of whistling brought back my friend to help. He did send an email though: “Squawk. You lied.” When I sent a reply it bounced back.

We’ve got 4 days left before a return to Camp Lee, where rocka-rolla always has sentries posted. Ba-boom!

What else happened today? A broken board was fixed, a broken heart was mended, an unbroken song was made anew, and I recast lyrics I once swore was done. Was that yesterday?[7]

Lots of bassin’ today, as all 9 tracks were covered, and then a continued trawl back through (in the same order) with rhythm guitar. So not much to report other than it’s a bit of an assembly line. The exciting part is within essentially 2 weeks time we’ll have everything set to go: lyrics, arrangements, drums, most guitar parts with only overdubs to write (visa vie guitars and keys).

This means we’re essentially on point to be finished with recording on schedule; a rarity! But that said, the album is leaner than most, with a hyper-focused tautness that feels steeped in some form of modernity; if modernity is progress and not moral decline.

A side line note for amusement: I’m currently mulling the release of a ‘best of’ (which if you heard the stuff you know I’m joshing) of my many demos from 1985-1986; something along the lines of AEGEA; where a limited-edition vinyl edition will do for the right crowd. Guessing, and given the rights issues of what I own outright and isn’t related to others, I’d say there might be 10-15 albums worth of stuff. And there to my surprise on tape 3 of 60 (or so) there was a song idea (long forgotten) called ANALISE. Unfortunately it wasn’t very interesting or would have made for a heck of a story. But there’s plenty of other stuff worth a chuckle or a nod: some goth, some heavy metal, and even some electronic stuff.[8]

Spent the afternoon mainly on the end’s piece of ANAISE, a sort of elegiac coda to what comes before. To Jeff I’d suggest that we each develop our own melodic solo passages without hearing the benefit of the other’s handiwork. And impossibly so our parts fit together! With only a few alterations required; the timings generated unique I thought.

That left 9 songs to sing, and I’d huff through 4: ONE AND ALL, ANTI-HERO, DRUM + FIFE, ANAISE. Tomorrow our last day before the advent of a final series of drum tracking.[9]

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No, that is not 3 men sitting around a tribal fire. That would be a snare destroyed by T Lee, the lugs literally disemboweling from within. Sounds like the true definition of heavy drum vibes, no?

I’ve found by experience that when true rockers play, things melt, splinter, shatter; and people cry. Oh yeah: and poseurs perish.

So what are we really doing? Technically speaking, tracking drums against the last of the demos, and which when done will be re-adorned with: guitars, bass, vocals, bird calls, the howling storms of Odin.

Spirit wise we’re having a lot of fun, the stories shared the stuff of legend; rings in the fire narratives. Young man goes into a BLANK and then BLANK and BLANK happens. Which then requires a BLANK to be hired to clean up the BLANK.

Back to this reality we’re knee deep in ANTI-HERO, improving by degrees the songs continuity and storytelling. Which is a tough but pleasing process knowing we’re going the extra mile to bring the urgency required; for isn’t the world sleeping?[10]

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A quick update from sunny Los Angeles: visa vie the Herculean efforts of one T Lee, drum tracking on 3 songs has been traversed; with ANAISE (pts 1 + 2), MONUMENTS, and ANTI-HERO now all in the fold, and TIBERIUS on deck. And though the art of this sort of recording leaves little to report on (“let’s try that one again, if you please”), I can attest to a number of smashed heads and imploding snares, unlike anything this reporter has ever seen. This includes the fracture of unbreakable sticks, and the death of microphones incapable of handling such concussive effect. To quote Herr Howard, “there is loud, and then there is Tommy.”[11]

Hello from LaLaLand, where dreams go to die and are reborn in beautiful, nucleated sunlight.

I duly report we have two songs to go: ONE AND ALL, and BEING BEIGE; Sir Lee having kicked out 3 songs over the weekend. Today is an off day (hence my reportage), and I’ve heard a rumor that the studio in our absence is to be inhabited by a couple of guys named Hagar and Anthony.

If we finished on schedule Herr Producer intends to sit with T Lee and sort through the various takes, stitching together what should be one heckuva frame by which to build a new starship; the album sessions reconvening at the start of next week and running till it’s done.

One bonus of listening from the back each day is to note where certain lyrics are working (or not), giving me a greater opportunity to clarify the album’s message, which is…? Dystopia, The Sun, hope, false hope, the death rattle’s of the old paradigms, or whatever lives over the rainbow….[12]

Return to Monuments to an Elegy/Day For Night

  1. Billy Corgan, "Mirrors Within Mirrors, While Tom-Tomming With Hammers", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 8, 2019
  2. Billy Corgan, "Hit The Lights", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus", May 10, 2014
  3. Billy Corgan, "The Original Nature Boy", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 14, 2014
  4. Billy Corgan, "In The Lyric Batch", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 14, 2014
  5. Billy Corgan, "Echoes", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 16, 2014
  6. Billy Corgan, "Official Story", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 19, 2014
  7. Billy Corgan, "A Hard Road", Smashing Pumpkins nexus, May 21, 2014
  8. Billy Corgan, "Thunderbird", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 22, 2014
  9. Billy Corgan, "A Doe, A Deer in the Drive", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 24, 2014
  10. Billy Corgan, "Calling The Starchild in All Of Us", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 28, 2014
  11. Billy Corgan, "Drummmmssss", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, May 30, 2014
  12. Billy Corgan, "Livewires", Smashing Pumpkins Nexus, June 2, 2014
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