On May 28, 1991 "The Smashing Pumpkins" released their debut album "Gish".
The story of an album begins somewhere on October 5, 1988, when the band's band finally formed, with the addition of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Until then, Billy Corgan, James Iha, and D'arcy Wretzky had appeared in clubs accompanied by a drum machine. The addition of Chamberlin was made in preparation for a performance scheduled for the band on the said date at the Metro Club in Chicago. Although Chamberlain came from the jazz field in general without any previous experience in the alternative, he significantly influenced the band's sound and led it in a heavier direction. Billy Corgan noted that until Chamberlain's arrival they were more in the gothic and played "sad rock" in "the Cure" style, but after joining they were following his forceful playing in a heavier direction.
The band continued to perform in the lineup that included Chamberlain and at the same time writing material for the album. After recording several demos, the band managed to get a spot in a compilation album called "Light Into Dark", which was released in 1989 and included alternative bands from Chicago.
But the success did not come quickly and in 1990 Billy Corgan used all the savings money his grandmother put aside for his university studies to record the band's first single "I Am One". The single was released in May 1990, exactly a year before the release of the album, which is the subject of our coverage, but it is a different recording from the one that appears on the album. The single sold well and the band immediately recorded another single, "Tristessa", which this time was released under the iconic Seattle label - "Sub Pop". The single won the title of "Pop of the Month" by "Sub Pop", and this led to the interest of several record labels, who competed among themselves over who would sign the band. In the end, it was "Caroline Records", who gave the better offer and with whom the band signed a recording contract.
By December 1990, the band had already entered Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, which was owned by producer Butch Vig, who was then quite anonymous.
(Photo: Paul Natkn)
The album was co-produced by Butch Vig and Billy Corgan, with each of the two "fertilizing" the other and challenging him to experiment with innovative recording and production methods. It can be said that Butch Vig came out on top of the two in this collaboration, as a few months later he would take all the things he learned during this production and apply them vigorously as the producer of "Nirvana's" masterpiece album "Nevermind", which was released about four months later.
Although the album was produced relatively quickly one can notice two essential things that influenced its very unique sound. First, is the sound of the drums. Corgan asked that these not be processed nor have any effects at all and this was reflected in their immature and initial sound, which sounded like a performance in a small club. The second, is the sound of the guitars which was achieved after many hours of work in the studio, among other things by recording layers of guitar channels and applying them together, similar to Queen's recording methods on her first albums.
Butch Vig noted that Corgan wanted everything to sound perfect. He spent many hours finding the right sound for every instrument, something that Butch Vig was not accustomed to until then. Corgan's perfectionism has led him to play most of the instruments during the recordings, even the drums. This drew heavy tension between the band members and later D'arcy will state that she does not know how the band came out of these recordings in peace. Corgan, for his part, said the stress he experienced during the recordings caused him a nervous breakdown.
Corgan noted that the album is a personal and spiritual album that deals with pain. He said that "Gish" was very close to being an instrumental album. His lyrics were written by chance, with the music being the one that screams out even louder than the lyrics. He said there were things he wanted to say but could not express in words, so he managed to do so through music.
Corgan was influenced at the time by, among others, psychedelic music and this is reflected in the musical direction of the album, which is a combination of heavy metal, psychedelia, and alternative.
The album opens with "I Am One" and Chamberlain's monotonous drumming, which is gradually joined by the bass and guitars, each in turn. A powerful, dynamic, and sweeping song with a complete grunge sound which was also released as the album's first single. This is also the only single from the band whose writing credit is given to Korgan along with Iha. The song uses a double guitar solo technique, a technique that Korgan will repeat years later in songs like "Ava Adore" and "Tarantula". It is one of four songs recorded in 1989 for the band's Demos album, and has now been re-recorded for the benefit of the album.
The "Siva" track continues the heavy line of "I Am One" with an uncompromising guitar attack. The dynamics that existed in the opening song intensify here when at 2:48 a quiet instrumental piece enters that lasts about a minute until an explosion ensues with cruel guitars that sound at times as if sampled from a "Janes Addiction" album. Corgan said he had the song in his head long before he started writing it. He even once considered calling a band "Siva". The riff of the song was written by Korgan during his work at a record store in Chicago, where he also met guitarist James Iha.
The third track "Rhinoceros", proves the diversity and versatility of Corgan who wrote a melancholy-psychedelic piece of over six minutes, which did not sound like anything else at the time. The dynamics also exist in this song that develops and moves between weak and noisy, soft and rough. This is one of the songs that define the band's unique sound. A sound that will go and develop in future albums.
The fourth track "Bury Me" is another song that the band had already recorded in 1989 for their demo album and has now been re-recorded for the album. A song led by the beating and galloping bass of D'arcy which along with the sounds of the guitar riff starting at 1:15 sound to us at times similar to how Pearl Jam will sound a few months later on the album "Ten".
The roller coaster and dynamic of strong-weak, soft-rough, will last throughout the album, starting with the quiet opening of "Crush" which reminds us of the psychedelic and quiet sections of "Black Sabbath" in the early seventies, through the thunderous and rolling drumming and prismatic guitars of "Tristessa" and The quiet and moving last song "Daydream" sung by D'arcy. It is interesting to note that the song includes a quartet of strings, an accompaniment that the band will also use in future albums. "Daydream" features a hidden track called "I'm Going Crazy" and begins at 2:07 p.m.
In conclusion, "Gish" named after Korgen's beloved grandmother - Lillian Gish, is without a doubt a significant and worthy opening chord of the band, which will continue to resonate and even intensify over the 1990s. The album mostly received rave reviews. For example, Greg Cote of the Chicago Tribune called "Gish" "probably the boldest and most perfect" of all the albums recorded by local bands in 1991. Rolling Stone magazine called it "awe-inspiring" mixed with "properly calculated chaos with dizzying power."