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Coming Down the Mountain [Apr. 14th, 2005|01:22 pm]
Billy Corgan
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Life in the mansion, or ‘The House’ as it becomes commonly known, is fairly simple and calm…I spend most mornings writing, usually getting up at least an hour before my girlfriend, picking at the typewriter or strumming softly in bed with an old 1950’s acoustic…if I get a decent idea, I just grab my hand-held tape player, hit record, and let it roll…because we are up high in the Hollywood hills, a cool breeze usually rides in with the smell of pine…it is all very quiet, a perfect setting to work and create in…the rooms are decorated in L.A.-Spanish style, which is a faux mix of simulcura old-world ‘espanol’ blended with the need to show off that whoever owns the joint has lots of money…so we sleep on a rustic bed, in a rough hewn room that sits on the second floor overlooking a lower terrace and pool (D’arcy is up in the tower, Bjorn next door, Gooch on the first floor)…we quickly fall into a rhythm of me writing in the morning, and then perhaps my girlfriend getting up and going for a swim to exercise (with me watching and talking to her by the pool)…I’m usually at the studio by 11 or 12, work a full day until say 11 or 12 p.m., and then we hang out at night by or in the jacuzzi, with all of Los Angeles’ twinkling lights spread out in front of us like so many jewels (a beautiful, vibrating sight)…often, we will pop some downers to unwind, some messy pill that we were turned onto by the Manson boys, what everyone commonly calls ‘blue pills’…or, on special nights, take some mushrooms and tread water in the pool until the sun is about to come back up…this is, generally speaking, fairly fun and not that harmful on first look…we are where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing…because if you are in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, you hang out by the pool, take drugs, and shoot the shit with other rock stars in the Sodom and Gomorrah of America…often, other luminaries drop by: Johnny Depp, Anthony Kiedis, Dave Navarro, Kate Moss, Helena Christensen, to name a few, all to take in the sights…it is a typical situation one could find on any night of the week in these hills…so it does not feel special, nor do I feel special doing it…the most notable omission to the party is that James almost never comes by…(by never, I mean he comes to the house just once or twice in the 6 months that we are here)…

The sessions are generally slow paced and technical (we work 6 days a week, by the end 7)…most of my time is spent figuring out how to get new sounds out of old equipment…I have purposely brought none of my usual gear, denying myself access to my most trusted equipment and thereby forcing me to have to work in unfamiliar territory…the amps are old, vintage tube amps, not designed for massive walls of sound…there are almost no guitar pedals to speak of, certainly none that make the guitar distort…I have backed myself into a corner with the hope that I would care enough to fight my way out…the control room we work in is very cramped, which makes it hard for anyone beyond the 3 principals (me, Bjorn, Howard) to hang out leisurely…as is often the case during recording, if they are not needed, James and D’arcy tend to hang out in the lounge, where they can watch T.V…the only problem is this lounge is really small and cramped, so it makes even hanging in there uncomfortable…I tell D’arcy that I really would like her to come and spend the days with me working, that at the worst she can help guide the direction the album is taking (a request I have not made before)…I tell her I need her guidance (she always had a good sense of what is ‘good’), and even though the space is tight, would really appreciate her support…she gets angry and spits at me, “why would I want to sit in there all day with you? It’s so fucking boring!!”…James mostly sits outside in the courtyard and talks on his cell phone…it is a difficult time for everyone…they are used to me working on my own, and any attempt I now make to engage them either doesn’t go so well, or is met with emotional disinterest…things only seem to click if we all play at the same time, but this does not always work for every song, nor is the playing level high enough (on their part) to justify this kind of recording for the whole record…it turns into a case by case, song by song basis, where each song must claw it’s way to a direction, and then based on what I determine is best for a particular tune, set a course that brings the various dysfunctional band dynamics into play…for example, if they aren’t really needed on a song in a fundamental way, they don’t seem to care at all how it turns out …if I ask them to play on a certain idea because I feel their contribution is important (i.e. “why don’t you try out some bass/guitar on this one) our communication is so poor now that if it doesn’t go well fairly quickly, I don’t know how to ‘work’ with them, nor do
they feel comfortable enough to put out their best, most committed effort…sometimes things click, like D’arcy’s 6 string bass ideas on the song “waiting”, but more often than not they offer little and less as the days tick by…the situation is just too damaged, and seems essentially beyond repair…having sold myself on the idea of using drum machines and/or samples instead of a “live” drummer, I quickly discover this is not as easy or as exciting a way to work as I had envisioned…so the drums become a source of frustration and concern, and we start thinking that some songs (though not all) would benefit from the use of a real drummer…

We reach out to Joey, from Beck’s group, to fill in…his style is basically reminiscent of Jimmy’s playing, so this is an easy fit…work with him goes fairly quickly…mostly, I just have him play to tracks that are already somewhat recorded, and his timing is so solid it is a breeze, saving lots of time and effort…(a month later, I ask him if he would like to do the tour---he immediately says yes, and one week later quits without explanation)…the other drummer we work with is Matt, from the now disbanded Soundgarden…Matt is one of the few drummers I have ever felt rivaled Jimmy in the chops department, and we ask him to come in and record live with us…although his style is different than Jimmy’s, he, like Jimmy, takes the songs to a new level of dynamic…the highlight of our work with him is the song I have written for my mother, “for Martha”, a 7 minute or so opus with lots of parts, stops and starts, and even tempo changes…I play the piano live in an “iso” room, while James and D’arcy are out on the floor with him in the main…we do many, many takes to get the whole piece just right (so the master can be just one whole piece), and it turns out beautifully as everyone plays with a lot of passion and soul (a real highlight of the record)…

After so many months of pressure, the contrast of these incredible moments of grace set against the mundane pursuit of the smallest details start to drive me crazy…the album, and it’s concepts, are now sprawling out of control…there are some 30 songs that are half-finished, and I can’t even say I know what it is I am looking for…it’s not acoustic, and it’s not electronic, it is more of a sad, lost feeling with beams of hope shining thru…band, no band, drummer, no drummer…I am there in person, but not really in spirit…I work, speak, but feel disconnected from all of it…as the writer, it is an odd thing to also be the performer…I enjoy the writing immensely, but am very disappointed in myself as “the artist”…and looming in the background are all the events that brought me here, still unresolved…I haven’t even taken a moments pause to mourn my mom…it is all so painful that I cannot bear to hold the entire truth, so I just break it into smaller and smaller pieces that are easy to digest on a day to day basis…but there is no longer a point on the horizon I am marching towards anymore…I have achieved the greatest of success and tasted the stupidity of my own hubris…the old dreams are dead, and now my life becomes more a trudge of survival, and in some messed up way, as long as I keep working I am o.k….there is a part of me that does not want it to end, because I am afraid of what is waiting for me on the other side…

To make myself feel better, I march into a Ferrari dealer and pay cash on the barrel for a brand new 355, the first new car I have ever owned…to complete the charade, I buy 2 pairs of leather pants at the urging of my European girlfriend…if you were to pull up next to me at a red light, you would find a depressed, bald headed, overweight pisces wearing leather head to toe (don’t forget the $300 shades), with a silver-gray poodle panting in the passenger seat…I would be listening to Prince b-sides, avoiding eye contact, but feel as if the whole world was staring at me in my silver spaceship…I realize all of this is absurd of course, but it doesn’t stop me…in fact, it reassures me to know that I am aware that I am living in a cartoon, playing in a fictional band, and going along for the ride…

At about the halfway point of recording, our managers come and visit for a little “look-see”, to find out what is really going on, and hear the record as it stands…(you can see them for yourself in the Metallica movie “Some Kind of Monster”)…I play them most, if not all of what I have, and they sit there song after song in a sort of stunned silence…after it is thru, they look pained to find something positive to say…it is certainly not what they had thought, figuring perhaps it was more of an acoustic record, but now they realize I am way off the plot…they leave me with little hope, encouragement, or suggestions beyond possibly bringing in a producer…I take in all of it, particularly there seeming non-understanding of what I am trying to accomplish, as a good thing…

Off their suggestion, we end up recording one song with famed producer Rick Rubin (who I know a bit socially)…the as of now still unreleased “Let Me Give the World to You” (with Joey playing drums)…after a few false starts of direction, we eventually end up recording the song live, with no vocals…after various incarnations and incantations, I suggest straightening the beat out with a four-on-the-floor tom-tom drive…at first Rick is bored by this, doesn’t agree with where we are headed, and goes to lay on the couch (I don’t blame him)…after about 5 minutes, he leaps up, and says “that’s it, that’s it, let’s do it!”, and we commence doing takes (Rick’s enthusiasm is contagious)…after 68 takes, I am finally satisfied…James, D’arcy, and I are pretty used to working this way all the time, but Joey looks absolutely shell-shocked…he later (in an interview) describes working with us (I’m paraphrasing) as one of the most intense experiences he has ever had in music, but goes on to add that beyond any doubt he may have had in the moment, in the end he realized that what we were after was worth all the effort…

The album seems to finally to have found a solid footing, with it’s odd mix and match approach, and starts to gain a little momentum…I now feel I have
the direction in hand that I wish to go…I make plans with Flood (the producer on Mellon Collie) to come in at the end and help me pull it all together, and mix the album…knowing I will have his support and guidance when I am almost finished gives me a lot of confidence to continue, as I feel that no matter where I go from here, there will be someone there to guide me out of the darkness…the downside is now I have a deadline to meet, so I must start making serious choices about where to put my energy…this also means that I have to start tracking my vocals (of which almost none are done), and come to concrete decisions about lyrics…

It is right about at this moment, where all seems calm, that everything starts to go to hell…

[User Picture]From: _moleasskiss
2005-04-15 12:31 am (UTC)
first reply.

i need a hobby.
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From: aliceworeblue
2005-04-15 04:05 am (UTC)
what are you talking about? billy is a hobby.
that wasn't meant to sound degrading to either of you.
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From: ninja_monkee
2005-04-15 12:38 am (UTC)
I wish I had a mansion....I would if I lived in Japan! Yep! I sure would!

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[User Picture]From: lungcollapse
2005-04-15 12:44 am (UTC)
I would love to read the story of the making of MACHINA.
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[User Picture]From: sue1979
2005-04-15 02:54 am (UTC)
Adore is a masterpiece. It is one of my most favourite albums to date. There is something so raw and passionate about those songs. I LOVE the way the music accents your beautiful voice without drowning it out, like some of the heavier, faster songs you do. The beauty of the songs, and the cadence of your voice compliment each other in a way that can only be described as .... art.
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[User Picture]From: clovisdied
2005-04-15 02:55 am (UTC)
it's not a dress, it's a Gaultier!
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[User Picture]From: padumavati
2005-04-15 05:28 am (UTC)
This explains why I relate to Adore so well.
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