Listening to Gish, the initial, awe-inspiring explosion by Smashing Pumpkins, the word control doesn’t spring immediately to mind. But for Billy Corgan, the Chicago band’s twenty-four-year-old singer-guitarist, steering his own course was so important that he shunned virtually every major label – eventually signing with indie Caroline Records – in order to retain complete creative license. Gish, as it turns out, is meticulously calculated chaos. “What the band does is so specific that we couldn’t dilute it in any way,” says Corgan. “We couldn’t put ourselves in the position where we were powerless.”
The results are anything but watered down. The band (which also includes guitarist James Iha, bassist D’Arcy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) thrashes around in waves of feedback and beautifully distorted melodies – swirling energy that conjures up visions of Jimi Hendrix sitting in with the Stooges. Control of the studio, however, extracted its pound of flesh. “A studio is a big mirror,” says Corgan. “You can see every crack in your persona. It was like looking inside yourself. Sometimes I listen to the record, and I just want to cry.”
The record strikes an emotional chord for Corgan; he’s cautiously hopeful it will resonate with equal clarity for everyone. “It’s important to believe we bare all,” says Corgan. “This album is like someone walking through a house. I feel like I’ve managed to get people into the house but maybe not through any of the doors.”
Gish, in fact, smacks more of the opening of an alternative universe – a space soon to be filled with the return of major labels eager for a shot at a sophomore outing. Next time Corgan might be willing to listen. “We’re ready now,” he says of the impending attention. “What you see is what you get. It’s no longer a question of being a diamond in the rough. I mean, here we are.”
This story is from the August 8th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.