It's hard to believe that behind the dreamy pop of the Smashing Pumpkins' 1993 album Siamese Dream, the Chicago band were battling drug addiction, suicidal thoughts and a possible nervous breakdown. The group headed to Atlanta to record the follow-up to their 1991 smash hit Gish - an album that found critics calling them the next Nirvana. The pressure to live up to those expectations mounted, causing relationships within the group to strain and members to dive into drugs.
For as troubled as the Siamese sessions were, what emerged was one of the most popular and critically-praised albums of the '90s, lead by several hits and stellar production by Nirvana producer Butch Vig. It also set the stage for the band's next project, the critically lauded and adventurous Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.
Here are some things you might not have known about the band's rock masterpiece.
The Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin struggled with an intensifying drug addiction during the recording of Siamese Dream. The band hoped that recording in Atlanta would help keep Chamberlin clean, but his addiction became so bad that at one point he disappeared on a five-day bender. Corgan allegedly issued an ultimatum: Enter rehab or leave the band. Chamberlin chose rehab.
The band recorded Siamese Dream in Atlanta, Georgia, for one small reason and one major reason. The less important reason was because of the opportunity to keep costs lower. The major reason was to keep the band - and particularly Chamberlin - away from drugs.
The idea was to make it harder for Chamberlin to attract "his usual coterie of hard-core [partiers]." That idea didn't quite pan out, as he would often show up to the studio too high to perform.
Billy Corgan revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that his mental health was greatly impacted by the success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the pressure to live up to Smashing Pumpkin's grungy debut, Gish. He was so depressed that he became suicidal - even giving away his belongings and envisioning his own funeral. He almost followed through on ending his life until he woke up one day and gave himself an ultimatum that inspired one of Siamese's biggest hits. He recalled:
I woke up one morning, and I kind of stared out the window and thought, 'Okay, well, if you're not going to jump out the window, you better do whatever it is you need to do. That morning I wrote, I think it was the song 'Today,' which people would probably be fairly familiar with. It's the ice cream truck video song. It's sort of a wry observation on suicide, but in essence the meditation behind the lyric is that every day is the best day, if you let it be.
Corgan's quest for perfection on the album deeply affected band relationships. Things were already tense between guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky because the two had ended a romantic relationship, but things got much worse when Corgan took over production. He ended up playing most of the guitar and bass on the album himself, and the intra-band relationships suffered as a result. He later explained in an interview with BBC radio:
We rehearsed a lot, we worked together a lot, we argued about things other than music, we actually never argued about music. They believed in what the album represented, they actually really believed in the album, but the actual physical making of the record, they couldn’t live up to that level of scrutiny, they couldn’t live up to that level of pressure. It destroyed my health you know, it destroyed my relationships, I went out of my mind.