How Smashing Pumpkins ‘Gish’ Influenced Pearl Jam, Nirvana + Grunge to Come
While many point to Nirvana's Nevermind as the birth of what would become grunge in the fall of 1991, there were definitely albums that laid the groundwork for that genre explosion and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish may have paved the way more than you realize.
The album enjoyed its 30th anniversary over the weekend with a livestream celebration and singer Billy Corgan also spoke with Rolling Stone about the influential nature of their debut recording.
Though Gish arrived in early 1991, it would have an impact on two bands that essentially blew the doors open for the genre - Nirvana and Pearl Jam - with their releases later in the year.
Corgan recalled, "I remember having a conversation with Eddie Vedder when we were on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers [in late 1991]. He told me how much of an influence Gish was on their first record. And through the years, I’ve talked to many, many people who really pointed to Gish as the game-changer in their mind about how to approach guitar and how to record."
Plus it's important to note that Gish shared a producer with Nirvana's Nevermind as Butch Vig oversaw both records. "Obviously, the album had a lot to do with how Nevermind was recorded," says Corgan.
The singer admits Vig wasn't the known entity his is today, recalling, "I remember having a record company meeting and the guy said…I think it was Donnie Ienner, who was running Sony at the time. He asked me who I wanted to produce our first album. This is before we signed with anybody. I said 'Butch Vig,' and he said, 'Who? What’s a Vig?'"
But Vig would get the call to work on Nevermind while recording Gish with Smashing Pumpkins, even if it took some arm twisting to make it happen. "You gotta remember that we were in the studio the day that he got the call to do Nevermind. I was literally in the next room. I could hear him talking. He came in and said, 'I’ve been offered this job.' He had this glum look on his face because they wanted him to work with someone he didn’t necessarily want to work with. They didn’t trust him because he wasn’t a known entity. Even though Kurt wanted to work with him, the label was suspicious of that and wanted him to work with a more established name producer, basically sublimating him in the process," recalls Corgan. "Obviously that ended up not happening, and Butch produced the record himself, and even then they took the mix away from him, which is why Andy Wallace did it."
The singer says that the record labels at the time did not realize what was coming, outright telling the acts that their music wouldn't sell. The band was even pitched a Gish re-release after the huge success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam later in the year.
"The labels severely underestimated the power of what was coming. And to take it back to our situation, we were signed to Virgin, but they didn’t want what became Gish to come out on Virgin," says the singer. "They gave us a very modest budget and wanted us to get our feet wet, so they were stuck us in the corner with this no-name producer named Butch Vig to make a record that, in their mind, was going to fly under the radar. They were positioning us for where they felt we could go later."
He adds, "Our record starts selling like crazy and they start thinking, 'Maybe we’re onto something.' Around the time they’re trying to figure out what to do, here comes Nevermind and here comes the Pearl Jam record. And the game is instantly changed overnight."
Because Gish preceded what would become the grunge explosion, it's often overlooked for its influence. The band would become superstars on their second album, Siamese Dream.