reprinted without permission from Circus Magazine,
January 31, 1992
SOUNDGARDEN FINDS HARD-ROCK EDEN
It doesn't take long for Kim Thayil to ponder the question of whether Soundgarden is enjoying its emerging-star status. "Yeah, we are," says the Seattle foursome's decidedly unconventional lead guitarist, "'cause we can look down and look up -- we see where we've been and where we could go."
Soundgarden -- one of those bands who leaves rock critics helplessly hyphenating strings of descriptives in an effort to nail down their powerful, elusive sound (e.g., "avant-grunge-thrash-punk-psychedelic-monstro-hardcore" etc.) -- is in an enviable place. Their A&M records debut, the heady, hormone-charged Louder Than Love, was one of 1989's most acclaimed major-label debuts. Its successor, the recently-released Badmotorfinger, has already piled up rave notices; evidently the two-year time lapse between albums has caused no discernible harm.
As this story was going to press, Soundgarden was preparing for a monthlong supporting stint on the Guns N' Roses tour, from mid-Novemeber through mid-December. "It's the coveted opening slot for any band out there right now," says drummer Matt Cameron. "We were lucky to have been chosen by the band members themselves, instead of some management-manipulation-payola trip." Axl Rose himself was quoted in a 1989 Rolling Stone magazine interview, "I really enjoy Soundgarden. The singer [Chris Cornell] just buries me."
The prospect of touring with the, ahem, mercurial Rose may be more advantageous than problematic, according to the Soundgardeners. "If they come on late, we've been told we can stretch our set a little bit, which should be fun," says Cameron. And as for Thayil, his primary pre-tour concern is that "We have to make sure we hold people's interest. At times I think, 'Wow, what if we're up there, and they can't stand us?' But generally, I figure they're gonna like it, 'cause it's way heavy and it's gonna rock. I have no doubt in my mind as far as the heaviness factor between Guns N' Roses and us."
"We were going to go out with Queensryche," notes Cameron (Soundgarden has toured with Faith No More, Prong, Danzig, and Voivod). "So we had to say 'Later' to those guys, and go on the Guns N' Roses ship. We really believe in our record, and we want it to be heard."
Badmotorfinger is that relative rarity, a sophomore effort (not including Soundgarden's earlier independent releases) that not only fulfills but exceeds the high expectations harbored by the band's growing legion of admirers who were turned on to Soundgarden with Louder Than Love. It sports all the signature Soundgarden components -- among them Richter-scale riffs and elliptical lyrics -- but instead of xeroxing Louder Than Love, Badmotorfinger works endlessly intriguing variations and progressions.
More striking than ever is the complex yet listener-friendly interplay between the four musicians: Prince of Wails Cornell, whose pipes are awe-inspiring; the consistently inventive, deliberately anti-flashy Thayil; the not-so-secret weapon Cameron, a stunning musician; and rock-solid bassist Ben Shepherd, Soundgarden's newest member.
"There's definitely more a band vibe on this one," Cameron says. "The last record was mostly contributions by Chris and Kim, and to a lesser degree Hiro [original bassist Yamamoto], and I didn't write anything. On this one, I wrote music for two songs, and collaborated on two songs." Shepherd collaborated on a pair of tunes as well -- including the group-penned "Jesus Christ Pose" -- and is the sole author of "Somewhere" (not to be confused with the West Side Story song.)
Soundgarden was the first outfit of the so-called Seattle grunge movement to land a major deal, when A&M records released Louder Than Love in 1989. (Other Seattle grunge bands include Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Tad, Alice in Chains, and the late, great Mother Love Bone, whose deceased singer, Andrew Wood, was feted with last spring's Temple of the Dog project, tweo of whose members were Cornell and Cameron.) Soundgarden actually has roots in Chicago, native home of Thayil (whose parents hail from Bombay, India) and Yamamoto. The pair relocated to Olympia, Washington to study philosophy at Evergreen State College, and ended up moving to Seattle in 1984. They put together Soundgarden with local lad Cornell, originally the singer and drummer. Cameron signed on in 1986, and the foursome quickly built a strong regoinal following.
Major labels were interested from the outset, but Soundgarden chose to start modestly, putting out its first recordings on soon-to-be-influential local indie label Sub Pop. A full-length album, Ultramega OK, was released by the underground label SST, before Soundgarden was signed with A&M. Shortly before the band launched its Louder Than Love tour, Yamamoto quit and was replaced by Jason Everman. Everman ultimately didn't work out, so in came Shepherd -- who, curiously enough, had first auditioned for Soundgarden at the same time as Everman. A band member for over a year now, Shepherd looks to be permanent: "He's got a job as long as he wants it," Thayil says appreciatively.
Life in general has not changed all that much for Soundgarden, according to Thayil, though he does get constantly approached in public these days. And there are benefits to emerging stardom, he notes: "I do get free pizza sometimes." Actually, Thayil confides, "We did this not for the usual rewards -- girls on our shoulders. We just like writing songs and playing. That's sincerely the goshawful truth."