Reprinted without permission from Circus, October 1996

by Adam St. James

Lollapalooza was an all day job for the tens of thousands of enthusiastic fans who flocked to the annual music festival. Not that it was hard work, there was just so much to see and do, so many carnival-like attractions, some great up and coming acts on the second stage.

And then there was the main stage, with its undeniable and soon-to-be-legendary.

For Soundgarden, 1996 marked the group's second appearance on the Lollapalooza main stage. It was no surprise the band was invited back. With ever increasing album sales and radio airplay, Soundgarden has emerged as one of the driving forces in modern rock. The group's latest effort, Down On The Upside, is a testament to the musical growth the band has experienced since the release of the Screaming Life EP on Sub Pop Records back in 1987. The band adopted a natural, spontaneous approach for the recording of Upside, realizing their strength as a powerful live unit. Initially one of the founding forces behind the Seattle grunge scene, with each of its five full-length albums, Soundgarden has moved closer toward a place in rock history.

For guitarist Kim Thayil - with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, truly the thinking man of the summer tour - Lollapalooza represents both opportunity and excess, good times and frustrations. In a hotel room in Dallas, just minutes before leaving for the Lollapalooza concert grounds, Thayil reflected on the rock festival, his relationship with the fans, and a few good books.

Circus: Are you having fun on the Lollapalooza tour?

Kim Thayil: For the most part. It's just like touring: you play and it's fun, then the rest of the time, you're traveling and trying to sleep or eat. Most of the spare time is spent sleeping, trying to find food or drinking.

Have you been checking out a lot of the bands?

Yeah. Mostly the Ramones.

Who else do you listen to these days?

I just don't care too much for other people's bands. I love the Melvins and I actually like the new Garbage record a lot. And there's a band called The Cows. I had a number of their early singles. I've had the opportunity to see them play live on Lollapalooza and they were great.

So how does your day go with this tour?

We play around 7:30, 8:00. We usually leave the hotel at 2:30, get to the gig after 3. People usually go and eat something. Actually I don't know why we get there that early because I don't like being there. I like to see the Ramones. I've seen the other bands; they're good, they're fine, etc., etc., but it's a big cluster f**k. There are too many people running around, too many people backstage. Nothing to do but to get in other people's way or to go around bothering people.

How have Soundgarden's audiences changed over the past few years?

They've gotten bigger. The audience used to be a little better educated. They used to be sort of like artists, college students, fellow musicians, peers, hipsters, skateboarders - basically they were intelligent and interesting and mature. As you get bigger of course, you start getting younger fans and older fans as well - housewives and kids and stuff - and you start crossing over and getting people from different economic and social backgrounds, which is a good thing. The bad thing though is that the audience behaves... it moves to the center. It's all the social law of thermodynamics, where everything kind of tends toward the center, or the lowest common denominator, or whatever.

When you say less educated, do you mean toward your band's music?

In general. People who are intelligent in the way they conduct themselves, or in having conversations with them, or the way... the kind of T-shirts they wear, you know? 'They're into that band?' (he says disdainfully) or 'What a cool design'. You kind of get an idea of a person by their artistic sensibility. That doesn't really change, a lot of the people who are original fans feel that we're too big for them to have the intimate entertainment experience they would like to have. They still like us but they may not come to see us in this situation. But there are people who are willing to go to that situation. These are the people who enjoy the party sort of atmosphere.

Do you miss that closer connection?

Yeah, in a way I do miss that closer connection because it was just like, here's us and here's people who know what we're about, and that was it. The whole situation was very honest. Not that what we're doing is any less honest, it's just that we realize at some point we're communicating with people who aren't that different from us. So we're writing music by us for us. And we're still doing that.

Do you ever feel like people put too much weight on the shoulders of an entertainer such as yourself?

(Laughs) Yeah, I suppose. I suppose that's something the entertainer has to learn to deal with and I think that there are demands and expectations that people put on them. The way I see it, it's like the exchange is done. If someone pays for a show and you give them a show, that's that. You make a record, you market the record, someone buys the record - that's that. The exchange is done. There's the trade. (Laughs) But, um, anything else is, uh, new stuff to deal with.

When it goes beyond that and into personal lives and things...

Obviously I know what you're getting at, but I don't want to go too far into that. But speaking of that situation, people sometimes like to be confrontational. I don't know if it makes them feel better about themselves or what. We're only human.

Do you talk to a lot of audience members?

Yeah. It really depends on the mood. I'm actually, generally, the peacemaker guy in the band. I'm the guy who does most of the interviews, and does all the autographs and photos and stuff.

Do you talk to a lot of guitar players as well?

Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

How do you feel about that?

Well, I try to be... those are people most interested in me. Young male guitar players I can relate to because I was one of them and I can remember being one of them and listening to all these bands and thinking 'Wow.' And so I meet a lot of them and they come up and say "Hey, I play guitar man!" And it's like "Cool!" I don't want to discourage them at all because I can't think of anything worse than to really be into a band and being into playing guitar, then being disappointed by meeting someone who you're into. So that's a situation I can understand. It's one I try to support.

Besides music, what else are you interested in? Are you an artist, or into art?

I was always into literature. I don't like reading novels anymore, I like reading non-fiction. I read so many novels and short stories. I used to collect comic books. I kind of got out of that. But sure, visual arts and stuff. I took a number of arts classes in college. I took the philosophy of art and stuff. I took it because I was interested in it, it wasn't required.

Have you delved into writing or painting or photography?

No different from anyone else. I've had my cameras. I've taken my pictures (laughs). Like any other kid all through high school I'd draw and doodle and create cartoon characters. Maybe not like every other kid, but I know there were other kids that did that (laughs). You know: sit through your physics classes kind of... do you remember Heavy Metal magazine? Well I had the first 12 issues when I was a teenager. So that's just kind of, sort of college-boys comic book art. I was like 15 and for some reason I thought that stuff was cool.

So what do you read on the road?

Almanac stuff. And I brought the Baseball Who's Who (laughs). It's got all these stats.

Really? Are you a trivia person or just an information person?

Information. Sometimes I get a geography question stuck in my head and I have to go get an atlas. So I end up getting into the atlas. And sometimes I have questions about baseball or 'Oh gee, I'm trying to remember what this kind of reptile was.' When I was a kid I used to have all these books on reptiles and insects. It's like 'Well wait a minute, I remember this name.' I was 10 or 11 years old and I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology just because I was so into mythology - I was into dinosaurs and mythology was an extension of that, and then comic books came off of that. I get into something and then I learn as much as I can about it as long as it holds my interest, then go on from there.