reprinted without permission from Guitar World, May
Soundgarden: Kim Thayil
"I think the music scene up here is commonly linked because the city is small enough that it's musically accessible to all people. Rather than being a rent-a-culture like L.A., Seattle's got some kind of musical identity and autonomy now. One thing about Seattle bands is that the musicians are very supportive of each other. You can go to any Seattle band show, and in the audience are musicians from other bands."
If any single band exemplifies the broad range of styles that make up the "Seattle sound," it is Soundgarden. Led by Kim Thayil's tarnished, psychoactive metal guitar and Chris Cornell's hairspray-deadening vocals, Soundgarden slowly emerged from Seattle's downtown underground like some legendary murky creature from the rain-swollen sewers. While metal bands like Queensryche and Metal Church were savoring international stardom, groups like Soundgarden and Green River were slicing up previously unexplored musical turf in frenzied, once-a-month gigs.
Soundgarden stuffed the desperate energies of punk, metal, and psychedelia into a whimpering food processor and whipped up a smorgasbord of feedback and sex. From the restless, primal eroticism of their two Sub Pop ep's, to the Frigid Pink-meets-Black Sabbath psychedelia of Flower and Grammy-nominated Ultra Mega OK (both on SST), Soundgarden have evolved into a tightly structured fusion of grunge and metal for their major label debut, Louder Than Love (A&M).
"In the Sixties they called it 'psychedelic,'" says Soundgarden lead guitarist Kim Thayil, a mix of sarcasm and resignation in his voice. "In the Seventies it was 'progressive metal.'" The Eighties were 'power pop,' and now, in the Nineties, it's 'grunge rock.'
"As far as the music of the Nineties goes," Thavil continues, "I think a lot of the metal bands are going to incorporate elements of [grunge], like not being preoccupied with their proficiency and professionalism. They're getting more into music that rocks, music that's honest, heavy, wild. The whole element of spontaneity and wildness is what's been missing in bands all over the country for years."
Thavil, like many Seattle musicians, is tired of the grunge label, which has been broadly applied to every current or former Sub Pop band. "Sub Pop is putting out tons of different bands who, for the most part, have the signature of [producer] Jack Endino--he gets a certain feeling and sound, which is pretty bassy and bottom-heavy. It's all eight-track stuff. We have a local record label that's very big, hip, cool, and supportive, and has great graphics."
As for his guitar sound, Thayil has an even simpler explanation: "I play guitar because I like to make loud noises. And the guitar is the coolest way to make a loud noise."
Soundgarden's very carefully managed growth has seen them slowly work from a local label, to a national independent, up to their current major-label deal and a brutal touring schedule. Throughout, critics have struggled to describe their sound, lumping them either with Seattle bands like Mudhoney, or other genrebending outfits like Faith No More and Voivod--with whom Soundgarden has toured on what Thayil dubbed the "Munsters of Rock" road show.
"We live kind of far away from other cities," Thayil says. "So you have to go out there and tour if you want people to see you. In Seattle, you actually have to develop an audience, you can't just have a few idiots who went to some school in Boston, who pretend that they like you."
So who did Kim Thavil pretend to like, growing up? The MC5, the Dolls, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground. But it all began with Kiss. "Kiss Alive was the second album I ever bought, and the first record that made me realize things could be a lot louder and more violent than the Beatles. It emphasized volume and guitar over harmony, melody and lyrics; all the stuff I never listened to anyway," he told Mudhoney's Mark Arm a year ago.
"For the record," Thayil savs, "Soundgarden really don't care about their equipment. We just like it if it's loud and it works, Jason [Everman, briefly rhythm guitarist with Nirvana before replacing Hiro Yamamoto in Soundgarden] uses basses that don't cost too much. He broke a bass that cost him $1500 one time. He broke three or four basses on this last tour. I was in the middle of a solo at L.A.'s Whiskey when I noticed the sound was kind of thin for this part of the song. I turned around, and saw Jason jumping up and down on his bass because it wasn't working any more. I thought, 'How are we going to top that on the next song?'"
Thayil is a bit more careful with his gear. He favors a Guild S-1 and a Les Paul Custom Light, played through a 65-watt Music Man head and whatever speakers are available, preferably something resembling four 12-inch speaker cabinets.
Vocalist/rhythm player Chris Cornell uses a Les Paul Custom cherry sunburst, played through Mesa/Boogie amps.
Jason Everman plays whichever bass is working this week through a Gailien-Krueger amp and speaker cabinet.