Reprinted without permission from Metal Hammer, January 1998
KIM THAYIL'S A-SIDES
With the demise of Soundgarden and the release of their compilation album, the guitarist talks about gathering together their favourite tracks.
Were you involved in making the selection of tracks for 'A-Sides'?
"Oh yeah, yeah. The band each made a list of what we thought would make a 'best of' and then we cross-referenced them, and the cross-referencing is what ended up being on the record."
Did you find it nostalgic to hear some of those tracks again?
"Yeah, there was a bit of nostalgia. I was interested nostalgically in listening to all these obscure B-Sides, and I had to find all these records and cassettes and CDs and make a list of all these songs, so it was a bit of a treasure hunt for me, and I was finding things I hadn't heard in years. The greatest hits: I already knew what that was about!"
Why release it as an 'A-Sides' compilation as opposed to a 'Best of Soundgarden'?
"Because there's thousands of 'Best Of' and 'Greatest Hits' records out there. We decided to call it 'A-Sides' because, information-wise, it's saying, 'Hey, these are the singles.' Calling it 'Best Of' or 'Greatest Hits', that's something that an individual fan can make of his own collection, and these aren't necessarily our personal favourites, they are our bigger sellers or more popular songs."
So it's a handy way of putting them all together on one album?
"Yeah, it is, but there are a few that were left off, like 'My Wave' and 'Superunknown', and 'Nothing To Say' was actually a B-Side."
And 'Nothing To Say' is the first track on 'A-Sides'...
"Yeah, that was the song that helped get us signed and helped launched our career. It was a song that ended up being put on a demo tape called 'Bands That Will Make Money' - obviously there was a bit of humour in that! - and the tape was compiled by a woman named Faith Henschel as an audition tape for herself to work in a record company. The record company listened to this tape, which had six or seven bands on it, and we had a number of responses from our song:' Who is this band Soundgarden and what's this song 'Nothing To Say'?' And so that was the B-Side to our first single, which was 'Hunted Down', on Sub Pop."
What was it like to get your first record in your hands?
"Oh it was fantastic, because it seemed real then. As opposed to a cassette, it seemed like it had now been published and manufactured in a form that I was used to and that I'd appreciated since I was a young kid. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and just take it out and stare at it. Wow!"
After releasing 'UltramegaOK' in 1988 you signed to A&M the following year and released 'Louder Than Love'. Is it true that the original working title was 'Louder Than Fuck'?
"Yeah - we knew they wouldn't let us! But that's really what we wanted to call it."
The single 'Outshined' taken from 'Badmotorfinger' gave you a breakthrough at radio, didn't it?
"Yeah, radio and video. It was 'Buzzbin' at MTV and got played a lot. I think when it was in 'Buzzbin', simultaneously Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and Pearl Jam's 'Alive' were also in 'Buzzbin' and they were also from Seattle, so maybe we were a little bit overshadowed - a little bit 'outshined' at that point! I didn't like our video either - it stunk! It was a last minute thing. I believe it was the couple who made that Smashing Pumpkins video where they were on the moon and stuff. Well, this was one of their early videos - and I hated it! That's what I remember most about that song - just how much I couldn't stand the video!"
You followed up with 1994's hugely successful, multi-platinum 'Superunknown', which went into the Billboard charts at No. 1 on release.
"Yeah, it went to No. 1 in the US and in Australia. We were in England when that record came out and we got the news that it entered at No.1, which was kind of exciting. Well, it was exciting for about an hour and then it was business as usual - interviews and touring!"
'Black Hole Sun' was the massive hit single off 'Superunknown'.
"That helped us sell a lot of records and a lot of seats at various venues. That was the big song, the 'big hit'. I believe the video won an MTV Video Award and the album 'Superunknown' won two Grammies. I liked the video because the video and the song were both very dark and also somewhat sunny! It's a lot of horrifying stuff all candied up and with a ribbon on it, which is a lot like the things we've experienced in life, right? Things are dressed up to make it easy. You know, a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down - but it's still medicine. There are at least four cover versions of that song and I've only heard one of them. I think Matt brought in a tape of that muzak version and it was amusing, the salsa lends itself to that in a way. It was pretty and had catchy melodies and that was its strong suit in being a hit. Those kind of songs also lend themselves to muzak in a way."
After the phenomenal success of 'Superunknown' were you under any pressure during the recording of 1996's 'Down On The Upside'?
"No, we weren't going to let that bother us. We just do what we like to hear and what we like to play. That's what we always did."
The final single release from that album was 'Blow Up The Outside World'.
"Our last video for our last single! It was directed by Jerry Casale who was the bass player for Devo. A nice ironic, final single in a way. People said there was a Beatles-ish element. I suppose there is a bit of Paul McCartney and a little bit of Lennon in the flavour of the song. Everyone in the band grew up with the Beatles and we had a certain degree of respect and admiration for them that's not uncommon. I think many people were Beatles fans, especially for that period in time. There's a number of acoustic guitars on the track as well and then, towards the end of the song, it gets louder and aggressive and goes to these power chords, and is maybe a little reminiscent of AC/DC."
And finally, 'Bleed Together'.
"That came from the 'Down On The Upside' session and originally the record company was interested in it being on the album, but we weren't interested in putting it on the album because we weren't happy with the mix we got for it. Also, we had to concern ourselves with the length of the record and how much time we could fit on one disc, so we never finished it before 'Down On The Upside' came out. This was one of many mixes we had tried at the time. It's a fast, energetic, punk rock type song with a hooky melody. Chris sings aggressively, but definitely melodically - as opposed to screaming - over these fast punk rock chords. We decided it would be a good single and song to promote 'A-Sides'."
Do you have any other Soundgarden compilations planned for future release?
"We have a couple of dozen songs that were never available on a Soundgarden album; they were always released as B-Sides in European, Australian or Japanese singles packages, or on movie soundtracks. So we want to put them together in an album format, and I think our fans would love that. That is not a cynical thing to do, that is the best tip of the hat to fans: rather than having to go out and buy the two dozen different singles or cassettes or CDs on which these tracks appeared, they can buy one album and have them altogether. You'd have to be a pretty insane collector to pick up all those little things from international releases and movie soundtracks and I think, as a fan, I would love to be able to have all those songs in my collection without having to hunt down all the various obscure releases."
Do you have any finished, previously unreleased Soundgarden songs that might appear in the future?
"There are songs there that have never appeared anywhere. Some of them were demos that we did for our first album. We have a cassette of our first 15 songs, that were never, ever released. Those songs we played live for a number of years, before we even made a record, and we never released any of those because we tended to release the most recent songs we were working on. Just the band members and a few friends and family have copies of that cassette., but it's 15 songs that were only heard by our friends in Seattle. I don't know if we'll ever release it because we don't have the master tapes. Actually, they were damaged by water in the basement of the place we rehearsed at; the basement got flooded and the tapes were on the ground. The only thing that exists is the cassette copies, so we're not going to be able to put it out in any other format, really."
Do you see the release of 'A-Sides' as a clearing of the decks, so that you can now move forward and do something different?
"I don't quite see it that way. We're putting out all our big hit singles on one format and I think there are other records that we will probably compile, so in that regard, no. I just think, if anything, it's a retrospective of the hits and I don't think it's an epilogue or a prologue."