Reprinted without permission from Livewire, November 1992

Kim Thayil gives us a look at the personal side of being a Grunge God
Story and Poetry by Anne Leighton

'O Kim Thayil went on his merry trail, wagging his tail behind him.
Well, it wasn't his tail and it wasn't behind him.
In front lay the world -- his brains all a swirl,
dreaming of riffs, success and punk rock.
He said, "Yo Chris Cornell, how does your Soundgarden grow?"
"With rock and roll and cocker shells"
(actually that's Jethro Tull, but hell, they're swell).
And fun Matt Cameron was playing drums.
(Wow! An easy rhyme just was born!)
Old Ben Shepherd lived in a shoe but he had no children to make him sing the blues.
He was a metal case with a real nice face and a big loud bass.
They grew their sound in a garden so fertile called Seattle, along with Mertle the Turtle, Big Bird, Miss Piggy, Grover, Skid Row and Axl, they conquered the world.
Then Kim Thayil smiled and dialed Livewire,

Livewire: A lot of your fans read that Rolling Stone article which made it seem like Soundgarden hated that whole "Can I have your autograph" thing.

Kim: Well, sometimes it's flattering. Sometimes it's a burden. It depends on where you are and what you're doing at the time. I suppose if you're having dinner somewhere or going to your room to sleep and someone follows you to your door, they're probably thinking you don't exist or we just exist in one of those magazines. They're obviously not showing any respect for you as an individual. They don't really know anything about you, having just heard your record or seen your picture.

LW: They might be thinking, "Omigod, this is the only chance I can meet him."

Kim: Sometimes their actions are evasive. Other times I suppose it's flattery. I suppose it's worse if people didn't want your autographs.

LW: At least you're thinking about it. I heard you were a philosophy major in college. Is philosophy a means of self-expression or of reflection of what's around you?

Kim: There are two different ways the world could be more understood or how information could be received. I guess there's one view that says the world is something that we read. We're blank and we read of the world, see it the way it is. The other view is we created the world. I'm sure there are more views than that but those are the two that are somewhat opposing.

LW: I like the second one; it seems more positive.

Kim: Usually philosophy doesn't deal with what's positive or negative. Usually it deals with what's true or what could be known to be the truth. Whether it's perceived as good or bad is a different issue.

LW: Are their careers in philosophy?

Kim: Professor. Anything you do as an English teacher is seen as a philosophy. Anything you can do with an English degree you can do with a philosophy degree -- probably better.

LW: Do you have any favorite philosophies?

Kim: No. I'm not any member or aligned with any particular school just like I'm not in any political party or religious church or whatever.

LW: Did you take philosophy thinking that was the easiest course you could take?

Kim: Hmmm. If I'd take an easy course, I'd take Psychology or English.

LW: I got a philosophy called Poetree as in T-R-E-E.

Kim: Whatever that is.

LW: Poetree. Leaves are poems and I'm the tree. Therefore, I asked Soundgarden how do you grow the sound in your garden?

Kim: I think the name is visual. It's just hearing it; they evoke images. It doesn't have any straight meaning. It's just a word color.

LW: Do you have favorite colors?

Kim: Um. I think when I was a kid, I did. You know kids have favorite colors that usually coincide with their favorite flavors of Kool-Aid. But I don't have a favorite flavor of Kool-Aid anymore. I don't have a favorite color.

LW: Soundgarden's been together eight years -- that's almost a decade. There've been a lot of changes back home. Like supermarkets are now selling clothes, CDs and furniture.

Kim: You come home and there's a new building in Seattle. Or like this last time, I came back and my bank was out of business. It was purchased by another bank.

LW: I hope that didn't crush you financially.

Kim: No. The new bank has my money. It wasn't a bank I wanted to work with. Ten years ago I took my money out of this bank 'cause of what kind of business they do. And ten years later I'm stuck with this bank because the evil bank bought out my morally good bank. The evil bank was the one I originally left. A lot of weird stuff happens. Restaurants close down. The store in my neighborhood closed down. Other things open up. You don't notice these changes when you're at home. But when you're gone for two or three months, and come back, these little changes add up.

LW: And what about the friends that don't see you when you're on the road?

Kim: You tend to cut away many relationships which don't grow with you. But your close friends -- the ones you tend to hang out with -- they still stay your friends forever. They don't care whether you're gone or overseas or in a band or whatever. A lot of people become fans more than friends. Those people you probably have to discard. It's difficult to deal with them.

LW: Do people/friends look at you like you're an "Omigod?"

Kim: Some people do.

LW: Did you ever look at anybody like an "Omigod?"

Kim: Maybe when I was a kid, I didn't run into anyone where I thought "Omigod." I think the closest I've been to being in awe was maybe being at a baseball game and seeing, like, a major league player close up. I met Buckminster Fuller when I was in high school. That was pretty impressive. He was giving a speech in a theater.

LW: Exactly who was Buckminster Fuller?

Kim: He had a lot of philosophy books just talking about culture and people -- everything from architecture to new age learning and stuff -- just a general all-around thinker type of guy.

LW: Did you listen to him? Was there a special lesson you got out of his lecture?

Kim: No. Not at the time. I was working at the place he was lecturing at, so I didn't get to participate. But it was like, "Wow, I read this guy and here he is. I get to meet him."

LW: How do the guys in the band grow with you?

Kim: We all grow together. It's like a little family -- a bunch of brothers. We got the same bedroom!

LW: How long has Ben been in the band now? There must be a lot of growth with him?

Kim: Over two years. He might have had a little anxiety initially but I think he's grown into it really well. We probably explained things to him as they came up, if there was something in the situation as far as the business angle. But basically we figured he was strong enough and capable to keep up. It must have been a real whirlwind for him standing on a street corner and a car zips by doing over the speed limit and he needs to jump in from the sidewalk. But he got on.

LW: How's Matt different than the other guys in the band?

Kim: He might be a little better adjusted than the rest of us.

LW: Aww, it's the drummer syndrome. They love life.

Kim: Yeah, I think he likes life. I think we're all helpful to each other. I think Matt's kind of easygoing and perhaps a little better adjusted socially in terms of temperament. He's a good balance to the volatility to the other personalities in the band. I think everyone gives something -- everyone has various leadership qualities whether they're social or intellectual or artistic. I think everyone brings these things to the group.

LW: What's your strong leadership quality?

Kim: I wouldn't know how to answer that. I think that's pretentious or, worse, self-deprecating to make that kind of judgment about myself.

LW: I don't think so. People can figure out what makes themselves special in any situation and you don't have to be pretentious about it, just sincere. It's like looking in the mirror and saying, "I love my eyes because -- "

Kim: That's it. I think the strength I give to the band is the fact I have a beard.

LW: Chris has a beard too. Does he suffer from the frontman syndrome?

Kim: What's the frontman syndrome?

LW: It's caused because the frontman gets most of the flak and most of the glory. He's got the most identifiable face in the band.

Kim: That's true. They do get both. Unfortunately, we're getting a lot of praise, and a lot of it is gonna fall on the singer. A lot of it is due and earned but it's just the way the media focuses on things. It's probably unearned. Then again there's a lot of flak. All the shit the band handles is gonna fall on the shoulders of the singer -- in many cases unfairly and in some cases fairly. But the singer has to deal with more of the crap and more of the warmth.

LW: I'm sure that provides frustration for him, and at other times for the rest of the band.

Kim: Yeah, but the band understands how to handles themselves and what's going on, and the perception it gets in the media and press, record company, fans, whatever.

LW: Do you have support meetings to help each other with these discoveries?

Kim: Nothing formal. We're more into informal meetings when we happen to be hanging around.

LW: Just like a growing together kind of thing?

Kim: Just like on Sesame Street.

LW: Do you watch that show?

Kim: Yes. Whenever I have the chance. If it's on, I watch it.

LW: Who's your favorite character on the show?

Kim: I always liked Grover. And I like this new character, Elmo. He's a little red monster puppet and speaks in a little kid voice... mumbles a lot.