Reprinted without permission from Metal Edge, August
UPSHOT ON "THE UPSIDE" FROM KIM THAYIL
By now, Soundgarden's fifth full-length album, "Down on the Upside" should be firmly lodged in CD players and tape decks everywhere. Expectations were high for the follow-up to 94's super-successful "Superunknown," and vocalist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron managed to fufill them easily. A somewhat earthier effort than its predecessor, "Down on the Upside" may not feature obvious singles like "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun," but is full of satisfyingly solid tunes like lead-off track "Pretty Noose" or "Burden In My Hand" and adventurously spacey songs like "Swith Opens" or "Applebite." It's admirable that they didn't feel the need to "experiment" too much -- a good indication that, unlike many bands who've had big-selling albums, they're not trying to top themselves in some way (a gambit that usually fails anyway). But this shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the band's decade-old career. Soundgarden has always been comfortable about their own musical identity, letting other people figure out which musical catergory they belonged in, among other irrelevant matters.
Though the guys in Soundgarden themselves are happy with "Down on the Upside," it's difficult for them to really hear an album right after recording it. "Usually, we're pretty excited," said Kim in a mid-April phone interview, "but when we get some distance from it, a few months just to let it sit...when we hear it in another format, on the radio or in some bar somewhere or blasting out of a car, then it starts making sense apart from listening to it the way we've been monitoring it for a number of months." The band themselves were a little more involved in recording this time, too. They chose to forego an outside producer enitrely, co-producing DOTU themselves with engineer Adam Kasper. "In a lot of ways it took less time and energy," said Kim. "I think we were a little bit more efficient. In some ways it took more time because we were a little bit less experienced...It wasn't that significant...I mean we haven't done a dozen albums where it's rote."
Slightly shorter than "Superunknown," the new album is, at 66 mintues (16 songs), still sufficiently long. According to Kim, "There were a lot of other songs that weren't finished or completed, but these were the ones that were the furthest along." Regarding some of the leftover material, "Maybe some of it'll be around for the next album. I think we're trying to avoid b-sides because it's pretty irritating when you make a record that's over an hour long and then your asked for bonus tracks." The new material came out of several writing sessions that took place over the past year. Regarding the band's songwriting m.o., "There isn't one usual way; it happens a lot of different ways," noted Kim. "This album, songs tended to be a little more completely authored. It's the first time I've written music and lyrics to a song ["Never The Machine Forever"] and Chris did a lot on his own. There was a little less stuff that came out of jams...it was less collaborative."
As on the past albums, Soundgarden wound up writing and recording some songs at the last minute. "There were a few of those songs," says Kim. "Actually the song 'Tighter & Tighter' had been in exsistence since the 'Superunknown' sessions, and at some point we decided to go ahead and take a stab at a rearranged version of that. There were a few songs the Ben wrote... 'Switch Opens' and 'Never The Machine Forever' were both songs that were completed while in the studio. They weren't any exciting demos."
At press time the band had just finished shooting the video for "Pretty Noose." Said Kim of the shoot, "The most unusual thing about it was the director who established himself as a graphic artist, Frank Kozik...apparently he had done a commercial for Nike, but he'd mostly worked on posters and album art." Kim and the band hadn't yet seen the result of Kozik's background on the video. "We'll have to see when he adds the graphic effects and animation."
At the time of this interview, Soundgarden were preparing for their first live appearence on television, namely Saturday Night Live. Though it didn't seem likely the band would appear in a skit, they actually have done television comedy in the past. According to Kim, "Out here there's a local program called 'Almost Live' which has been shown on Comedy Central. It's on every Saturday night before Saturday Night Live. The band's been in a couple of skits, but we weren't playing instruments."
The next live dates the band plays will be at Lollapalooza, starting in late June. Kim, for one, is looking forward to it. "This one will be exciting because we'll be touring with Metallica, it'll be more like a Metallica tour than anything else....and the Ramones are going to be on it. We're pretty excited about that." After that, the band plans to tour Europe before heading back to the US for headlining dates. As for possible opening acts, "I know there are a few names we've tossed around and one of them is Filter," said Kim, "but it's all very tenative at this point."
Maybe because their success had been a steadily growing thing, as opposed to overnight stardom, Soundgarden seem remarkably unfazed by their recent popularity. Was there any aspect of "Superunknown's" aftermath they weren't prepared for? "There may have been a little bit, but since this success did come gradually, it wasn't that overwhelming," said Kim. "We weren't caught off guard. Still, it's a little different. Most people want your time and you have less to give." Unlike many bands in similar situations, Soundgarden has not had their personal lives invaded by the media. According to Kim, privacy wasn't something they had to fight to mantain. "No, because there's nothing interesting about our lives," he laughed. "We're not getting in car wrecks, we're not turning up in emergency rooms with drug overdoses, we're not going out with fashion models."
There have, however, been some wild stories that inevitably attach themselves to any artist in the limelight. Kim: "About a three of four years ago, there was a rumor that me and Eddie Vedder died in a car accident, somewhere up 100 miles north of Seattle. I was driving, we crashed and both got killed. Someone -- a friend of a friend -- actually called me to find out. 'Hey, they said on the radio...' 'No, I'm alive.' Occassionally you hear things; it's just funny sometimes. "
The band may be low key about their success, but they'r not overly modest about their place in the current music scene. When asked if he thought things would be different if Soundgarden were starting out today, Kim had this to say, "I don't think the music scene as it is now would have exsisted prior to us; it did sort of come around as a consequence of us. Had we not got going until now, I'm sure it would be an entirely different music scene. I guess what I'm saying is we definitely had our influence on other bands, some larger than us." That happens to be the truth, and that's why it has been so satisfying to watch Soundgarden attain the success that several other bands achieved before them. That's also why Soundgarden will probably outlast them all.