Reprinted without permission from Pit, Spring
Saturday night, late September. A voyage to Foundations Forum '89 has landed us in beautiful Los Angeles, a badly designed smog/sweat jungle somewhere west of Vegas. We are standing outside the Hollywood Live, watching bemusedly as the bouncers plead with us to line up single file. The all-powerful Fire Marshal has deemed the club too full to further saturate. So we chat with the other people stranded behind us, and yell "C'mon you pussies! Boy-girl-boy-girl!" at the seething masses. Finally, after several surreptitiously consumed mini-bottles of whiskey, they let us in, just in time to catch Soundgarden's last song: a big sweaty rendition of "Beyond The Wheel." Pete raises a gnarled, upturned hand in prayer towards the vocalist's Wagnerian howl, fed by a thick, spastic guitar roar and the relentless bass/drum thunder. The song ends and they stumble off stage, to make room for Steve Jones or something. We stand, gaping, thinking deeply of the first time we went to a hardcore show, of the first time we were face to face with big, sweating, half-crazed rocknroll gone mad. We wander aimlessly, bumming drinks. The night continues. After the show we end up walking back to the hotel via a veritable grand tour of darkest Hollywood.
Back at the Foundations Forum, we get hold of Soundgarden's new album, "Louder Than Love" (A&M). And play it. Often. In the hotel room. On the plane. In the Phoenix airport, on top of the parking garage. You get the idea.
Then it's the middle of October. We're waiting outside of dismal Rock Island, hidden in the bowels of downtown Denver, at the ungodly hour of 5 p.m. Some lady leads us downstairs into a cavernous bar/basement type gig. The Screaming Trees are finishing their sound check. A couple of the guys from Soundgarden are sitting listening to a man with a tape recorder talk about Albert Collins, and how he ran around with a 150-foot cord. He finishes and we all get talking about various and random things until it vaguely starts sounding like...well, an interview, naturally. Primarily with Chris (vocals/guitar) and Kim (guitar), with brief interjections from Jason (new bassist; recently replaced Hiro) and Mark (drummer, Screaming Trees). Matt, Soundgarden's drummer, wasn't around for the sesh. Anyway get on with it already.
Chris: We're having problems with some of the lyrics on the new album ... some of the radio stations and stores got advance copies with no lyrics; we have some songs where if you just listen to it without paying attention you might get the wrong idea. Like "Hands All Over," I'm singing "put your hands away, you're going to kill your mother" but all people hear is the "kill your mother" part. Then they think "He's saying 'kill your mother! 'We can't play this in the store!"
Kim: It can be interpreted either way though. The "kill your mother" part is about the third world situation ... we're all at home, eating tortillas, and the contras come barging in and they're gonna kill our mother because we are with the resistance.
So you've been getting radio hassles from "Big Dumb Sex"?
Chris: That's just something they don't play.
Kim: We've been getting retail hassles; various distributors and buyers have instructed their stores not to play it in-store, because they don't like the content of "Big Dumb Sex" and "Hands All Over."
Chris: Well even "Big Dumb Sex," the lyrics aren't challenging, they're just funny. It's not confrontational or really descriptive or nasty. It's not abusive, it's pretty much making fun of disco and funk songs that talk about sex without saying the word.
So how do you guys fit in to the scheme of things musically?
Chris: We're pretty much a postpunk thing ... Kim and Hiro and I started out as a three piece, we just wanted to get together and write some original material. Our influences at the time were Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Killing Joke. We were a three piece and I played drums, Hiro played bass, and Kim played guitar, with me and Hiro sharing the vocals. We were kinda quirky post-punk, then we started getting really heavy; slowing down and getting heavy, then speeding up and getting really sonic. As far as being a drummer and singing, it was getting to be a hassle. So we got a drummer, and then we dropped a lot of the songs with tempo changes and time signature changes; the songs that kinda gave us the Devo-esque kinda shit.
Kim: We sounded sorta heavy Devo, which ends up sounding like Rush.
Chris: We became more along the lines of what we are now. This last release, the songs are really throbbing and straightforward, rhythmically. Sorta hypnotic, rather than rushing through it.
Kim: There were two really good descriptions of us back when we first started ... somebody said we were "Killing Joke meets Rush" and then there was "XTC vs. Black Sabbath."
Have you gotten really sick of Led Zeppelin and Cult comparisons?
Kim: We didn't even know about the Cult when we first started.
Chris: We were a band when "Love" was released. As far as Led Zeppelin, we wrote "Nothing To Say" before they even did LZ 4. We invented that whole progressive shit. I was only seven at the time, Kim was nine. Yeah, we were innovators back then. I don't know what happened.
Kim: Visionaries. Disillusionaries. Misguided urchins.
Kim: We're post-Madonnas. You can dance to the Cult. You can't dance to Soundgarden.
Chris: That's how you get on "Dance Tracks" and shit. The Cult's charting up the ass, they're doing really well.
When did you guys start out as a three-piece?
Chris: 1984. Right when the world was supposed to end, so we figured what the hell. That was probably the downfall of punk rock, that the world didn't end in 1984. Fuck, all this protesting, all the times I cut myself in front of people, all the shirts I cut holes in...
Kim: The nihilist young children of the atom age...
Chris: ... all the times I stage dove and landed on my head, and the world didn't fuckin end! All the young punks end up being lawyers ... they're off studying right now.
So you started out in the Seattle hardcore scene?
Chris: Yeah, sorta. There was more like this quirky post-punk thing there, bands like The Altered and The Blackouts and U-Men ... it was sorta English oriented. We weren't but most the bands were.
Kim: Up until the Melvins, Green River and us. The hardcore bands started sounding arty, and that's what turned into the Seattle scene.
How's the tour going?
Chris: This is only our third show.
Kim: Our second on the road. So far we've played in front of 1700 people with two shows. So we're averaging 850.
So you ever been to Colorado before?
Chris: No, this is our first time.
Kim: We drank your tea though. Celestial Seasonings.
Chris: Yeah, and my mom used to buy John Denver records. I want to go to the Four Corners. I guess it's like a tourist trap and it costs money to go to the actual spot.
Is this the first national tour you've done?
Kim: The second, and before that, we'd done an east coast tour and three or four west coast trips, so this adds up to be the third US tour. The most comprehensive too, 50 shows in two months.
Chris: We're gonna learn how to play I think.
Who's the new bass player?
Kim: Jason Everman, he was the guitarist in Nirvana.
Chris: He quit about the same time Hiro quit, and he was already a fan of ours.
Kim: We're fans of theirs too.
Chris: It was pretty natural.
So what's it like being in Soundgarden?
Jason: It's awesome, it's great, it's...
Kim: It's totally gnarly.
Chris: It's totally legal.
Jason: Consider I'm in Soundgarden...
Kim: Is it hard to play the basslines, Jason?
Jason: Um, yeah, kinda.
Kim: Bonus Screaming Trees question.
How's it been going since the tour with fIREHOSE?
Mark (Screaming Trees drummer): We've been on a couple tours since then, a European tour that went really well.
Kim: We went on a European tour right after they did.
Chris: We want to officially thank the Screaming Trees for letting us use their bus on tour.
Mark: Oh, no problem.
Kim: Notice how Mark kinda looks like Chris's little brother?
Chris: We're related actually.
How was Europe?
Kim: It was okay, about thirty shows.
Did they know about you already?
Kim: Yeah, we'd sold like 3000 records in Italy on the SST label. That was impressive ... kind of a surprise ... we sold more records in Italy than we did in Washington State!
So there was an SST LP before this, and nothing in between.
Chris: Yeah. Before the SST LP there was a 12" single, "Flower," and an EP.
Kim: "Screaming Life" EP, six songs, and the "Fopp" single, four songs. They're gonna compile those into an album eventually. "Louder Than Love" has already done twice as good as the "Ultramega OK" LP, within the first two weeks. The label's pretty happy, it's doing better than they thought it would. The tour should help too, and a video that's been released for the song "Loud Love." We had a video for SST, too, "Flower," and "Loud Love" is the video for this album.
How are you going over with the headbangin' crowd?
Kim: To some of them we don't mosh enough, I suppose, but we have a lot of metal fans who are really into us. We're too heavy for some of the college kids and we don't mosh enough for the metal kids, but somewhere in between is a crossover, we get a lot of different audiences.
Chris: How's the skinhead scene here?
Nothin. There's a lot of publicity...
Kim: Oh yeah, it makes good copy.
Like some of them killed this guy and burned his car with him in it a couple of months ago, but there's not really anything...
Kim: It's the same thing they wrote about the hippies, like all hippies were Manson family freaks, they were Cultists and they took drugs and murdered children in microwaves.
Chris: They hyped it in Dallas when we played there, like all the skinheads ... Kim's East Indian, our old bass player was Japanese...
Kim: Our sound man was Jewish.
Chris: And we're leaving our hotel to go to the Clearview, and we're already paranoid about it, and we see this magazine with an article about skinheads, and some deaths that happened, and it tells you where the skinheads hang out, it shows a picture of the Clearview with like an army of them standing there and we said "oh, that's where we're playing."
Kim: They trapped us, we were probably invited by the Aryan nations, they're promoting the gig...
Chris: The thing is, it's tough to be a skinhead now, because you can't get a job and no one likes you, and if you're walking down the street and you're not with twenty other guys somebody'll throw a bottle at you.
Kim: Actually most skinheads grow up, like most hippies grow up, most punkers grow up.
Jason: Some punkers just grow their hair out.
Chris: That's what you did, you're still punk rock.
Jason: I'm still punk rock.
Kim: Yeah, I grew my hair out, Chris grew his hair out. There was a time when everyone in the band had short hair.
Yeah, like four years ago.
Chris: Kim looked like Cat Stevens with short hair.
Kim: I didn't have a beard until two years ago. I decided to grow my hair on my face and my head at the same time.
Did you see that Motorbooty article? ("When Good Bands Start To Suck: How To Recognize The Telltale Signs And The Seven Deadly Sins" by Mike Rubin, Motorbooty #4. Soundgarden was mentioned in the part about facial hair. -ed)
Kim: Oh yeah.
Chris: That's encouragement for Kim to have a beard, they wouldn't have even mentioned us if he didn't have one.
Kim: Those guys like us; not like we're their ultimate favorite band, but they've always written nice things about us, they come to see us too.
All the bands he mentioned were his favorite bands; that's why he knew all the stories and records and shit.
Kim: It was great, it was funny. Metallica turning into Yes!
Kim: Exactly: Homeric epics. Ulysses.
Did you mean for "Louder Than Love" to run 55 minutes long?
Kim: We actually cut a couple songs. It was really long, we didn't plan on it. I'll let you in on a big secret, it's got direct metal mastering. A&M didn't want to put that "DMM Audiophile" sticker on the record because they have a policy of not doing that.
Chris: They don't think enough people buy albums to spend that much money ... that's why there's no lyric sheets in the records, because they don't think 7% vinyl sales is worth printing lyric sheets or doing direct metal mastering.
Kim: But they gave us DMM because of the length of the record. They didn't want to advertise it because it might piss off other bands that weren't getting it. Like Sting.
Chris: Also, if you're giving someone bonus tracks on a cassette or CD, what incentive are they going to have to buy an LP? We prefer that people buy LPs because then we can keep making them.
Kim: And have really cool graphics and artwork.
The cassette actually looks pretty good, for a cassette, anyway.
Kim: The album looks really good too but it doesn't have an insert. We were gonna have a poster, a pop gun, stickers, you know.
So what's it like being on A&M as opposed to SST and Sub Pop?
Chris: You gotta keep more on top of what's going on. SST just said, deliver a record and packaging and we'll put it out. We just did it. Sub Pop, on the other hand, is really involved in the mix of the songs, the song choices, the packaging, just like a major. The advantage with labels like Sub Pop is that you're dealing with creativity from your friends, people on the same wavelength ... whereas with a major, sometimes that doesn't happen. Fortunately with A&M, they have a progressive staff. It's not like dudes in suits all worried about somethin.
Kim: You think there's an audience for us in Denver?
I know there's a big audience here. I just don't know how many of them know about you yet. But I went to 24-7 Spyz last week and half the people hadn't really heard them, but they all came because they heard Spyz rocked. They did too.
Chris: In Seattle a lot, you'll hear the name and there's some sorta hype attached to the name, so you just go see them. Like Gwar, I don't think many people were real familiar with them but there's such a buzz that when they played it was pretty packed. I think it should be pretty good tonight.
Chris: We won't hold you accountable.