Reprinted without permission from Raw, August 17-30,
DOWN IN A HOLE
It's Florida. It's overcast and raining. There's a half built stage and no dressing room. The tour bus is claustrophobic. Welcome to Soundgarden's first headline tour of America. As if things couldn't get any worse for the legendary gloom-mongers, Chris Smith has just hitched a ride...
It's 4.15 sharp in Orlando, Florida when we climb aboard the Soundgarden tour bus headed for the third straight night of Floridian Superunknown stuff. The bus has gone from Miami, to Tampa Bay to Orlando, and now the atmosphere is not so much low key as claustrophobic. The weather - thick, overcast and with heavy raindrops starting to fall - doesn't help. Nor does the fact that tonight's show is an outdoor one. What could be the final straw comes when tour manager DC Parmet announces that the bus will have to serve as the band's dressing room tonight. The venue will have no such facilities available.
Somebody asks if anyone's "got any Zeppelin", and 'Garden drummer Matt Cameron rifles through his CD case before delivering the goods in a form of a cracking bootleg of the classic track Kashmir. But no sooner have respectable levels of volume and grooviness been reached, than walkie talkies start crackling and the arrival at the venue is imminent. As security work to clear a path through a thin but persistent throng, the bus slowly backs into place. Once secure, it's everyone up and scattered to the four winds.
A temporary stage has been erected in the vacant lot next door to a Dance/Rave club called The Edge. With trees and grass thrown in for free, the overall effect is of a mini festival site. Once the final tinkering of the stage is complete, Soundgarden run through Fell On Black Days as their soundcheck. That done, it's off to the (veggie) catering tent for an impromptu footie match between members of the crew and opening act, Reverend Horton Heat.
When the gates open at 5.30 pm, the throng of 'Garden fans sprint across the lot to get their piece of prime barricade real estate. Both show openers You Am I (from down under) and Rev. Horton heat (from Hells Bells, Texas) turn in impressive performances, with Matt Cameron checking out the Aussies from the wings, while the Rev's Punkability turns the front and centre into a fairly happening pit.
It's Soundgarden that the fans have doshed out to see, though, and it's Soundgarden who deliver, having freed themselves of the muddy sound that plagued them in Houston a week earlier to kick out a set dominated by material from the current Superunknown opus and it's predecessor, Badmotorfinger. The fans eat it up. Even the rain lets up.
Back on the bus afterwards, Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil are significantly more relaxed. As for their view of the show...
"It was kinda weird," is Chris' opening impression, while Kim offers, "There were a few glitches..."
"It was a weird show," Chris continues. "Outdoors. In the rain..."
"And no real facilities in terms of production," chimes in Kim. "We didn't have a band room, there was no real catering."
Chris' mirth level is starting to rise. "You'd think that when you'd played a place that holds this many people (6-8,000) that they'd give you a backstage facility of some kind."
Kim jumps in quickly lest things get misinterpreted.
"That's not prima donna, you've still got to live. I mean, sure, you're here to play the show, but you've got to brush your teeth, change your clothes, take a dump and make some phone calls or whatever you do as your daily routine. And when you get in a situation like this, where they can't provide that..."
"...it makes it difficult for you to do your job," Chris finishes.
Soundgarden have been 'doing their job' ever since Superunknown hit the stores. Already this year they've travelled to Australia, New Zealand and Japan for the first time. They were in Europe when the album came out, and they've been on the US road ever since. Back in November '93, when the mixing on Superunknown was being wrapped up, the band were excited about hitting the road on a global scale as a headline attraction, playing every night for fans who were there to see them. Has it been as cool a vibe as they'd hoped?
Chris takes up the thread slowly. "Yeah, I guess. If we stopped, or if we paused to pay attention to that, I suppose it would seem kind of gratifying. But I don't really do that."
Just too busy?
"Well, we spent a lot of time opening for other bands and playing these weird situations, and sometimes, honestly, when we play these shows - even though they're 'our fans' - it still seems somehow like somebody else's party that somebody else is throwing. We show up feeling like we're in the wrong place, or out of place. Not the MCs, but the clown at the birthday."
Oh, such weight. How does this tour compare with the building of the Roman Empire, then?
Chris: "Well, this tour's much more monumental, historically. It means much more to me. There's less problems with venereal disease!"
Kim: "Oh, let's wait a few months on that one! Take three months and I've got to get tested."
Chris: "That's true, that's true. But there's less lead poisoning on this tour. Less god worship. Perhaps not as much sex. Definitely not as much homosexual sex. And no bestiality whatsoever!"
At this point, production supervisor Lisa Markowitz comes in with crisps and dips and wotnot, and asks if anyone wants anything else while she's out. Kim responds from experience: "I'll bet the crew guys will come in here and ask for the Jack (Daniel's). Every day they're like, 'where's the Jack?' and I'm like, 'F**k, ask Lisa'. But they're afraid of you!"
Lisa explains that, yes, the crew are scared of her, and yes, if she gave Jack Daniel's to the crew, it would never make it through to the band. The question of Jack decided, a full-on munchie fest begins.
"Most of the time it's pretty great," begins Chris. "It's definitely a lot less depressing than some of the other tours we've done. We have less time to be depressed, I think!"
Just one of the many blessed wonders and pressures of headlining. Included among them is the ability to choose one's own set list, unfettered by artificial time constraints. Given this freedom, why are the band leaning almost exclusively on the past two records? Is this the material they like right now, or are they just giving people what they think they want? None of the above, as Chris points out.
"I think it just started out seeing how many of them we could play live. Because a lot of them seemed like they might be pretty challenging. Some of the songs I've had the most trouble with, I end up trying so hard on them, they end up being like, the easiest ones for me.
"Every single night they're pretty much there, because I work so hard trying to f**kin' make them not suck. Rusty Cage was a good example of that from the last record, Limo Wreck was one, Like Suicide was one. My Wave, for me, vocally, was one. I compare it to the version on the album and the recorded version is so SLOW."
"But some of the other stuff is really fast," offers Kim, "Stuff like Jesus Christ Pose. It seems so fast..."
"That's because you're older now," ribs Chris. "You're twenty, uh, two, and you've used your right hand a lot recently!"
Kim: "But I'm weaker, because I've lost a lot of weight. I've been moving around more, being more active, thinking about shit."
Shit like the persistent rumour that you guys will perform at Woodstock II, regardless of your claims to the contrary?
Both roll their eyes, as if to say, 'not again...' before Chris dives in:
"It sets a pretty freaky tone when you think about what initially, in 1969, started out as this totally organic, love-in music festival, has turned into a situation where the same people have gotten together to try to do it again, and completely pretty much lie to get people interested in playing it."
A pause for breath, and then it's onwards.
"We were initially told that several bands had confirmed to play it, but pretty much so we'd get talked into playing. So our manager made some calls to find out if these other bands had confirmed, but they hadn't.
"So we decided that we didn't want to play it, but they went so far as to nearly advertise our name, and were going to other bands saying that we'd confirmed and trying to get them booked. Which is an old, dumb trick that happens on soundtrack albums the whole time and has happened to us tons of times. But we're also the last ones to commit to shit like that anyway because we're paranoid! So we've never been duped into anything like that."
Kim: "The whole thing was just a fiasco, too, in that they were hoping to give us a whole bunch of money, but we'd have no control over how we were merchandised."
Chris: "Pay per view, video and an album. It depends on how much relevance you give to it, because I can guarantee it's not going to have the same appeal as the original Woodstock."
Kim cracks open the bottle of Jack and has a sip, whetting his whistle for a final stab at the whole gnarly question of Woodstock II.
"It's a different cultural and political climate. Then, something was changing, something was going on. The women's movement, the civil rights movement, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Vietnam war. Now there's just this static sort of... 'Heh, well, you gotta job?' 'Yeah I do. I'm pulling in like six figures. Do you have a job?' 'No I don't'."
Kim shakes his head as Chris continues: "If you put the counterculture under a microscope, theirs was sort of like, 'anything cool as long as it's not '40s, not McCarthyism and not our parents, then we dig it...' Then punk rock sort of became the counterculture and that was really about how nothing's cool and everything sucks. Lollapalooza was really hard to do, because everybody seemed kind of uncomfortable in a way. Like this is supposed to be a big love-in, but all our earliest influences, as far as what we considered modern music at the time, were kind of anti that.
"We've always been an anti-social band. So any time we did anything like Lollapalooza, or even thought of doing Woodstock, it just doesn't fit. It wouldn't be anything but uncomfortable for us to go in and pretend like we're part of some wonderful musical community, because we've been exposed to too much of the anarchist/hate your audience style of thinking. That's what I wanted in my bands. I didn't want them to give a shit about me. I wanted them to care about what they did."
So the road does lead North, even through New York, for Soundgarden, but on their own paranoid terms. As usual.