Reprinted without permission from the Rocket, April
23-May 14, 1997
For a band that will be remembered by, among other things, its earsplitting volume, Soundgarden's exit from this world was uncharacteristically silent. There were the predictable noises: radio stations aired inevitable, nostalgic hype and tribute specials; newsreel footage recounted the facts and figures of documented hits and sales figures as the band posed in video clips; and online sites laid out rumor after rumor on bulletin board threads.
But from the band -- Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron -- its management and its record company, there was no sound, save a terse, 32-word statement that rattled over fax machines early Wednesday morning, April 9.
"After 12 years, the members of Soundgarden have amicably and mutally decided to disband to pursue other interests," it read diplomatically. "There's no word at this time of any member's future plans."
That was it.
Reached later in the week, Susan Silver, the band's manager and Cornell's wife, would only characterize the split as "heroic," while praising the band for having the courage to come to the decision and "look into the unknown." Susan Silver employee Erin Haley also remained tightlipped. "There's no drama and no hidden story," she said. "It was a quiet, private decision." Other staffers said nothing, and said it efficiently. A&M, the band's record label, referred all callers to the press release.
But all was not -- and is not -- well in the Soundgarden camp. The decision to end the band, while perhaps heroic, was anything but amicable. After numerous off-the-record interviews with individuals close to the band, it seems clear that the decision to end the run of a group that sold more than 20 million LPs and helped define an era of American music had been debated -- often hotly -- for some time, perhaps even as far back as the recording of its last album, 1996 -- Down on the Upside.
Band issues, which included intense personality conflicts, a strong dislike of touring, as well as the mounting pressures that accompany steering an enterprise as large as Soungarden, came to a head as the bandwrapped up its final leg of shows through Australia and Hawaii. During these shows, reports suggest that tempers flared repeatedly. Tension in the band was running so high that Shepherd (who has since joined Devilhead as a full-time guitarist) abandoned the stage on the tour's final night, not returning to finish the set.
By this time, the group's internal communication had completely shut down. The musicians returned to Seattle, not as a band, but separately, each member pondering life as a solo artist, mourning the end of an era.
"That was kinda the last straw," reported one source. "Ben did a freakout at the tail end of the tour and they sent him home on a plane alone. They were really pissed. They had been getting into fights and stuff, but that was the last straw."
Back home in Seattle, band members exchanged phone calls, only getting together in small groups -- Thayil and Cornell, Cornell and Cameron -- to discuss their fate. At the end, the entire band never met as a whole. Instead, "Kim and Chris got goether [Monday, April 7] to dot the I's and cross the T's and make it official," a source reported. "There was not an official band meeting; it was band members meeting on their own and talking on the phone. Management was not included."
It would be unfair to single out one individual to blame for the breakup of a relationship involving four grown men. To that end, it must be noted that Soundgarden's dislike of the business side of the phrase "music business" was well-known. Soundgarden, according to numerous sources, simply got tired of the pressure; tired of the strain of carrying arena-sized crowds. That being Soundgarden was no longer fun only seemed to seal the deal. "Here's a band," one source said, "who were never supposed to have hits. But they had hits. To take them out of their element and throw them out in front of 20,000 people is too much. It's a lot of presssure."
Aside from Shepherd, the future for Soundgarden's members seems uncertain. While all signed to A&M individually, no other plans have been announced. Both management and record company sources have issued dubious reports that posthumous releases -- live, greatest hits, or demo sessions -- are not planned.
Perhaps it is the personal weight of the decision that has kept reaction and comment so shrouded for so long. Perhaps, as Erin Haley noted, "The way they are handling this is very Soundgarden-esque -- very private, very personal."
"It's much like the way they will be remembered," she finally allowed. "They are a band each person will remember differently, but they will remember with extreme fondness."