Reprinted without permission from Rockpool, October 1,
They are calling it the Seattle Sound. It's jive and jump, bump and grind, very punk, a little funk, in your face, and very definitely Louder Than Love - which just happens to be the title of the new LP by Soundgarden, the foremost proponenes of that sound.
The band takes its name from a sound sculpture that is part of one of the city's parks - steel tubing designed to capture the sounds of moving wind.
"Our sound is so big they named a monument after us," says guitarist Kim Thayil. The truth of the matter is probably somewhat closer to vocalist Chris Cornell's version of the story: "Kim was courting his girlfriend at the time and that was one of the romantic places they were going, and we were going to name the band after one of those places. It was either Soundgarden or Carkeek Park or Denny's. We chose Soundgarden over Denny's." Thayil continues,"You see, Denny's was romantic and lovely but it didn't quite click with our music. Well, maybe some of our earlier tunes like Green Eggs And Ham. But actually, we aren't named after the sound sculpture so much as inspired by it. The name itself evoked a lot of imagery and at the time we didn't have a distinct reference for ourselves, except for what we did, what we played together, our music."
Identity is not something Soundgarden has a problem establishing any more. The blistering tortured descant of Thayil's guitar is inexcoriably linked to drummer Matt Cameron's relentless, seemingly disenfranchised back beat, and they in turn find their sound forged and reshaped by Cornell's alternate wails and roars of dervish intensity. Underlying all of this has been the distinctive throbbing counterpoint of bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Just prior to the release of Louder than Love, however, Yamamoto decided to depart the band to pursue personal interests.
"Hiro decided to get a degree in physics. He felt that there were other things that he wished to pursue in life besides being in a band," says Thayil. "Being in a band is not the best thing in the world, otherwise everyone would be in a band." Cornell adds, "We definitely wish him well in his endeavor because it's exactly what he wants to do."
When Soundgarden hit the road this fall in support of their major label release, Jason Everman, formerly of the Seattle band Nirvana, will be playing bass.
"There's no such thing as replacing a member of the band," notes Thayil. "Jason is a new member and that will hopefully change our sound, new ideas will keep coming."
Their tour this fall won't be a new experience for the band. They are solidly rooted in the independent scene and have toured many times before, including a tourof Europe, headlining most of the shows and sharing other bills with fellow Seattleites, Mudhoney.
"Usually we don't pay attention to the itinerary before we go," says Cornell, "because then I'll get into counting the dates and looking at every show, so I kind of ignore it. I just want to show up, do it, and be surprised by whatever happens. So I was really surprised when we did so well and headlined so many shows. We did really well in Italy and lots of bands don't." Drummer Cameron adds, "We were on the cover of a magazine there that is the Rolling Stone of Italy and we found we actually have a following there." Thayil notes that Italian rock fans are "pretty intense, if they like your music they know your name and exactly what you look like. When you walk into a hall everyone is calling to you like they know you," adding "We couldn't sell tee shirts or records because if our merchandising guy was set up, the crowd would just mob him. We were signing pieces of paper, albums, posters, shirts, they even wanted pieces of our hair. When you play they lean forward and touch you, they want to shake your hand. I almost got pulled off stage once."
While the band and their show are already a hit wherever they appear, it is their major label debut on A&M Records that will establish and authenticate Soundgarden and the Seattle Sound as a musical force worthy of attention. In Cornell's words, "On our last record the production wasn't what we were after at all, and that sort of hurt us critically because our first EP was pretty much raves, everybody loved it and all that. The second record did pretty well but it wasn't like a sweep, some people didn't like it. In a way, that's good, because we don't have this huge amazing LP to live up to. Louder Than Love is, I think, better than anything we've done," Cornell continues, "Despite how our personalities are and how we usually feel, it was quite a positive experience."
Louder Than Love was recorded at the London Bridge studio in Seattle with the capable assistance of Northwest production ace Terry Date, who has recently worked with Metal Church and Sanctuary, and is currently in the studio with Mother Love Bone, another Seattle band. "There was plenty of angst, anger, frustration and hell," says Cornell, "but none of it had anything to do with Terry." "He was very supportive," adds Thayil, who is seconded by Cameron, "Terry brought out the best performances that we could do."
Thayil, in particular, felt comfortable working at London Bridge: "The people there are Indian and they're the first I've met in the music business besides myself. Most Indian people I know have short hair, wear glasses and are engineering students."
According to Cornell, the recording of Louder Than Love was "magic, it was cosmic, it really worked, the sound is definitely what we want." "Yeah it's heavy," agrees Thayil, "The sound is a lot thicker and wider than Ultramega OK; bigger guitar, bigger drums, bigger everything." Cameron thinks "The songs are a lot better, the arrangements work better as music, they're less choppy, more hypnotic." Thayil points out that the album works well as a whole. "It's hard," he says, "to see individual songs that will be better received than other songs."
Cornell adds, "It's not one of those albums that will have a sticker on that says 'Soundgarden's Louder Than Love featuring this song or that song and a bunch of filler'! There is probably a good handful of songs that I could see being singles but I don't think any song is greater than the album as a whole." "This album comes pretty damn close to defining our sound," adds Thayil.
"There are particular songs that sort of sum up what we are about," says Cornell, "and then there are songs that go over the edge one way and some that go over the edge in another." "And when we play these longs live," adds Cameron, "they all go over the edge and take on entirely new characteristics."
"Live is more," asserts Thayil, "If we were to make a live record it would surely have to be wilder, more dense and more powerful than any of the records we've made so far. Live, all of our songs take on meaning and power and really do go over the edge. A live record would be like a double gatefold with lots of pictures."
The band plans to release their Louder Than Love LP September 12th, "With a big seafood fest," jokes Thayil, "I see food, I drink it." And they will probably begin a tour shortly thereafter. "Probably a headlining tour," says Cornell. "We are coming from an independent situation and it would be unfair to our fans to tour with someone who is charging $18 a ticket and expect our fans to pay that."
And what could possibly be the next wave from the Soundgarden? "Holograms," says Cornell, "Then the music plays and we are in your living room. No tuning problems, nobody breaks a string, and nobody's going to be too drunk."