Reprinted without permission from Rock Power, March
SOUND AND VISION
Following the success of Nirvana, the climate is looking right for Soundgarden to rise out of the lower regions of the indie charts to take their aural attack to the masses. Stephanie Young meets them in New York to see where their sights are set...
The time is finally looking right for Soundgarden to achieve the success they so richly deserve. With fellow Seattle residents Nirvana having proved that it is possible to break through the industry's self-imposed barriers to anything off the wall, and the current support slot with Guns 'N' Roses giving them exposure to audiences they previously wouldn't have reached, the way has almost been cleared for the inevitable stampede toward wider acceptance.
With Badmotorfinger, their third album, Soundgarden continue to produce their own sepcial brand of frenzied, distorted sound, with an even broader potential than their 1989 major label debut, Louder Than Love.
While the new album shows a definite strive for a stronger, more unique rhythmic approach, the lyrical stance has also changed. Guitarist Kim Thayil and new bassist Ben Shepherd both contributed some words, while singer/guitarist Chris Cornell's became more personal.
"I suppose there are moments on this LP where I'm being more biographical," he explains, as the band warm up for the show here in Madison Square Gardens. "I've never really been biographical in my lyrics, so when I wrote a line like 'I'm looking California and feeling Minnesota' from Outshined, it just felt refreshing."
On the whole, the singer tends to be more detached when he writes his lyrics. "A lot of times, there's no particular intent to my songs lyrically," says Chris. "A lot of times, like on Searching With My Good Eye Closed, I'll sort of let the music write the lyric. What I enjoy doing is making paintings with lyrics - creating colourful images. I think that's more entertaining and what music should be."
If Soundgarden's music were translated into a painting, it would probably end up looking like a Picasso during his cubist period. Their music is like pure emotion and tells very few straightforward stories.
"My favourite thing to do is create a situation, a story, a circumstance, that doesn't exist," continues Chris. "I'm not the type of writer who can say, 'Here's my sex song'; 'Here's my love song'; 'Here's my political song'."
When people describe Soundgarden as the band of the '90s, Chris just thinks that's lazy.
"I think that's a last ditch effort at trying to put us in a genre," he states. "We're not in a genre, so I think I would basically take it as a compliment; as if we're somehow defining a new genre or being part of a new genre that isn't yet established. When our last record came out we were lumped in with Jane's Addiction, Faith No More and Voivod: bands that really didn't have a genre that they belonged to. We were all dubbed the rock of the '90s."
He feels that people who fit into genres abide by very strict rules and limit themselves.
"It seems like all those bands who fit easily into a genre, especially heavy metal and rap, that's the only type of music they're listening to, so of course that's all they're going to create. In our band, everyone has a wide variety of influences and they're all very different from one another."
"We've never shot for a genre, and I include alternative music in that, too. There's just as many rules in that as metal or rap. Rap probably has the least rules than any of the so-called genres at this point, because everybody's trying it. But heavy metal isn't that way at all. If you're a heavy metal fan you have a very strict attitude about what you're going to let into that camp."
"I think bands like Soundgarden, Jane's Addiction, Faith No More and Voivod are all bands that play around on the outside of that and get some of those metal fans interested, but don't belong to the genre or own it."
"For us, it's just the individual personalities that are unique coming through in our music; it's not gonna sound like a lot of other bands. You're not going to be able to say we're a 'something' band because we never intended to be."
One of the distinct things about Badmotorfinger is the writing contributions made by the other members of Soundgarden. Drummer Matt Cameron collaborated with guitarist Kim Thayil on Room A Thousand Years Wide, and new bassist Ben Shepherd wrote the lyrics and music to another outstanding track, Somewhere. There's also more emphasis on the rhythm section, especially compared to Louder Than Love.
"The overall flavour I got from Louder Than Love is one of a more straight ahead type of rhythm approach," says drummer Matt. "On this record we were freed up on our rhythmic approaches. But that's something we've always naturally gravitated towards: off-time signatures. And on this record I think that aspect came out great."
When they write they feel it reflects a certain time period, as if each record is an audio diary.
"Yeah, that's a good way of looking at making records," suggests Matt. "It's just like a little stamp of what the band was going through, or where we were at musically. I definitely think of our records as being little signatures of time."
On to the subject of the current support tour with the Gunners, and both Ben and Matt have nothing but good to say.
"We've been treated really great," says Matt. "The crew's wonderful; the guys in the band are really nice and helpful. It's been really organised."
As to the audience's reactions to them: "They've been pretty decent," says Ben.
"Although I heard one kid yell out, 'Alice In Chains, dude!'. So we had to kill him," adds Matt, with a grin. "But they're definitely roaring after we finish each song. They're not yelling out or chanting 'Guns 'N' Roses' but I'm sure we'll have to dodge some tennis shoes."
After the Gunners, and headlining their own US tour, it's on to Europe. Ben is looking forward to the trip. "Wherever we go is fine by me," he says. "I want to go to the Orient and Australia - and the moon would be cool, too, but I don't know who we'd play for."