Reprinted without permission from Rock Power, May
MY RECORD COLLECTION: SOUNDGARDEN
Kim Thayil is what they call a tired and emotional man. Holed up somewhere in middle America on the massive American tour which sees Soundgarden supporting Guns 'N' Roses, he claims the band are holding their own but it seems to be taking a heavy toll on them. Mr Thayil's physical condition notwithstanding, I'm particularly interested in finding out what formative musical tastes serve as a backdrop for one of the most diverse and innovative guitarists working the circuit today. It seems collecting records was something Mr Thayil came to rather late in life.
"There are some records that I collect," begins Kim in the sort of voice that sounds as if it's coming from the bottom of a very deep well. "Various first issues of records from independent labels such as Touch And Go and Sub Pop. As a kid I was never a collector, now I'm always on the look out for special first issues. When I started I went after early MC5 and Stooges records, wandering around various second hand shops."
The big bonus now is CDs. The infamous 12 incher is eventually going to be phased out in the name of technological innovation/cheapness and Mr Thayil is one of a growing band of musos who actually laments the passing of vinyl with all its aural inadequacies.
"I far prefer records to CDs," says Kim vehemently. "Part of it has to be the packaging, but I also like to be able to pick the needle up and put it down anywhere I want. The so called improved quality thing doesn't bother me at all. I don't believe the quality is that much better anyway and I don't think people's ears are trained well enough to really appreciate it. A lot depends on the kind of music you listen to. If you listen to hard rock it really doesn't matter whether it's on CD or not. So there's a little crackle on the record - big deal!"
Soundgarden have made a name for themselves by being one of the more imaginatively aware bands in the word of metal. Consequently, I wondered whether Kim has kept abreast of current happenings. It seems roots are all important and the chase is better than the catch.
"I keep abreast of all the independent stuff, especially bands on Sub Pop," says Kim. "I collect it all: records, cassettes, even unreleased material that the general public never sees. I've always been interested in independent stuff simply because it can be so hard to find. I've never been fond of seeking out major label releases from 'name' acts becuase you can just walk in and get them anywhere. I guess I just like obscurities."
What records does Kim lack in his collection that he desperately seeks to fill that awkwardly obscure gap?
"There's a few that I've been looking for. I'd really like the first Killing Joke album with the gatefold sleeve. I actually found it without the sleeve and refused to buy it! It must have the sleeve. And of course there are all the new releases that's I've only been sent on CD that I'd like to replace with vinyl, like Nirvana and Sonic Youth."
A person's early tastes can be (often embarassingly) influenced by their parents' record collections. Kim's parents were somewhat orthodox in their tastes.
"They played pretty much the stuff that parents listen to," says Kim. "Kind of sixties - they liked Herb Albert, Fifth Dimension, Tom Jones and stuff. My mother was also into the classical composers; she was a piano player so she performed as well, though the records she played on were all contemporary pop. As I was growing up, things improved as she got into Santana and Chicago and stuff. That certainly had more of an effect on me."
What style or band predominates in Mr Thayil's collection then?
"Kiss," he answers. "They made quite a number of records, and as a Kiss fan you always made a point of buying the next one. It was a close knit thing that they forged with their audience. Metal, though, isn't the predominant style in my collection. I have a lot of Kiss stuff but not a lot of metal apart from that. Most of my records constitute local Seattle bands on Sub Pop and SST and a lot of US New York punk rock records, as in Minor Threat, Richard Hell, The Ramones and stuff."
Mr Thayil's favourite place to appreciate all these sounds?
"I'm very conventional - the living room," he admits. "Sit on the couch with the headphones, record on my knee, reading the lyrics. I've always been curious as to what people are writing about. If lyrics are bad it will definitely keep me away from a band, but on the other hand, if lyrics are good that won't necessarily attract me unless there's something there that interests musically."
First album ever bought
"Kiss Alive 1. That was special in that I was using my own money, so it was a big deal. That record got me hooked into Kiss as a band - but not metal as a genre."
Favourite album of all time
"That's a tough one. The record I prize the most is the very first Soundgarden release, Screaming Life. I don't listen to it but there's a lot of personal value there."
Top five albums
Frank Zappa - Freak Out
Favourite album cover design
"Metallica's Kill Em All. It's a very simple and understated motif. While still being typical metal - violent and gory - it doesn't have any skulls in it, it's not exaggerated, and that makes it all the more frightening."
Music to pummel away the day's cares
"It has to be fast and visceral! If I was wound up and angry that could go anywhere from AC/DC to Mudhoney to Nirvana."