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Reprinted without permission from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 6, 1996

KIM THAYIL: SUCCESS IS OK, BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT IT'S ABOUT
by Gene Stout

A hit song can be a mixed blessing for a band like Soundgarden.

The Seattle rock group, which grew out of the once-insular music scene that gave rise to Nirvana, has never wanted to be a singles band, pumping out hits for the masses.

Thus, the success of "Black Hole Sun" from the group's 1994 album, "Superunknown", came as a surprise. Suddenly, the group was noticing a lot of new faces at its concerts.

"Our initial fans were very much our peers," guitarist Kim Thayil said by phone from Philadelphia.

"They were musicians, artists, students, people involved somehow in music. But nowadays, you also have the kids and the housewives, the casual fans. With your casual fans, you say, 'Thanks for the money.' And they say, 'Thanks for the song.' They include a lot of people who are aware of us because they've seen the video of 'Black Hole Sun' on MTV."

So who's complaining?

"The thing is, in terms of (a hit song's) ability to bring in income, I have no problem with that. We do have to make a living," said Thayil, the group's resident philosopher and a man of strong opinions.

"We're not trying to write a hit and we're not trying to avoid a hit. I think we're very honest about our music. It's about us and our experiences. And I suppose there are people who can be moved by that who might be older, younger or of a different social background."

Still, it's easier to relate to a rank-and-file regular than to a 6-year-old who saw you on MTV.

"We still get the fans who used to come see us eight, nine, 10 years ago. I appreciate them because we were making music for them and for ourselves and they were not that unlike us," said Thayil, who shares his thoughts on rock fans of today and yesterday in the next issue of Alternative Press.

As if to undercut the popularity of "Black Hole Sun," lead singer Chris Cornell -- whose reclusive behavior is analyzed in the December issue of Details -- has been performing it solo on the current tour -- which includes shows with Rocket From the Crypt and Pond on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Mercer Arena.

"The band leaves the stage and it's just Chris' guitar and voice," Thayil said. "It kind of brings it back to the basics and gives the band a break, so we don't burn out on playing the hit."

The show focuses on the band's new album, "Down on the Upside," released last May on A&M Records. Band members produced the album themselves, resulting in a batch of raw, stripped-down songs. A few were recorded in one take.

"The album still sounds good to me," Thayil said. "I always think we could do better. But it's definitely cool."

The group's fifth full-length album is a powder keg of raging riffs and hard, aggressive lyrics. Its first single, "Pretty Noose," is a howling rocker with a menacing message: "Diamond rope, silver chain/Pretty noose is a pretty pain/And I don't like/What you got me hanging from."

Soundgarden -- Thayil, Cornell, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron -- will likely produce the next album as well.

"We really like doing it, unless for some reason we decide there's a producer we really want to work with," Thayil said. "but it's just another guy to get in the way, another mouth to feed."

Soundgarden, which began its career on Seattle's Sub Pop label and later moved to A&M Records, is currently the most visible of Seattle's big rock bands, including Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Queensryche and Heart.

Thayil and Cameron appear in the new documentary "Hype!" Thayil wasn't entirely pleased with the film, which chronicles the isolated yet highly creative Seattle music scene of the late '80s and early '90s from which Soundgarden emerged -- the scene that gave rise to the term "grunge."

"The production quality of the film was far better than I anticipated, but it's just about 80 percent accurate," Thayil said.

"It's cool if you want to talk about what was going on in Seattle, but there are a lot of Bellingham bands in the film that had no relationship with us. But they had a relationship with the filmmaker, so now people will get to know their names, too."

The current tour, which began Nov. 6 in Salt Lake City, concludes in Seattle.

"Everyone's gotten a bit sick. Chris got a bad chest cold. We had three sold-out shows at Roseland in New York and we had to cancel the third show. And we had to cancel a Boston date because Chris blew out his voice," Thayil said.

In January, the group will resume its tour in Australia.

"We'd like to start right away on a new record," Thayil said. "But right now we have to tour, promote the current record, sell merchandise and try to make our fans happy."