Reprinted without permission from the Seattle Times,
December 5, 1996
THAT ROCK THING: AS SOUNDGARDEN MATURES, THE BAND FINDS ITSELF ON
Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil has the black-eyed stare of a rock 'n' roll Rasputin. He's articulate and opinionated and he doesn't hold back. He doesn't like touring, and he doesn't like Europe, and he especially doesn't like touring in Europe.
The last time he gave an interview to The Times - two years ago, just before touring Europe - he wondered aloud about the availability of hemlock, he dreaded the trip that much.
But sitting at the counter of the Two Bells Tavern last month, on a tour break and in between a vegetable plate and going to a meet-and-greet for governor-elect Gary Locke ("I'm not really interested in him," Thayil explained, "but I heard the beer is free"), the guitarist actually seemed to have mellowed. Despite the summer-long grind of Lollapalooza '96, which Soundgarden headlined along with Metallica, and a month-long tour in the Old Country, he actually had a couple of memories that might pass for fond.
"When we were in Hamburg we had the opportunity to see the Neurotic Outsiders," he said, referring to the bar band formed by Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses (a band Soundgarden once opened for) Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and Duran Duran's John Taylor. "Duff and Steve were staying at our hotel. We wanted to go see them, but first we sent the security guys over to check it out. It was a really small club. There was no backstage area at all and the room held about 50 people, but they had about 500 jammed in there. Security recommended we don't go, so we didn't go."
"But later we hooked up with Duff and Steve at the hotel bar and they said 'Yeah, you guys would have hated it. Not only was it packed and hotter than hell, they played (Soundgarden's album) "Down On the Upside" for hours before we went on. They played the whole damn record and then started playing it over again! If you guys had been there, the crowd would have gone nuts." Thayil smiled. "You should have heard them complain."
But Thayil had even more pleasant memories.
"We'd get into these late-night drunken conversations on the bus with our tour manager, a British guy that's older than us. He'd talk about the Kinks and the early Who and then the next day he'd go out and get their CDs for us. It was great stuff."
"Then one day he brought us a copy of Mojo magazine and it had an interview with Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac's original guitarist. They (Mojo) asked him what he thought about Oasis and Suede and he starts laughing and says he thought they were a joke when he first heard them. He starts slamming them. Then he says 'Now a band like Soundgarden I like them. They're all right.'... That's from like a god guitarist, Jimmy Page's favorite guitarist, a guy who went crazy and threw away his royalty checks! Here he is slamming his countrymen's bands, but he liked us." Thayil pushed away his empty plate and smiled again, actually contented.
Soundgarden was the first of the late 1980s Seattle bands to make the break. After early recordings for Sub Pop and then SST, the band signed with major label A&M in 1990 and released "Louder Than Love." Intentionally or not, it led the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam and dozens of other bands caught up in the grunge feeding frenzy. Although Soundgarden's sales weren't as substantial as some at first, they were steady, building with the subsequent releases "Badmotorfinger," which went double platinum, and 1994's "Superunknown," which debuted at No. 1, sold 5 million copies and yielded the band's biggest hit single, the melodic "Black Hole Sun."
On solid ground
With its newest album, "Down On The Upside," Soundgarden has further solidified its stature. "Pretty Noose," "Burden In My Hand" and the latest single, the powerful "Blow Up The Outside World," have done very well. Now at the end of a successful headlining American tour, the band will move on to Australia and New Zealand. Thayil may hate touring, but he remembers the old days, and even the dreaded road is an improvement.
"We used to save up our money to buy chicken livers and rice, or bulgur. That stuff lasts forever. Maybe we'd have a cigarette every couple of days. Even two years ago I didn't really have a place to stay. Everything I had was in storage."
"Now when I'm off the road all I feel like doing is nesting. Pull the covers over me, pet my doggie, see my girlfriend and watch videos. Easy stuff. Hey, I saw that movie "Black Sheep" with Chris Farley the other day, and all of a sudden there's Dan Peters from Mudhoney! Really! It was weird. Farley's brother is running for governor of WASHINGTON STATE! And Mudhoney was playing a fund-raising benefit!"
That noted, Thayil remembered the Locke benefit. "I thought we'd be there an hour ago. (Kris) Novoselic (of Nirvana) is supposed to be there, I'd like to see him."
"You know," he added, "Nirvana was a great band, but then someone realized there was a buck to be made off their audience and they started giving them Nirvana Lite. It's too bad."
"I guess that's one of the reasons we play mad, or it seems like we're mad. It's cathartic. You let it build up all day and then you go play. Ben (Shepherd, bass) and I might be looking at each other, making each other laugh, making faces at each other, just having fun. But other times it manifests itself as being aggressive. I guess it really is like a mini temper tantrum when we're playing. But considering our age (all are now in their 30s) and our experience, I think it's good that we can still do that."
Suddenly, Thayil actually laughs.
"It's that rock thing."