Reprinted without permission from Seconds #10, 1990

by Steven Blush

Huge gnarly rock 'n' roll is a state of mind. Just ask Soundgarden, longhaired purveyors of the heaviest and grisliest noise this side of Purgatory. Somewhere between the thud of early Sabbath and the grunge of garage, these guys are every heavy music lover's wet dream. Fueled by Chris Cornell's Plant-gone-very-wrong vocals, drummer Matt Cameron's rolling thunder and the Iommi-esque sonic drone of axeman Kim Thayil, Soundgarden have matured, from strong underground credibility to the big time. Their major league debut, Louder Than Love, is easily one of the top releases of 1989, fifty-plus minutes of brutal ugliness.

Soundgarden is one of those bands where there is no middle ground: you either love 'em or loathe 'em. Detractors write them off as some sort of boring Zep wannabes, but hey, ya ever heard of Whitesnake? I mean, Soundgarden are coming from a totally different head. They've taken their teenage HM roots and muted them, with a potent dose of punk rock wisdom. They are a band for the 1990's, combining classic rhythms and motions with wall-of-noise youthful abandon, all with big smirks on their faces. Like bad drugs, Soundgarden's lethal rock formula is toxic and addictive.

Seconds: Let's get the stupid shit out of the way first. It seems that you guys are called a 'Zep ripoff' more often than the blatant metal offenders like David Coverdale, Kingdome Come, or practically every other commercial metal band for that matter. I don't get it.

Kim: Neither do I. I mean, I don't like any of those bands compared to Led Zeppelin; not one. Some friends of mine who are older, who were listening to music in the '60s and '70s, say that they all hated Black Sabbath because they thought they were a totally Zeppelin ripoff. Personally. I'd rather have a Zeppelin ripoff that turns out like Sabbath than like that other shit.

Seconds: Yeah, you seem to be updating a classic style, and that's more than can be said for most bands.

Chris: We appreciate certain points of those styles, points that a lot of other bands don't seem to understand. Also, I think a lot of our influences are from the other side of the spectrum, compared to bands like Whitesnake and Kingdom Come.

Kim: Of course when the band formed, it wasn't cool at all to be into Sabbath and stuff like that. We listened to a lot of progressive hardcore, like the Minutemen and the Butthole Surfers; but after a while, we began to get comfortable with all our influences. And it came out naturally in our music.

Seconds: Why do you think most people are afraid to admit what they really listened to in high school?

Kim: Oh, it's all fashion. Like how the punk rock thing was so anti-progressive rock.

Chris: They'll admit it if someone more important admits the same thing first.

Kim: Yeah, punk rock has supposedly closed the door on progressive rock and disco. But as years went on, what was known as punk rock became disco.

Seconds: How about all those metal guys who claim they were listening to the Sex Pistols in the late '70s, when you know damn well they were listening to FM rock? Or the 'alternative' people who say they were AC/DC fans in 1982, when you know they were into Haircut 100?

Kim: Well, I'm more inclined to believe the 'alternative' person who says AC/DC because it's more likely. They probably heard it on their car radio or at the mall. But these metal guys, you can bet that they were making fun of the Sex Pistols back then. It's like name dropping. There's no way I could beleive that someone wearing spandex, with bleach blond hair and a bunch of scarves tied round his neck was listening to Johnny Rotten ten years ago. I mean, I believe it when Metallica says that they were influenced by the Ramones. But that doesn't hold true for most bands.

Seconds: How conscious were you guys about your crossover to the metal market? Was it just natural progression? Also, do you ever have problems with your old punk friends, who for some reason say that Soundgarden 'sold out' a while ago?

Matt: See, we never consciously tried to cross over. We just made the music that we wanted to make. We're lucky enough to have a varied type audience that likes the genre of hard rock that we're playing. I think it's a pretty healthy state of music out there. There's a lot of bands now that don't necessarily sound 'metal' or 'punk', that fall in between that fine line between those genres. Now, there's a definite audience for that, with bands like us and Faith No More and Jane's Addiction. And probably all of these bands have had to go through the hassle of dealing with all those old friends who think we've crossed too far over the line, away from the scenes we were involved with four or five years ago. Like Kim said, our style of music is a direct result of us being comfortable with all our influences, and our influences obviously go way beyond the confines of 'punk' or 'alternative' music.

Seconds: The difference between the two audiences at your shows is quite striking.

Matt: Oh yeah. Like the metal kids, they might like the overall power of it, while the college crowd tends to listen more to the lyrics and the arrangements. But I think that's good. I would hope that different people would find different aspects of the music to get into. And at the same time, I don't think we've alienated too many people. It's not like we went through some sick change of image overnight - The Cult or T.S.O.L. are good examples of that. I mean, our image is our lack of image; and I think that's worked to our advantage. It seems that people are getting sick of the total formula rock bands, who all look and sound a certain way, and have a power ballad on the radio. We as a band are real disgusted by that whole thing. I don't want to sound corny, but we're just trying to stand true to our vision.

Seconds: Also, unlike most metal bands, instead of trying to write prettier music, you guys go out of your way to make it uglier. Is that an accurate assessment?

Matt: Well, it wasn't like we chose it to be ugly, it just turned out that way 'cause that's the type of people we are, that's the type of influences that we have, and that's the kind of stuff that we write. I think it's kinda refreshing to hear a rock band that's got sheer energy and power yet also darker influences in there too. It's kinda unsettling, which I find pretty healthy. A lot of the time we slow it down 'cause the slow tempo works really well with the overall ugly groove that we're into.

Seconds: Like the song Big Dumb Sex. It kinda takes the allure out of sex, if you know what I mean.

Kim: Good, that's what it should do. Yeah, like if we're ever gonna do a love song or something, we'd make it as ugly as possible, like fucking a wound in somebody's head after they'd been shot. There's almost no way you can treat a subject like that without making it really sickening and unsexy. Let's face it, we don't write songs about bootay or partay.

Seconds: Just to set the record straight, what's the hidden truth behind Soundgarden? I mean, most people have a lot of misconceptions about what you guys are really like.

Chris: Well, Kim's a crossdresser. He has a closet full of cocktail dresses, and he goes out and smokes cigarettes with long cigarette holders. Everybody else is pretty much normal.