Reprinted without permission from USA Today, March 14,
SOUNDGARDEN'S ALTERNATIVE VIEW
If Soundgarden's highly praised Superunknown premieres at the top of Billboard as expected next week, it will be the fourth album by a Seattle group to do so in the past five months - after Nirvana's In Utero, Pearl Jam's Vs. and Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies.
"People have talked about the Seattle music scene being over, but that clearly does not seem to be the case", says Charles Cross, editor of The Rocket, Seattle's influential music magazine. "The scene is amazingly healthy." Soundgarden, hailed as the Next Big Puget Sound, is less charitable about the city's status as a tight fraternity of talent.
"In terms of bands seeing each other play feeding off each other, the scene hasn't been around for about five years," says guitarist Kim Thayil. "You see little microscenes, but it's not as identifiable as six years ago. Then there were 300 bands, and about a dozen were interesting. Now, there are 1,000 bands, a lot of them emigrating from other parts of the country, and half are trying to sound like Nirvana, Pearl Jam or us."
Singer Chris Cornell says the fizzle was inevitable. "Either all these bands would have quit and become accountants or they would have been successful and left to become international bands that no longer belong to one place, which is what happened. You can't have the same group of fans and bands going forever. It gets boring."
The late-'80s feeding frenzy, when music industry honchos descended on Seattle, was mostly "a partnership between labels and media, a hook to sell magazines and records," Cornell says. Not that bands didn't bite. "We all wanted to cash in before the well ran dry," Thayil says.
The hoopla resulted in the abuse of two now-meaningless music terms - grunge and alternative.
"It's great that people are buying Nirvana, White Zombie and the Breeders, but unfortunately it's all under the pretense of alternative," Thayil says. "Alternative used to mean music you couldn't sell that they played on college radio. There are some real alternative bands that haven't gotten any attention."
And Cornell says when he first heard the grunge tag, it logically referred to Seattle's sludge-rocking Mudhoney. "Then I started hearing it being applied to Nirvana. Once it was two bands, it became 10 bands, then every band in Seattle."
Still, Soundgarden intends to stick around.
"It continues to be a creative environment," Cross says. "So much less of the status and star syndrome is apparent here. You do see Eddie Vedder around, and the music community doesn't treat him differently from local up-and-comers. The guy gets hassled a lot less than if he lived anywhere else in America."