Reprinted without permission from Waves, 1992
Seattle's Soundgarden are a great band and their new Somms EP is a cracker of a record, even if you do have to buy the Badmotorfinger album all over again to get it. And the guys are really heavily into 60s surf music too, comparing the Seattle scene at the moment, which includes Nirvana, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, with the California surf scene circa 1964.
"In the same way that people hear a certain guitar sound and equate it with surf music they'll do the same thing with Seattle in 15 years time", bass player Ben Shepherd told Waves. "I really hope that Seattle will mean as much to future generations of bands as the surf music scene of the 60's does to this one."
And despite the fact that the waters around Seattle are of the testicle withering variety, the bands interest in surfing doesn't end there either, as Ben went on to explain.
So, Ben, how much do you and the band actually know about surfing?
"I don't have a whole lot of first-hand experience of surfing, though I've got friends who surf. These days, though, I don't see them very often. But I've always thought surf culture was pretty cool, and I can relate to it because where I grew up in the country in Washington state there was nothing to do and we were pretty poor, so we just used to go skateboarding all the time. My impression of surf culture is that it's really laid-back and really radical at the same time, and that's what I find attractive about it."
You've never thought about taking your interest in skateboarding one step further then?
"I think if the ocean wasn't so cold up where I live, a lot of the skaters would be into surfing as well, and I'd probably be one of 'em. Plus, Seattle is still quite a long way from open ocean. It's a port but it's situated on a sound, so you'd have to drive quite a few hours to get to a beach with surf."
How about secondhand experience then? Have you ever just sat and watched people surf?
"Actually, I did come pretty close to trying it once, and probably would have done if someone had a spare drysuit. That was actually on the coast of Washington and the surf was pretty good, but the water's so cold you need a drysuit to survive it. Plus, there's always the chance of a shark attack. Admittedly, its only an outside chance, but apparently, the drysuits make it very easy for the sharks to mistake a surfer for a seal. That's kinda freaky, even if you do know what the odds really are."
So, is it something you'd still like to do?
[Laughing] "I don't know if I could do it even if I got the chance, man. I'm not as healthy as I used to be, what with being on tour so much where you just get too many chances to fuck about. You know, I smoke and drink and hang around in bars a lot when we're on tour -- I'm not exactly what you'd call disciplined. In fact, I'm in such poor physical condition I think I'd probably just go belly up as soon as a wave hit me. I'd need to get back home and get outside, go hiking and shit, start using my body again, before I even tried to surf. I wouldn't want to spend all my time under water!"
You mentioned sharks earlier and I read in a Rolling Stone interview once that you thought it might be kinda cool to be a shark. Why?
"They're the perfect machine. In that way they're probably smarter than any other creature on earth. They're just alone, that's what they do and they don't have to worry about any sorts of bullshit. They're just there. They just are. And for that reason they are totally uninhibited."
So it'd the instinctiveness of sharks that attracts you?
"Yeah. It's like there are people who plan stuff and there are other people who just do stuff. To me, sharks kinda epitomise the people who just do stuff."
And are Soundgarden the sort of people who just "do stuff"?
"No, not really. We're like most people, we're a bit of both. But sometimes I just wish we were more like the shark. I'm horrible at planning stuff, it never seems to work out like I planned, and the best things we do are usually spontaneous. That's how I wish Soundgarden could be more like the shark."