Soundgarden: Touch of Gray

Kim Thayil on the band's return to the studio, trip to the Gorge, and discovery of the Internet.

For both tragic and beautiful reasons, Nirvana may be our city’s immortal musical mascots, but Soundgarden is quite possibly the band that most accurately represents the Northwest’s artistic, social, and geographical lineage. Chris Cornell’s agonized, operatic vocals and Ben Shepherd’s bottom-heavy bass are the essential anchors in the band’s Sabbath/Zeppelin stew, but nothing would connect them meaningfully without guitarist Kim Thayil’s intricate and articulate musical voice. We spoke with Thayil as Soundgarden’s tour bus crossed the Canadian border, a week before the recently reunited band’s homecoming gig at the Gorge.

SW: What local bands are you into these days?

Thayil: I like Black Breath a lot. I’ve seen Lesbian; they are very good. And of course, Minus the Bear. I like the proggy intricacies their arrangements have while still maintaining their pop sensibility. That’s always very interesting. Man, you got me in a corner! I don’t want to space on a band I really love . . . Oh! Earth, I love Earth. And Jesse Sykes.

Were you satisfied with how that initial show at the Showbox went in 2010?

Really, I don’t think we knew what to expect, but I think we were all very satisfied with our performance. In retrospect, contrasting it with how we are playing now, I think we could have played a little bit better, but the reception was so warm and overwhelmingly positive that it mostly brought up great feelings.

What’s the timeline on the new record?

There’s no timeline, except that our target—roughly—is early 2012. We are focused on this tour and these shows and we have a few dates in October, but in the interim, we’ll do some studio work. We have a few more guitars to do and some vocals. And some of the songs are still being arranged. We want to make sure it’s absolutely the most satisfying for us, and put the best foot forward that we can put. I would assume our fans will also get into it then.

How has your approach to writing together changed?

It’s actually not much different, because we really didn’t have a set way we wrote in the past. The only thing that might have been consistent is a band member being a complete author—meaning words and music—which Chris did a lot of. But even if Chris writes a complete song, or Ben writes a complete song . . . sometimes we wrote a song as a jam. All the different combinations were always there; there was never a set thing like “Jagger/Richards,” you know?

(Producer) Jack Endino suggested that I ask you why you got back together. So why did you get back together?

I have nooooo idea. I ask myself that question. I think it’s one of those things that just fell back into our laps. We initially were attending to shared properties, both financial and legal, and from mainly there we realized there was an absence of online presence in terms of a website or Facebook . . . we kind of had neglected our merchandise over the last decade. Our catalog had been neglected. I was constantly meeting people who now had junior-high-aged kids who had learned instruments and learned [to play via Soundgarden]. We agreed to start a website and have Ten Club handle it—Tim Bierman who handles Pearl Jam’s stuff. So it started from that.

Then Internet gossip led to promoters inquiring about our status and offering us shows and pretty good billings that we considered. So we got into a room together and jammed and enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually we decided to start playing live and to release [greatest hits and rarities compilation] Telephantasm and the live record [Live on I-5].” Putting out an unreleased Soundgarden song was a thrill for us, and we started thinking about going back into the studio again. Every time we got together to rehearse, it was good. And by the way, I think I’ve told Jack Endino this story already!

I find it strangely comforting that Almost Live is still in reruns. What’s on your Lame List at the moment?

The fact that Almost Live is still rerunning that skit that I did in 1991. That’s lame. Maybe that’s good, though, because it keeps me looking less gray.