Kim Thayil – Soundgarden’s Next Move

In limbo after Chris Cornell’s death, the band had plenty of projects in mind

By Gary Graff
May 19, 2017

Chris Cornell’s shocking suicide this week in Detroit shook musicians and music fans worldwide — and will likely do so for quite some time. Prior to Soundgarden’s spring tour, we spoke to guitarist Kim Thayil about what the group was up to, including a new album to follow-up 2012’s King Animal and some additional archival projects. Bear in mind that at this point everything he mentions is in limbo, and the group is not commenting yet on how it plans to proceed in the wake of Cornell’s death. But from what Thayil tells us, it’s clear that we likely haven’t heard the last of either the man or the band, in one way or another…

FGPO: So what’s the latest on a follow-up to King Animal?

Thayil: It’s been a couple years of intermittent songwriting sessions, because obviously Chris has some commitments to his solo touring and Matt [Cameron] has some commitment on Pearl Jam issues. So we kind of look for opportunities where all four of us are available, and then we get together and we show each other what we’ve been working on, what we’ve been writing on our own and see if there’s anything that can be contributed from that sharing process. And then we jam and see if any ideas can come out collaboratively that we can work on.

FGPO: How much do you have so far?

Thayil: There are some songs that have been demoed. Matt’s demoed some things completely, stuff he’s recorded on his computer. Chris has demoed a few things; he’s written lyrics for ideas that I’ve written, and that Ben [Shepherd] and Matt have written. So there’s some things that have been documented in rehearsal, there’s some things that are at the demo stage, there’s some that are still in the developmental stage, ideas we have jammed on that we’re working out arrangements for. Every different stage within the process of songwriting is being addressed at this point.

FGPO: The group is clearly marching to the beat of its own drummer, as it were. That’s different than it was at the beginning, right?

Thayil: Yeah, I think so. But I think we’ve always been that way. I think there’s always been a push from record companies and management, and in the past there was even some from MTV — ‘We’d like to have this video by a certain time’ or ‘We’d like to have this song ready or this record,’ and we kind of hold back and say: ‘We’re not ready to pull the cord yet.’ Sometimes the pressure would increase, like we’ve got to coordinate with the tour and promotion for the record, or they’d want to have a single that’s ready to go. There’s always been pressure like that, and it doesn’t come from within. It usually comes from outside of us, from our…independent contractors.

FGPO: So the band itself is in a pretty chill place, then?

Thayil: Yeah. There’s a comfort level. I think the fact we’re all older and more mature, maybe a little bit wiser, people have had kids, gotten married…I would think that by people expanding their circle of responsibilities we might have a different perspective. I think that just came organically with the way the band is. We’re just a little more conscientious of what we owe and contribute to relationships and not just what is owed to us, if that makes sense.

FGPO: You reissued Badmotorfinger last fall and Ultramega OK this year. Are there plans for more archival projects as well?

Thayil: We’ve been able to address many of these aspects from our catalog, both released and unreleased, and I think we will continue to do so. There are a number of recording sessions that were never released for various reasons. Some were recording sessions we did with a previous drummer, and they weren’t really up to our satisfaction; there’s some good things about them, but we got a new drummer and we we moved forward and re-recorded the songs. There’s some stuff that we haven’t released that we recorded with Jack Ending that were intended for Sub Pop releases that didn’t happen.

FGPO: Including a Screaming Life album right?

Thayil: That’s right. Screaming Life was supposed to be a full-length album, or that’s what we wanted to do. But Sub Pop wanted to do an EP; they wanted to do four, five songs. We talked them into six, so it was kind of like a mini-album. But there was other material that was recorded and wasn’t released. Those probably should have been addressed had our lineup not changed. Those are recordings with Hiro [Yamamoto] and we decided to move forward and write new songs and do new recordings.

FGPO: What else could be on the future docket?

Thayil: I would never want to remix Screaming Life; we remastered it when we reissued it in 2013. We’d probably remaster Louder Than Love, which we did for the vinyl reissue last August. We did a remastering of Down on the Upside for a vinyl pressing, but in the future we’ll do another thorough remastering for other formats as well — CD, digital and another vinyl remastering. But we’re not going to remix anything else because everything else we’re pretty happy with, to varying degrees. We might like the sound of Badmotorfinger more than Louder Than Love. We might like Superunknown more than Down On The Upside or something like that, and that varies from individual to individual. But every album takes on its own life and has its own identity and grows with the audience and with the creators, in this case. So we love the way all of them are and the kind of space they occupy both in our catalog and with our own personal understanding of the material.

FGPO: Matt’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now with Pearl Jam. Should Soundgarden be next?

Thayil: Y’know, it’s not my call. Pearl Jam’s a no-brainer, and Nirvana. But, yeah, I think Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, to another degree Mudhoney and Screaming Trees, we’ve all had great success that certainly surpasses that of a number of artists that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But we’re subject to the judgment of other folks, ultimately. I think there would be something cool about it, but it ultimately doesn’t reflect what we’ve achieved critically or commercially with our body of work. I think we’re all satisfied at this point.

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