"Whiplash" Interview: Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil Discusses Vinyl Reissues, Potential New Album + More
Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil Discusses Vinyl Reissues, Potential New Album + More
Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s Los Angeles-based Monday night radio show. He discussed the vinyl releases of ‘Louder Than Love’ and ‘Down on the Upside,’ shedding light on how time has treated their classic records as well as the new era of musicians the band impacted as well as peering into what Soundgarden has planned in the near feature. Check out the chat below.
How are you, Kim?
Great Jackie, how are you doing?
Great, thank you so much for being on the show.
Great to be here.
Lots going on with Soundgarden, obviously. You have re-released 1989’s Louder Than Love on vinyl. There’s also a vinyl 20th anniversary reissue of Down on the Upside from 1996. What changes about the importance of Soundgarden albums years later, now removed from the context of the time and place they were first released?
One thing that the band has noticed since getting back together in 2010 is how the young musicians in bands cite us as an influence. That’s certainly sort of a surprise for us. That’s probably where we would have loved to have been when we started playing. To be like the guys in our record collection, the people that inspired us, the people that got us playing together. I think for that reason, it’s good for us to keep the catalog active. There are some upgrades to this. It’s on 180 gram vinyl, which is really important to audiophiles. I myself and perfectly happy with the scratches and pops. I know other people are a little more discerning when it comes to their vinyl.
Kim, what made you fully understand the longterm impact that albums like Superunknown and Down on the Upside made on people’s lives?
The longterm impact was appreciated after the band had been apart for 10 to 12 years. I would meet other people in bands. I’d meet people who were younger most of our initiate fans who are probably in their 40s or 50s or 30s now. You meet young musicians, you meet kids who’d say that this record got me through high school or college. Maybe even junior high or younger. They’d describe how important it was to them. Then I’d remember having those very powerful feelings in regards to my Ramones records or Aerosmith records, [Led] Zeppelin records or Stooges records.
I thought, ‘This is great. This is perfect, we’ve done something right that years later we’re still seeing that kind of impact from people’s personal lives’. I think importantly, even more exciting was to find that many of these people learned how to play guitars and drums or keyboards or whatever. They started their own bands — that was really satisfying to learn that we had that kind of impact on people who wanted to write their own songs and start their own bands.
In our culture of streaming and downloads, why is it important to you that Louder Than Love and Down on the Upside be rereleased on vinyl?
What I’ve noticed and what makes it important that we keep these things out on vinyl / CD and cassette and especially vinyl, is that I found that people who enjoy music, music is the activity that they’re pursuing. These people like to listen to things, whole albums, they like to listen on vinyl. It took me years to grow away from vinyl and get used to the portability of CDs. But I currently maintain my collection of both CDs and vinyl. People who enjoy music as a secondary activity, something that they might use alongside some other activity like jogging, working or driving, I think those people are perfectly happy with MP3s.
Whereas vinyl is definitely for people where listening to music is the primary activity and the goal of that particular activity on any given day. I myself probably have music that feels great when I’m driving or if i’m doing something else. But when I listen to music it’s pretty much there in front of the stereo or with headphones on. I think people who listen to vinyl, and people who purchase vinyl, are definitely oriented towards music as that primary activity and not as an accompaniment to some other thing they’re doing.
Sonically, Kim, what did you feel needed to be addressed when remastering the old albums?
Especially with Louder Than Love, remastering was necessary because of the newer technologies and the potential for increased quality in the listening experience that have developed over the past 28 years. I think that in it of itself is one issue that is addressed by remastering. There are certainly others, the fact that when this record came out there wasn’t this commonly available digital technology. We have it on the players, it’s more available in professional studio systems. That gives us an extra ability in fine-tuning the volume and the tone, frequencies that we would have put down on tape. All of these, both these albums are remastered from the original analog tapes. So I think you’ll get a warmer and more accurate representation of when they were recorded.
Musicians grow and mature, improving their musical sensibility. How has your understanding of making and playing changed since Soundgarden first started?
Since Soundgarden first started, certainly you become a more experienced and better player just from the function of time. Also the function of the frequency of performing or playing. Any professional musician or anyone in a band who is touring is certainly getting many more hours under their belt of playing and performing under what might be a stressful situation. Having a few thousand eyes staring at you. Some people thrive in that and some people, they get their — they work their nerves and jitters out onstage. I think over the years, we’ve developed that kind of familiarity of the instrument, the audience, the music and the material. That’s one thing that improves. But certainly over the years, there have been many other songwriters and artists that are publishing. That material itself has some influence or inspiration on the people who are listening to it.
The guys in Soundgarden included. I think when we came up, we probably, our record collections consisted of a lot of pop rock, classic rock, some metal and some art-rock stuff. As well as your jazz and blues records. Since then, we’ve had all kinds of movements. Everything from the indie and lo-fi movement to the brief little venture in lo-fi to the rap which was popular, even though it started in the late ’70s it got real popular in the mid to late ’80s and early ’90s. EDM, which [laughs] I’m not the hugest fan of, but it does have its moments. Certainly all these musics are social, so regardless of what genre you have an affinity for, you’re going to become exposed to them because of the music your friends and family are playing. These things all contribute to the base of understanding of our band, socially and culturally and it’ll find its way into our songwriting.
Culturally and musically, in a lot of ways Seattle was an opposite of Los Angeles. How would Soundgarden be a different band if you came up in L.A.?
I don’t know how different it would have been. There’s sort of a little more of a complicated biography with the band. A few of us moved to Seattle from Chicago; we were raised in Chicago. I was born in Seattle, but raised in Chicago. Matt Cameron is from Southern California, so our first full length album was released on a Long Beached based label, SST. They were releasing records by other bands from San Pedro, Long Beach and the L.A. area. It’s very likely that we would have still been affiliated with SST and some of the artists that were playing around in L.A. I think that’s the kind of people we were, as individuals, both socially and culturally.
I doubt very much that we would have been the kind of band that was into, I’m referencing by ’80s imagery now, but spandex and bikini girls dancing on the hood of your car, oh I don’t know, cocaine. Those are cliches of the L.A. scene and we weren’t interested. There are other things that drew our attention and i think if we were L.A., we still wouldn’t have been caught up in that. I think. There are other aspects of geography, maybe we would have spent more time on the beach. Maybe that would have come into our music. More time driving too, we certainly got some of that in.
Kim, is there anything you can tell us more about what’s to come in terms of Soundgarden. There’s some other rereleases, new music, timeline? Anything that you can share?
There are definitely other catalog projects that I’ve been overseeing over the past year and one of them is the record I referred to, earlier from the SST label which is out of Long Beach. That record, Ultramega OK, we’ve remastered and [it’s being] remixed here in Seattle … and we’re hoping to put that out early next year. We’ve moved the labels, we’re putting that out on Sup Pop. All the paperwork is in order. We have something slated for Black Friday and I think the most exciting thing in the next few months is we’re hoping, we plan to, the street date of November 18th with the 25th anniversary boxed for Badmotorfinger.
So there’s still a lot more to come.
Yeah, you’re talking about a catalog that was probably overlooked for a decade or so.
But not a band that hasn’t been noted, as you mentioned, as an influence for so many other bands. The band, of course, important to the genre and has some serious historic significance and so glad that you guys are still together and making new music. It’s amazing.
Yes and we’re certainly happy about that. Like I said, well I didn’t say this. In previous interviews, you’ve pointed out the most exciting thing was having the new material be so fresh and to add to the new material with the individual musical experiences we’ve acquired over the past decade or so. That kept everything with the same songwriting and personnel dynamic, augmented that personal dynamic with these new ideas, new music and new experiences that we’ve acquired over the past decade or so. It’s with any relationship with family or loved ones, boyfriend / girlfriend. Sometimes you grow apart. You grow apart when you’re together, you grow apart when you’re away but after this long period of time we’re still sort of where we’re at with each other and that’s been a very positive thing.
Probably because only those years where the band was not together we were all still in touch and all sharing similar social circles and the same friends. So we’re always constantly doing things together and running into each other. It was just a matter of getting the four of us all on the same page and putting our nose to the grindstone and do the work that was required to keep the Soundgarden machine going the way it was when we split in the late ’90s. I think the added maturity and growth was probably a bonus as well.
I know you all have a lot going on. When do you think you guys are going to get back to with a new record in terms of a release and will there be Soundgarden tour?
We’re planning that out as well. Right now there are some other projects that are taking up band members time. Matt’s got some Pearl Jam touring and projects. Chris and Matt together are working on this Temple of the Dog thing. Over the past year we’ve had a number of songwriting and jam sessions, Soundgarden, getting together to simply exchange ideas and document and record them. So we’ve had some rough demos of a dozen or so songs. We’ll continue to do this as everyone’s schedules open up. Hopefully next year we’ll find ourselves in the studio fleshing out these ideas.
Sounds like you’ll be busy. Good luck and always appreciate talking to you. Thank you.
Thank you, and I want to add, probably in the future this is probably the schedule. As Matt and Chris, especially with Matt involved in Pearl Jam there is plenty of catalog issues and releases that the band will be paying attention to during the touring downtimes. There’s other things that are being developed, compiled and collected for future releases over the next few years.
One thing you don’t have a shortage of is content.
We did accumulate a lot.
Thanks to Kim Thayil for the interview. For more information on the Soundgarden vinyl reissues and to grab a copy of your own, head to the band’s webstore. No tour dates are booked at the publication time, but keep up with Soundgarden on the road and more on their Facebook page.