Interview: Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:24:38
Any album from Soundgarden remains essential. That’s definitely true for Echo of Miles: Tracks Scattered Along the Path [Out November 24 - iTunes link]. The three-disc set collects various unreleased cuts, B-sides, live recordings, covers, remixes, and more into one place. It’s a fan’s dream as it follows the band’s entire history, showing another side of the legendary group at every turn. Unreleased fare like “Storm” and “Kristi” scorches with seismic intensity, uniting Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron into another thought provoking, psychedelic, and hypnotic musical pastiche. This is a must...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil talks Echo of Miles: Tracks Scattered Along the Path and so much more.
For lifelong fans, it's incredible to get tracks like "Kristi" that had never even been publicized before Echo of Miles: Tracks Scattered Along the Path.
Yes! More importantly, you now have the music that you knew existed all in one place—unless you consider the internet to be one place [Laughs]. You tangibly have it in your hands. If you want to put it in your car or on your bookshelf, there it is. That's been the goal. Convincing the record company of that was a little more work. Even convincing our band's management of that over the years has been tough. I think record companies like to orient themselves towards proven sales leaders and winners. That's why you might think about a Superunknown 20th anniversary deluxe box set because there's a track record of people having success with that. I suppose most recently it was Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and now Soundgarden. For the B-Sides, you've got to think like a fan—not even just a collector—but a fan of a band. If you're a really strong or crazy fan, you've got everything. For people who are more casual fans, have other things to do, or have a number of bands they may like, this package is certainly for them because it's likely they don't have all of these collected together.
I definitely wanted it to be a distinct album—another record as apart from a Greatest Hits. Ultimately, it is a compilation, but it's a compilation of non-album tracks. This is the only album at present for most of these songs. I separate that from Greatest Hits compilations where you take songs and tracks that you already had if you have the other albums, and your record company likes for you to throw in a bonus track or two. I look at that and say, "Well, there's a loose end. I have all of these songs, but now I'm going to buy this album for that one song". Some people will do that. It depends on what kind of fan you are. I love the band Chicago but not enough to buy all of their albums individually necessarily because your wallet's full of a limited amount of entertainment dollars. So, I'm might go and get the Greatest Hits, which I did early on when I was a kid. There I got all of the songs I really loved. That's what a Greatest Hits is for. If you're a stronger fan, you're aware of songs and titles you love by a band. You know what's in a movie soundtrack. You know what's on the Japanese or European version of an album or the B-side of a single. You think, "Maybe next time they put out an album, they'll throw that song on there!" In our case and the case of many bands, they don't do that; they move forward and write new material. Now, we have a trail loose of songs that are released in other countries, on other labels, and with other compilations featuring other bands. I'd have to be a super fan to purchase a compilation album that has a dozen other artists on it for that one song by that one band. There are Soundgarden fans who are that way. I want to make the whole task either. Here are three albums. You grab that one album and listen to all of those songs that haven't been previously compiled together. You can listen disc two and listen to Soundgarden's interpretations of some of their favorite songs. You can grab album three and, if you don't mind, listen to our instrumentals that actually don't have one of the greatest voices in rock on them. Then, you can listen to the DJ remixes and hear a fifth party interpreting the songs and adding grace and humor to them. That's the whole person. I've tried to address that kind of fan I would be for some of favorite bands.
What's the story behind "Kristi"?
Well, I'm shocked it didn't pop up on Down on the Upside, but that's probably another story [Laughs]. It was recorded and tracked then. There were things about the guitar performances I wasn't that happy with, but I could live with at the time. There were things about the vocal performances Chris wasn't happy with. However, Ben loved it, Matt loved it, and Adam Kasper, our producer, loved it. It's one of Matt's favorite songs and one of Adam's. We hemmed and hawed. We never got around to mixing it. We just left it uncompleted. There wasn't enough enthusiasm to have it make it to the album with all of the material we had and were working with. I was a little bit bummed because I wrote the music and Chris wrote the lyrics. I think I only had one song on that album, which was a bit frustrating and disappointing, but here you go! This is probably one of the strongest songs that didn't make the record and certainly is probably stronger than many of the songs on the record. Once Adam got around to mixing it in the past year, we realized how solid it was. Matt has always kept it in the forefront of his mind and would always mention it to us. So would Adam. They'd say, "That's a special song. We have to do something with that". It was a weird oversight due to self-criticism and self-conscious that we chose to look away from it. Given time, we realize what a gem it was.
Where did "Storm" come from? It sounds like another evolution while incorporating every era of the band.
If you interpret the word evolution to mean forward and progressive, there is an evolution. That isn't necessarily the way I think of the word, but in its context, I think that's what it means. Specifically with this song, it has a history that precedes our recording career. It was written before Matt joined the band. We used to play it live. When Matt joined the band, we had a flurry of new material coming out. It ended up being shelved because we had this new material we wanted to audition live and record. So, there were a couple of songs from a pre-Matt period he really loved and still wants to play and record to this day. "The Storm" was one of them. Jack Endino is a bit of an archivist with local bands like Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. He had recorded our first album Screaming Life. It was perfect when we had the opportunity in May to do a new version of the song. There are some versions laying around with a previous drummer. We thought, "Let's go in the studio with Jack Endino. He knows this song and knows where we were at then and have him see what we can do with this given the advanced technology, his production skills, and our ability to play as a band." It worked great. It's the first time Ben and Matt have played the song. I think we nailed it. Although it sounds forward and progressive in our sound, it incorporates elements that were sort of germinal in our sound. You put those all together, and those fit with my definition of evolution.
Does going through this process bring back a lot of memories? Is it almost like creating a scrapbook of Soundgarden's history?
That's a great way to put it. I don't think I've used that term. It is like a scrapbook. It's certainly a scrapbook of photos that haven't been in an album or a scrapbook. It's like going through those old Christmas cards or letters people send you up on the beach last summer [Laughs]. You find those pictures and you say, "Oh yeah!" You're digging through the mail or the box, and you find these other photos in a book or an envelope somewhere, you get them all together and, "Bam!" there's another document of something you've done. This concept was always existing. It hadn't come to fruition or been compiled yet. That meant getting the record company and management on board. The band was on board. As the project started coming together, the band realized how significant it was and what a great collection it is. When it's on paper and you're discussing it, it's a little difficult to envision what it could mean as an album. Now, that it’s all together the guys in the band are digging and appreciating it. It’s a tough one to sell if you’re not a record company guy. I’m calling going, “We’ve got to get all of these loose ends together. The fans would love it. I would love it. Let’s do this”. The artwork is great. The packaging is great. It’s got fifty songs. I wish The Ramones would do this [Laughs].
Has this process inspired music for the next record?
Yeah, this is the fifth catalog album I’ve overseen in the past five years. We put out Telephantasm, Live on I-5, Superunknown, the Screaming Life box, and now this. Screaming Life was our first mini-album. It had never been available online or on iTunes. In vinyl, it hadn’t been available in twenty years. That’s been taking up a lot of time in between touring and recording new material. It’s been a lot. Now that touring is sort of done, we’re going to focus on writing a new album, a follow-up to King Animal, which will be fun. There are a couple of catalog releases coming down the line. One is remix and reissue of Ultramega OK.
Do you dig the bands who have been influenced by Soundgarden?
I think everyone in the band does. I might a little bit more because I’m an indie record geekish guy like that. Certainly more of my resources, time, and finances went into buying whatever records came out that week when I was younger. It’s less of an activity of mine than it was in my twenties or thirties. I’m very fond of and acquainted with the guys in Sunn 0))), The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Ohm:. I love the band Oneida, Boris, Earth, and Yob. They’re amazing bands. Of course, there’s the guys in Neurosis. During the period the band was inactive, I was going to see lots of other bands and getting records from Southern Lord and such. If I pay attention to what’s happening in the mainstream, I get bored and disappointed. I’ve always loved what’s coming up in the indie scene.
What haven’t you done guitar-wise you’ve always wanted to?
I’ve used a lot of feedback and noise, and I always felt that was lacking from records. I’ve done a lot of that. There are many bands who feel comfortable using harmonics and feedback and other forms of beauty and chaos. There was a time when people would steer away from that because, oftentimes, producers and recording engineers would want to steer away from that. It’s been put into popular music and hard rock a lot more. I’m happy about that. That was always an interest of me. I don’t know as far as something on guitar goes. Maybe I could recite the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel is doing solo [Laughs].
Pick up Echo of Miles:
Google Play: http://smarturl.it/SoundgardenEOM-gp
What’s your favorite Soundgarden song?