Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil Discuss Soundgarden's Future
The only thing more shocking than Soundgarden's sudden breakup in 1997 was their sudden revival in 2010. Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil reflect on the group’s celebrated past and discuss its uncertain future.
If a time traveler landed in Chicago’s Grant Park on the evening of August 8, 2010, he probably would think his time machine was improperly calibrated and took him to 1996 by mistake. How else to explain the thousands of alternative-music fans converging at Lollapalooza to see Soundgarden? Seeing a field overflowing with a motley assortment of hipsters in horn-rimmed glasses and ironic T-shirts, long-haired rockers in combat boots and jeans, and tattooed Suicide Girls certainly gives one the impression that the Nineties never ended.
However, this event isn’t the touring monolith that Lollapalooza was in the previous millennium; rather, it’s a three-day festival in a single city. Some of the differences between then and now are subtle, like the Wayfarer-style sunglasses in neon colors being worn by some attendees, eyewear that would have looked painfully passé in 1996 but which is now retro hip. And somewhere along the line, alternative rockers apparently became foodies—how else to explain why vendors have abandoned the usual corn dogs and nachos for items like chilled watermelon gazpacho and “punk rock” shrimp. (Sorry, but only pizza or a greasy cheeseburger should be considered punk. Shrimp isn’t, unless someone spits on it.)
When the first droning notes of “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” blast from the speakers, it truly feels like a journey back in time, to a past that seems like only yesterday. Over their two-hour set, Soundgarden perform plenty of hits (“Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” “Burden in My Hand”), fan favorites (“Rusty Cage,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined”) and surprises (“Gun,” “4th of July”), with most of the material coming from their Badmotorfinger and Superunknown albums.
Soundgarden may look slightly different than they did the last time they graced a festival stage—singer/guitarist Chris Cornell has grown his hair out to Badmotorfinger length, and guitarist Kim Thayil sports a dapper fedora instead of a backward baseball cap—but they sound every bit as huge, powerful and invigorating as they did at their peak, maybe even more so. Bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron—perhaps the most potent hard rock rhythm section of the past 20 years—fill the skyscraper canyons of Chicago’s skyline with thundering rhythms and deep, penetrating grooves. Cornell and Thayil’s guitars interlock to form majestically heavy riffs and psychedelic textures, while Cornell’s four-octave vocals float emphatically over the gloriously distorted wall of sound. Soundgarden’s characteristic combination of Sabbath-like riffs, hardcore punk energy, Zeppelin-esque folk flourishes and unique melodic finesse remains as fresh and vital as it was the first time around, defying the dated “grunge” tag within which the music industry once tried to confine the band.
Along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden were one of the most commercially successful bands of Seattle’s grunge movement, which became a mainstream sensation in the early Nineties. Formed in 1984, they preceded those bands and helped establish Seattle’s thriving underground scene along with bands like the Melvins and Green River. Subsequently, Soundgarden became an important influence on groups that shared a similar affinity for grunge’s distinctive blend of metal, punk and Seventies sounds.