Dillinger Escape Plan's Ben Weinman Grills Soundgarden's Kim Thayil on Influences, Gear and Copycat Bands
WEINMAN: We have had many conversations about music and your band, but I don’t think I've ever expressed how interesting it is, as a fan, to hear your stories about the Seattle music scene. I have to say maybe the coolest thing I’ve gotten from our conversations is the impression that all you guys are really positive about each other. Hearing you speak about Cornell and the other guys as brothers after all these years is really touching.
And the comradery you've managed to maintain with the Pearl Jam camp throughout the years is unbelievable. What advice do you have for younger bands that are coming up in a technological age where most communication and collaboration is through social media and not as influenced by the local subcultures we all came up in?
THAYIL: I'm sure young musicians will find a way to establish a sense of community and shared identity that will ultimately define their subculture(s). Regionalism might be dead, and that might be a good thing. Transcultural sharing is a benefit to decentralizing social and artistic communities. Rather than colluding, artists can be challenged by other input culturally. This should spur growth creatively, socially and ultimately economically. Until then, we still have to deal with parental-approved weenie pop-rock ditties.
WEINMAN: What was life like for you, creatively and personally, after Soundgarden called it quits in the mid-'90s? I know you collaborated with a bunch of people during that time, including one of my favorite guys, Jello Biafra.
THAYIL: After Soundgarden, I felt some relief from having to maintain the expectations our band and its success had placed upon itself. I felt free to do whatever — and nothing. I knew the kind of material I had might suffer without the shared vision of Matt, Chris and Ben, and I had no interest in doing a second-rate Soundgarden. After the band tucked it in, the record label was sold, and most of the staff was fired. Our management was the next to downsize, and it became a PO box + Vm.
This was all fine with me. publishing was not necessary to my enjoying playing or writing. Life without managers, lawyers, salesman and accountants in my music was liberating for me. Living without popular culture and its commodification was an important intellectual and artistic ass wiping! I wanted to move on and do whatever I thought was fun. I did not want to work from the ground up with a another bunch of guys after throwing all my volume into Soundgarden. However, I was always designing that ideal in the back of my mind.
WEINMAN: Soundgarden was one of the first bands to introduce me to odd time signatures and highly dissonant guitar chords (which are largely what I’m associated with as a player). Which bands were you guys listening to while forming your sound during the early years?
THAYIL: In our early years, Chris, Hiro and I listened to many different bands and genres individually. Hiro originally played mandolin before learning bass. He liked a lot of folk and art rock before turning on to new wave and punk. Chris liked everything from Joe Jackson to Rush. I had liked metal and art rock before the new wave/punk explosion. By the time Soundgarden formed, we had all been in various bands, mostly punk rock bands for Hiro and me. Chris and I briefly played in a band that did Hendrix, Stones and Doors covers. (Yikes!)
As a band, Soundgarden listened to a lot of music before and after our practices/jams while drinking beer and discussing the merits of the artists and their material. Bands we collectively loved included dark, melancholic and angular British bands from the late '70s and early '80s such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, Wire, PIL and Young Marble Giants. These bands tended to build songs around the bass. We were equally enthralled with American progressive post-hardcore bands from SST, Touch & Go and Homestead records like the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Husker Du and, of course, Black Flag. All these bands were very guitar-centric!
WEINMAN: So I see you've been sticking with the Mesa Boogie stuff all these years. I also use Mesa. I run two Mark V heads, which I love. What are you playing through these days?
THAYIL The guitar signal is split (via a Radial JX44) into one Mesa Tremoverb 2x12 combo and one Mesa Electradyne 90w head, which then runs into two 4x12 cabinets.
Both amps are active all the time. The Tremoverb has EL34 tubes installed and has a driven, midrange-focused sound. The Electradyne runs on 6L6 tubes and compliments the Tremoverb with more of a full-range (more highs and lows) sound. The Tremoverb stays on the Modern High Gain channel all the time and is usually fairly compressed and driven. The Electradyne alternates between the Lo- and Hi-gain channels as needed. Additional gain and drive comes from boost and distortion pedals or right-hand dynamics. Between the two amps, the full frequency spectrum and dynamic range are covered.
Also, the Electradyne's two 4x12 cabinets are set up on either side of the Tremoverb combo — which spreads the sound across the width of the stage and provide lots of potential pockets for interesting feedback (on a good day...).
WEINMAN: We have talked at length about the difference between bands using your music as inspiration (like the Dillinger Escape Plan) and bands who have just tried to sound like Soundgarden. Why do you think all these bands are just horrible? Do they just not realize the true spirit of what you guys do?
THAYIL: I'm very proud of the bands I like and listen to that have cited Soundgarden as an inspiration. I'm a bit embarrassed by those who attempt to imitate us. The forward-thinking bands I listen to don't sound anything like us, but are willing to work with odd timings, tunings, noise, feedback, harmonics, etc., within the context of the song. The imitators sound like bad impressionists who grasp onto the most pedestrian and commercial aspects of what we do without any of the risk. Of course, Soundgarden is a bit more difficult to imitate than, say, Nirvana, Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam.
Nirvana has been victimized by many grave robbers over the years. They were ultimately the more successful and commercial band whose accessibility provided what may have appeared to be a lucrative opportunity for imitators. I won't mention any of these names, but I would like to reference some those bands I like who have tipped their hat our way: Sunn0))), Boris, Storm of Light, Om, High on Fire, Oneida, Eagle Twin, Lichens, Mastodon, Neurosis, Ghost and, of course, the Dillinger Escape Plan!
For more about Ben Weinman, who forms Guitar World's ultimate Prog Roundtable with Animals As Leaders' Tosin Abasi and Periphery's Misha Mansoor, plus a Tosin Abasi poster and features on Metallica's Kirk Hammett, a seven- and eight-string buyer's guide and more, check out the September 2013 issue of Guitar World at the Guitar World Online Store.