Kim Thayil never expected he would play with Soundgarden again after the group's on-stage meltdown in Honolulu in early 1997. "I think everybody had resolved that this was done and we were all going off in our own directions," the 52-year-old guitarist says. "But in retrospect, it wasn't a huge, contentious break-up. It was pretty un-dramatic." The real drama was instead reserved for almost every other band that emerged alongside Soundgarden during the late '80s Seattle insurgence, the ones that had to deal with overdoses and suicides. As the first from the scene to sign to a major label, Soundgarden were perhaps best positioned to handle the pressure of the mainstream marketplace. But that still couldn't prevent the collapse, not long after they had reached both a creative and commercial peak.
"We weren't saying no enough," Thayil admits. "People were telling us, 'The door's open now, here's your opportunity to walk through.' But if you try to do it all, you'll burn yourself out. I think in any band there are varying degrees of ambition and careerism. It's like trying to walk four dogs. At some point, everyone's smelling something different and wanting to chase after it." Surely, that's the most accurate metaphor to describe Soundgarden's initial split, but after over a decade of chasing those individual goals, the quartet have found their way back to each other, and made a new album, King Animal, that re-establishes Soundgarden as one of the most original and compelling hard rock bands of the past 30 years. Thayil, for one, is thankful it's ended up this way. "I think there was a recreational attraction [to reuniting]," he says. "We weren't obligated to do anything other than be Soundgarden. We didn't have to be entertainers and diplomats at the same time, we could just be songwriters and musicians."
1981 to 1984
Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto move to Seattle in 1981 from Park Forest, IL, a suburb of Chicago. Thayil's parents are immigrants from India, first landing in Seattle where Kim is born in 1960, then moving east five years later to obtain college educations. Thayil meets Yamamoto while at Rich East High School, and they share an interest in underground rock, following an early infatuation with Kiss and other '70s bands. Teaching himself to play guitar, Thayil forms Zippy and His Vast Army of Pinheads with Yamamoto on bass. After graduation, the pair plan on heading to Olympia, WA to attend the progressive Evergreen State College, although they end up in Thayil's birthplace, where he studies philosophy at the University of Washington and Yamamoto pursues a degree in chemistry. Thayil's roommate, Matt Dentino, plays guitar in a cover band called the Shemps, which Yamamoto joins. Dentino places an ad for a lead singer, which turns up 19-year-old Chris Cornell. Born Christopher John Boyle in 1964, he has drummed for various bands while working in a fish plant since his early teens. He sees an opportunity with the Shemps to lead a band for the first time. Yamamoto quits shortly after Cornell's arrival and is replaced by Thayil. The Shemps soon dissolve as Cornell and Thayil grow frustrated with the band's repertoire. Cornell and his drum kit move in with Yamamoto, and Thayil is invited to play guitar at their jam sessions. They officially form a trio, christened Soundgarden, a name borrowed from a large pipe sculpture located near Seattle's Magnuson Park. Their second gig is opening a Hüsker Dü/Melvins show. "We wanted to be a band that we would listen to, the band whose records we would buy," Thayil says. "We wanted to create an allegiance with an audience that would have included us when we were younger ― the way I felt about, say, the Ramones or Black Sabbath. We all had an idea about who was worthy of respect from an artistic standpoint, whether that was Pink Floyd or Captain Beefheart, or later on, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Sonic Youth. We had to be that band that we would have sat around arguing about."
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