Published Oct 16, 2012While Soundgarden's 1997 break-up seemed permanent at the time, precipitated as it was by an on-stage meltdown in Honolulu, there was always a sense that the Seattle scene pioneers could eventually return, given the right circumstances.
Those planets aligned early in 2010, coincidently not long after frontman Chris Cornell released his cringe-inducing Timbaland-produced third solo album Scream. In the ensuing year, Soundgarden embarked on a successful North American "greatest hits" tour to accompany a new anthology, Telephantasm, on top of releasing Live on I-5, recorded at various stops in 1996.
This past summer brought the first new Soundgarden song since '96, "Live to Rise" from the Avengers soundtrack, and now comes King Animal, a full-length album set to drop next month. Guitarist Kim Thayil tells Exclaim! that the reunion occurred out of a genuine desire among all four members to play together again, and they have been conscious to nurture it, in contrast to how their career unfolded in the early '90s.
"We always tried to manage ourselves democratically, and did a pretty good job at it," Thayil says. "But that's a tough thing to maintain when you get people wanting the singer to do one thing and the guitarist to do another thing, on and on and on. I guess the lesson we learned from that time is that we just need to slow everything down a bit. Looking back, that would have been a good move."
He adds that after the overwhelmingly positive fan reaction to their 2010 tour, the band wasn't feeling any pressure heading into the studio with co-producer Adam Kasper to make King Animal. The album still contains Soundgarden's trademark grinding riffs and tempo changes, but at the heart of it are more soulful performances that can only come from experience.
"We did take a slightly different approach on this record," Thayil admits. "We didn't forget how we worked with each other and how we record. We still used those techniques, even though we couldn't ignore how technology is different now. But there is a different focus and maturity to what we're doing now, I think."
Although Cornell now divides his time between L.A. and Paris, Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd still reside in Seattle, and remain active in the city's music scene; Cameron is of course now Pearl Jam's longest-serving drummer. Thayil, in fact, can be credited in large part to launching the Sub Pop label after introducing founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman to one another back in 1986.
When asked about Sub Pop's transformation from spawning the grunge revolution to now being known predominantly for its indie rock-tinged signings, Thayil says, "Indie has sort of come to mean something else. If you have talent you have talent, which bands like Fleet Foxes and the Shins obviously do, and I respect them both a lot, but some of [that music] annoys me. Even when I was in college and I was a DJ at the university radio station, I hated music that was oriented toward college couples. Seattle does have that, but on the plus side there's still a lot of cutting-edge underground music, in the true sense of underground. It's subversive and transgressive, and that's what I really love because it appeals to a lot of that anger that's never really left me."
King Animal arrives November 13 through Seven Four Entertainment/Universal Republic.