Sunday Old School: Soundgarden
Since Sunday Old School almost always finishes it's month of sundays with a column about a group from the glam metal scene, it always seems so natural to kick the next month off with one of the so-called "grunge" acts, given it was the next stage in popular rock music. And who better to start November off than Soundgarden, whose reunion has been of the most anticipated in recent times? Soundgarden was formed from the ashes of a band named The Shemps, which featured singing drummer, Chris Cornell and bass player Hiro Yamamoto. The two kept in contact after The Shemps’ demise and were soon joined by guitarist Kim Thayil, who moved to Washington with Yamamoto and future Sub Pop founder, Bruce Pavitt, from Park Forest, Illinois. The trio adopted the name, Soundgarden from a sculpture next to Magnuson Park, Seattle and soon became a four piece, when they hired drummer Scott Sundquist in order for Cornell to focus on his vocals. This lineup would continue for around a year and make the first Soundgarden recordings, which surfaced on a compilation album named, "Deep Six," before Sundquist left to be replaced by Skin Yard drummer, Matt Cameron. The band’s live performances made them one of the stand out groups in an area which had many quality bands, and it was thanks to their blistering presence that KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman offered to contribute twenty thousand dollars to Sub Pop Records, in order to fund a Soundgarden release, which came in 1987 in the form of the single, "Hunted Down," which also featured a highly regarded b-side in, "Nothing To Say."
The band released two further EPs, "Screaming Life" and "Fopp" through Sub Pop before deciding to sign with SST Records for their first full length effort, snubbing the interest of major labels in the process. They then released their first LP, "Ultramega OK" on Halloween, 1988, and soon found themselves regularly on MTV, thanks to the music video for "Flower," as well as eventually being nominated for a Grammy award for Best Metal Performance 1990, in addition to touring overseas for the first time. Following the "Ultramega OK" tours, the band got to work on their second album, during which they claim ideas weren’t flowing freely from all members, leaving Cornell to write the bulk of it. The second album surfaced in September 1989 as, "Louder Than Love" and would prove to be their last record with Yamamoto, who left to go back to college after he felt he was unable to contribute to the band anymore. He was replaced by former Nirvana guitarist, Jason Everman, and the band hit the road again, this time in support of Canadian progressive metal act, Voivod, with Faith No More opening the shows. There was initially some problems with the distribution for "Louder Than Love," with some retailers taking umbrage with the lyrics to the songs, "Big Dumb Sex" and "Hands All Over," but nonetheless, it became the band’s first record to hit the Billboard 200, peaking at number 108.
As soon as they finished touring in support of the album, they decided to fire Everman, with Thayil stating that it "just didn’t work out." The group replaced him with former Tic Dolly Row member, Ben Shepherd, who Cornell claimed brought a "fresh and creative" approach to recording. Shepherd’s first album with the band, "Badmotorfinger," would prove to be even bigger than the two preceding it, not least due to the controversy the first single, "Jesus Christ Pose" created, which resulted in the music video being banned by MTV and even death threats. Despite this, the album spawned at least two more classic Soundgarden songs in, "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage," which helped the record become of the biggest selling of 1992. The group increased their profile in further when they were personally selected by Guns N Roses to support them on their, "Use Your Illusion" tour in North America, before joining Skid Row as part of their, "Slave to the Grind" tour, before once again pairing up with Guns N Roses for a European trek. They then returned to the States to take part in the Lollapalooza festival, before releasing a home video entitled, "Motorvision" and appearing in the movie, "Singles," along with Alice In Chains and Tad.
If the band thought, "Badmotorfinger" was massive, it was nothing compared to what was to come with the release of their fourth album, "Superunknown" in 1994, which shot straight to the top of the Billboard Charts, as well as the top of the Australian and New Zealand album charts, in addition to hitting the top five in many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Sweden. It was helped to the top by it’s first single, "Spoonman," which included Seattle street entertainer, Artis the Spoonman. The album spawned four more singles, "The Day I Tried to Live," "Black Hole Sun," "My Wave" and "Fell on Black Days," most of which are now considered to be staples in the Soundgarden catalogue. In addition to it’s commercial success, "Superunknown" was unquestionably their most critically acclaimed album, with many critics giving it a perfect score and naming it as one of the best albums of the year, and eventually, of the decade. The band helped support the album by embarking on a theatre tour with Tad and Eleven, but were forced to cut it short when it was discovered that Cornell had severely strained his vocal cords, and had to make the dates up in 1995.
Constant touring and exposure, coupled with a clash on the future of their sound would prove to be some of the problems the group would soon face when they began work on their next album. Cornell was clear to the other members that he wanted to move away from the heavier side of their music, a wish which seemed to have been mostly granted when their fifth album, "Down on the Upside" hit the shelves in May, 1996. The self-produced album received something of a mixed response, being hailed as genius by some reviewers, and terrible by others, with some fans feeling the same. Despite this, the record was able to claim the number two spot on the Billboard Charts and eventually go Platinum in their home country. It featured more standout songs including the mesmerising, "Pretty Noose" and the somewhat upbeat, "Burden in my Hand," as well as the creepy angst of, "Blow up the Outside World." They then took part in the Lollapalooza tour once again, but only after learning it would essentially be a Metallica tour. During this time, relations between the members were growing more strained and they reportedly took different flights, only meeting each other at the gigs. The backstage problems were soon becoming apparent onstage, as their own headlining tour was met with criticism from fans who felt the performances of some members to be lethargic, which was mostly due to their weariness of touring. Tensions came to a head during a show in Honolulu, Hawaii when Shepherd threw his bass in the air and abruptly left the stage after equipment failure, resulting in the rest of the band following him before Cornell came back out to finish the set with a solo encore. Two months after the incident, Soundgarden announced that they had decided to break up, citing the music business and touring cycle as the main reasons.
Members of the band soon moved on to other projects, perhaps the most notable of which was Chris Cornell, who released his first solo album, "Euphoria Morning" in 1998, before joining forces with three members of Rage Against the Machine to form the supergroup, Audioslave, who released three albums in the 2000s before disbanding in order for Cornell to continue his solo career, as well as a RATM reunion. Thayil took part in a number of projects, including the collaboration album between Boris and Sunn O))), as well as teaming up with the likes of Dave Grohl, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and ex Dead Kennedys frontman, Jello Biafra. Cameron would go on to work with Smashing Pumpkins before becoming a member of another big name Seattle act, Pearl Jam. Shepherd formed the short lived band, Wellwater Conspiracy before collaborating with Screaming Trees founder, Mark Lanegan, amongst other activities.
After an absence of over a decade, the members of Soundgarden got the new decade off to the best possible start when they announced on New Year’s Day, 2010 that they had decided to get back together. They performed their first show in thirteen years in their hometown of Seattle in April of that year, before headlining Lollapalooza and releasing a new greatest hits package, "Telephantasm," which featured a previously unreleased song named, "Black Rain." The next year, they made fans dreams come true with the confirmation that they were working on a new album, though they made it clear that it wouldn’t surface for at least a year. Their first new material came this past summer, when they contributed the song, "Live to Rise" to the soundtrack of the comic book blockbuster, "The Avengers." In just over a week, the band will release its first album of new material in sixteen years, "King Animal," which could fairly be called one of the most anticipated records of the year. Time will tell if stands up to their previous work, a hard thing to do considering their back catalogue helped them become one of the biggest rock bands in the world for a time, and helped their city become the coolest place on Earth for a while, but regardless of the outcome, fans, and the rock world in general, are thankful that Soundgarden is back on the scene once more.
Soundgarden - "Flower"
Soundgarden - "Get On The Snake"
Soundgarden - "Rusty Cage"
Soundgarden - "Spoonman"
Soundgarden - "Ty Cobb"
Soundgarden - "Non-State Actor"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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