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Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil Talks ‘Badmotorfinger’ Reissue, 2017 Plans + ’90s Grunge Explosion

Soundgarden Kim Thayil
Cindy Ord, Getty Images

Soundgarden fans, there’s plenty of reason to rejoice as the band just issued a massive 25th anniversary reissue of ‘Badmotorfinger’ and have plans to work on new music and tour in 2017. Loudwire Nights host Toni Gonzalez recently had a chance to speak with guitarist Kim Thayil about the ‘Badmotorfinger’ reissue and also got an update on the band’s 2017 plans. Check out the chat below.

There are four different packages of the Badmotorfinger reissue now available to Soundgarden fans. For the person who rarely has the original album, and is considering maybe the single CD option, what changes sonically? And will the average, untrained ear even notice?

Well, I think it’s gonna be a little louder and you’ll probably hear some clarity and brightness on the top end has probably improved and probably a bigger push on the bottom end. A little warmer there. That’s – a lot of it is done to keep up with technology and the different formats that are available now as opposed to 25 years ago.

For the diehards, there’s the 7-disc / super deluxe edition. That’s a total of 79 previously unreleased tracks, videos and mixes, which is so much content. Who is literally sitting there and going through all of this to decide what makes the cut?

[Laughs] Well, basically that’s our A&R guy, Jeff, and myself. Eventually we kind of go through the material and at some point will see what’s — we first have to appraise the quality. Is it something that’s going to be listenable? Are the performances intact? And once we went through the entire live performance, for instance, which takes up two of the CDs and the DVD performance. Once we realized that the audio was great and it sounded fantastic and the performance was great, we realized we had something that was definitely releasable. That was an entire surprise. This thing had been buried for 24 years or so. The other stuff, it’s the same deal. They’re outtakes.

We kind of hesitate and think, well are the songs complete? Are the tracks available for all the instruments or are the performances any good? Generally, outtakes are going to be a little off because they were things that wasn’t going to be the final version or make the final cut. Plus it’s a lot of fun because you get to see the development of the song. You see how the plane changed and maybe how the arrangement might have moved around a bit. So, yeah. All of it is risk taking, explore that, try to decide what it is you like about particular good piece and you think well, if I was a fan I’d love to hear this. I am a fan and I love hearing this, so this can work.

Of everything that made the cut, what was the one song or video or perhaps even an image that brought back the most fondest memories for you?

Wow, that’s a tough one. The whole album really started – listening to it in sequence which isn’t something I had done in a long time. I listened to a lot of songs out of context, learning to play them live or hearing the singles like “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Rusty Cage.” I think some of the deeper cuts, like “Holy Water” which we don’t play live and was on a single. That was refreshing to hear, things like “Mind Riot.” I think those brought back some fond memories in that I heard things I hadn’t heard in a long time. I relearned aspects of the album and the recording sessions that I hadn’t thought of it a quite a while.

You spoke about falling in love with the album and so much has been written about it. And it actually sounded, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you had forgotten that some of the songs were actually on the album.

[Laughs] No, I never — I can name all of the songs on all of our albums. What happened was, listening to it in sequence. I’m gonna listen to the outtakes, perhaps the live songs. I’m gonna listen to the remastering, I’m not listening for one particular thing. I’m not gonna be listening for the quality of the performance or the quality of the master. I’m listening to it repeatedly. I may be focusing on the tracks I’m best acquainted with. You might listen to, a test master — the engineer might give you a test master of one of the hits, like “Rusty Cage” or “Outshined” and you listen to that. You listen to the whole album and perhaps I’m listening to the album while reviewing artwork or some video material that we’re gonna release. It gives me the different context and you start becoming surprised at the density and variety – not surprised – but will remind you of the density and variety that is on the album. I mean, [laughs]

I think at any time – if there was any occasion we would think of ourselves as being a heavy band, a hard rock band, which we basically are, we would think of exploring different ways to be heavy — to be rock or psychedelic or to be a hard rock band, not just simply a one dimensional visceral band and I think that Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Screaming Life which was one of my favorite albums in the last 30 years and think those qualities coming through with the band. I think it’s there on all the albums but Badmotorfinger, listening to is top to bottom a number of times over the past year, that’s what struck me. Now I knew the set list, it’s understanding the sequence and the strength of some of the deeper cuts and hearing them in that context.

The huge news is that Soundgarden will be headlining one night of America’s biggest annual hard rock festival, Rock on the Range, in May of 2017. What makes that the right time for Soundgarden to take it to the stage once again?

It’s been a while. Matt’s been doing some touring with Pearl Jam. Chris has been touring and promoting Higher Truth and just recently last week I got to see two nights here in Seattle of Temple of the Dog, which was great because they only played once before and I saw that 25 years ago. So I think that’ been taking up a lot of time with those guys. I’ve been eating up a lot of time with Badmotorfinger 25th anniversary set and some other projects that we’re exploring with our catalog. So it’s been a while. We’ve been writing and we really want to get back in the studio and finish writing a new album. But since we also haven’t played in about, let’s see — I think our last show might have been a year and a few months ago. It was in Toronto. So we’re gonna go out there, keep our chops up and keep everything fresh and tend to our fans. I’m sure people are seeing Chris solo or seeing Temple of the Dog or and I get the text and emails, when are you guys going out?

Since there are no more touring commitments as far as I know for Temple of the Dog, Chris Cornell or Pearl Jam in 2017, does it mean that Soundgarden will be the main focus for all of the band members and you’re done with the anniversary set and whatever your other commitments are. Is the focus going to be Soundgarden?

Yeah, primarily but Soundgarden is always there and the main focus or added to the back burner if everyone is gonna do whatever it is that’s on their agenda, one of the first focuses. The primary thing was always in the back of our mind. Everybody has been writing through this whole period of time. We’ve gotten together three to four times in the past year to share ideas and demos, trying to learn each other’s songs and to just see what kind of material we have and flesh things out. So that process has been going on and now we can dedicate more time to that. That’s what we look forward to, certainly in 2017.

Going back to Rock on the Range, with the reissue of Badmotorfinger, will there be an extra focus on performing those songs live? Or, will fans possibly see new music in Ohio?

We’re probably not going to debut new music live. I think we’re kind of in an age where most new music – back in the early days we debuted all this stuff at our club gigs. If any of the bands had new songs, whether it was Green River or Mudhoney or Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden. We’d go see each other do the new material. That was a different time. I think nowadays our material is gonna debut on a recording and a record release, and then we’ll play it live. For obvious reasons, if we went out there and pushed a new song live I think it would end up all over Youtube. But as far as Badmotorfinger, we haven’t fully discussed that. When the Superunknown 20th anniversary came out we played a few showcases that featured the entire album top to bottom. We have no plans to do that with Badmotorfinger, but so much of the album are included as standbys in our set. From “Searching,” “Outshined,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Rusty Cage,” “Room a Thousand Years Wide” and even “New Damage.” These songs, they get a lot of live play so it’s very likely that our set will be filled up with a lot of Badmotorfinger.

I know you keep getting asked, when is the new Soundgarden album going to be out? Late 2017, you’ve answered. We know you’ve been writing, we know there’s been some songs demo’d. When is the next time the band plans to all come together and maybe write, or record and how consistently are you guys getting together at this point?

I referred to that earlier, over the past year we’ve gotten together three to four times. It would have to be in breaks with the Pearl Jam and Chris’ solo touring schedule. So I think now that that slate is cleared, I think in 2017 we’ll find more time for us to get together and write and then hit the studio. Given the writing and recording part, you’d hope to have something out next year in 2017. The whole process is a little different now because of other commitments. We could take breaks in between and do some touring or – it’s hard to tell. I think King Animal transpired over a period of … Trying to think, over a year or so? It’s hard to tell, but I think we could probably aim for the fall of 2017.

What are your thoughts on musicians releasing surprise albums with no promotion and no set release date?

I think that’s great. I think that works for a certain artist. If Beyonce were to do something like that, that’s a big pop in the news and the internet for her fans, they just jump on it. That surprise is fantastic. I think there are certain bands it would have worked with when I was growing up or even in our heyday. But, it’s hard to tell. I think if you’re huge and an established act and you throw something out there and you already have an audience waiting for something? I think that could do really well. I think if you gotta get the troops and collect everyone’s attention to let them be aware of what’s going on, not just with ourselves but many other bands who share some of the fanbase. I think it might be a good idea, that’ll it’ll kinda let them know what’s going on.

But who knows. I think the surprise is ruined at least for this record because – but who knows. Maybe the next record. There are some other records that we’re working on. I guess this won’t spoil the surprise, because I’ve mentioned this before but Ultramega OK, our first full length album and our second album, but our first album that came out on SST Records, that’s been out of print now for about three years, we’ve remixed it, remastered it, we’re just tightening up the artwork and we plan on releasing that in early spring / late winter of 2017. Hopefully within five or six months we’ll be releasing that album on Sub Pop Records. And there is another surprise, but there, that’s something that we’re working on out of our catalog. It won’t be unannounced. [laughs]

Do you think we’ll ever see a total shift in rock music similar to the grunge era in our lifetime?

I hope so. It’s really hard to anticipate that. Obviously the success of the grunge and Seattle scene really took a lot of people by surprise, that’s why it became big news. People were kind of looking one way and then out came Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney. That connects specifically with Nirvana’s success. It caught a lot of people by surprise. There was a huge audience, which consisted of all of us, the music we were listening to. We were listening to bands on SST, Sub Pop. We were listening to a lot of indie rap. There was a lot of indie stuff going on, alt rock and with rap and the main scene was looking elsewhere. They were looking elsewhere for their hard rock and they were looking elsewhere for their pop. They were ignoring millions of fans that were not buying records by major labels.

They were buying indie stuff and trading in mixtapes. So when Nirvana came out it was a demographic and a fan base that the record companies seemed to be missing or ignoring. I think perhaps that can occur again. Things are really splintered. There seems to be so many bands and some of them are just brilliant and they’re not getting heard or recognized because they are lost in a sea of other brilliant bands. And there’s also, amongst all the brilliant bands, there’s a lot of crap out there but that’s what happens. There’s just so much talent both with players and songwriters and there are some great ideas, and some not so great ideas. But there’s a lot of talent out there either way. I think at some point, something will come together and the focus will be drawn to another particular artist or a particular movement. Anything can happen. It’s hard to say what and how.

Do you have any big special holiday plans?

I think I’m gonna see a few of the band members of the holidays. Just your regular Christmas stuff with friends and family in a very secular sense, I think with myself. Varying degrees. We have friends of various degrees of commitment to the sentiments or religions but I think everyone loves the gathering of family and friends around the holidays.

Our thanks to Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil for the interview. You can pick up the ‘Badmotorfinger’ reissue in Super Deluxe, 2CD Deluxe, 2LP or single CD package.  As stated, keep an ear out for new music as well as the remixed and remastered ‘Ultramega OK’ and look for the band on tour at these locations. And find out where you can hear Loudwire Nights right here.

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