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Soundgarden's Kim Thayil on Rock Hall Nomination: 'This Is Important for Chris' Legacy'

Soundgarden photographed in New York City in 1989.
Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns

Soundgarden photographed in New York City in 1989.

Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil was jet lagged -- and sleeping -- after touring the U.K. with MC50 when he received word that the Seattle band had received its first nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Suffice it to say that was a welcome wake-up call.

The nomination potentially puts Soundgarden in the Rock Hall with fellow Seattle scenemakers Nirvana and Pearl Jam -- whose drummer, Matt Cameron, is in Soundgarden as well. The nomination also tags original bassist Hiro Yamamoto as well as Ben Shepherd and, of course, Chris Cornell, whose suicide in May of 2017 turned the band from an active into an archival concern.

Thayil took time out from reacclimating to share a few thoughts about the Rock Hall nod with Billboard.

Soundgarden's first-ever Rock Hall nomination. How does it feel?

Y'know, when I was first told I wasn't sure which end is up because of the jet lag. Then I took some time and wrapped my head around it, and I felt good. I thought this is important, especially for the legacy of Soundgarden, and for Chris' legacy. It's really important now to understand this from the perspective of the fans and to understand Soundgarden as both a current enterprise as well as a posthumous exercise.

Chris, of course, is not here for it. Does that make it a bit bittersweet?

It is very bittersweet. He would be pleased with it. That's certainly different from where we were maybe in the '80s and early '90s, but I know from Chris attending one or two (induction ceremonies) and inducting Heart that he saw the significance of it and saw how important it was to the fans and to the bands being inducted, and he said, "Yes, this is very important and it's cool," so he would be very excited.

And you have one guy who's already in the Rock Hall.

That's right, and Ben attended a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. I think I’m the only person in the group who's declined to go; I think there might have been one opportunity to go, and I didn't. But the (other guys) were struck by how important it was to the fans and that gave them a different perspective and they shared that with us, so I have that understanding of the event through what they appreciated about it.

Are you happy that Hiro is being included?

Yep. I definitely want Hiro to attend and participate in this. He was a founding member and very significant in crafting and establishing our sound and our style.

Was there a time when the young Soundgarden would have thumbed its nose at an institution like the Rock Hall?

Yeah, (laughs) y'know -- young, snotty. It's hard to appreciate or put perspective on quantifying achievement, especially in pop culture. How do you measure that? It doesn't seem significant when you're looking up and looking towards the forward trajectory of your career. But when you're put in the position, certainly in the last couple of years, to look at it in terms of your body of work and legacy, it is a different perspective. I don't know if it's a function of maturity or a function of circumstance; I think it may be a function of circumstance, but it does offer that perspective and understanding that you may or may not have when you're young and starting out and you have no particular reason to regard any institution in rock n' roll -- other than your responsibility to be disaffected and rebellious.

You spoke of Soundgarden as a "current enterprise" earlier. What do you mean by that?

Well, there's still catalog issues to address. There's still things we want to release -- old tapes, some live performances. So in that regard there is a current concern. But also looking back in terms of the legacy, something like this nomination is important. I never had a chance to look back like that and understand it in this way, in terms of the legacy and the body of work we've completed to this point.

So what do you understand now about what makes Soundgarden a Rock Hall caliber group?

I would end up looking at the influence and inspiration we've had to our fans and to a number of the young musicians and people who have gone on to start their own bands, bands that are also influential and doing something unique and individual that inspires me. It's great to know our work inspires them in the same way we appreciated Pink Floyd or the Ramones or Led Zep or the Stooges. That people are appreciating us in the same context that I appreciated my inspirations means we did the right thing and that we're very much a part of that community of creative music people. We're part of that tradition.

You've also been playing in the MC50, and the MC5 is nominated as well this year.

It'd be pretty trippy if they were both inducted, 'cause then Matt and I can play in both bands. The Stooges are in there, so the MC5 should be in there, of course. I'm a little partial, though, 'cause they're my favorite band ever.

What will be the next archival release from Soundgarden?

The Louder Than Love album just passed its 30 anniversary. We were very busy this year with other anniversary releases and, of course, the Artists Den release, but Louder Than Love will get a special package, probably to celebrate its 31st anniversary. And I think we'd like to put the Louder Than Live album out; It was released promotionally back in the day but never available commercially. Since it's all over YouTube we should make a nice little package available for release, including the DV, which was us live at The Whisky (in Los Angeles). That would be the one document of (bassist) Jason Everman's time with us.

Is there much around in the way of unheard original music, including stuff you were working on when Chris died?

There's stuff we recorded back in the early days with Sub Pop, just low-budget eight-track stuff we did with Jack Endino that never came out. In terms of stuff we're working on, that's kind of static right now. At some point we hope to work on that and complete the material we were writing.


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