“Soundgarden didn’t set out to destroy metal — just take it back to basics,” Rolling Stone magazine once wrote. “Thayil updated the forbidding sludge and tweaked-out solos of prime Zep.”
Kim Thayil, Soundgarden’s innovative lead guitarist, was in fact an architect of the stripped down, riff-based guitar sound that came to be known as grunge. Shaped by guitarists like Bob Mould and Thayil, and carried across the world by bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, grunge obliterated the hair band craze and took back to its roots.
And Thayil was among those leading the charge, playing refreshingly raunchy chords onto Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitar Players list in 2003.
He’s most certainly a guitar player you should know.
(photo by Randy Johnson for soundgardenworld.com)
Despite its links to the Seattle grunge sound, the seed for Soundgarden was planted at Rich East High School in Park Forest, Ill., where Thayil befriended bassist Hiro Yamamoto. After graduation the two headed west, where Thayil attended the University of Washington and shared a room with a young aspiring singer named Chris Cornell.
So was born Soundgarden, with three ambitious young musicians coming together 1984.
It would be quite a run – the band was among the first on the grunge seen to sign a record deal, and went on to win two Grammy awards. Thayil’s guitar sound, laced with raunchy power chords peppered with hard riffs, helped form the sound that came to be known as grunge.
Together they recorded a half-dozen albums, with Cornell and Thayil as the band’s driving force. However, creative differences and rising tension between the two would ultimately doom the band. By the end of 1996, when Soundgarden released it’s last album, Down on the Upside, Thayil’s songwriting contributions had dwindled to one song.
In the middle of 1997, after touring behind the album, Soundgarden disbanded.
Thayil hardly stopped playing. In his post-Soundgarden years he teamed up on several projects with various grunge alumns Foo Fighter and former Nirvana member Dave Grohl, as well as Greg Gilmore of Mother Love Bone. In 1999 Thayil also formed No WTO Combo with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.
But Soundgarden never loomed far off — the band’s popularity never really waned. Last year, Thayil played a gig with two of his former bandmates at a Seattle nightclub, at a show that also included guitar wiz Tom Morello. That seemed to get the ball rolling.
This year Soundgarden announced a reunion after a nearly 13-year break. Later this month the band is due to release Telephantasm, a retrospective album that will include on unreleased cut, “Black Rain.”
Thayil, of course, will be back where he belongs — in the band that helped start it all.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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