Soundgarden was one of the seminal bands in the creation of grunge, a style of alternative rock that developed in Seattle, and was one of a number of grunge bands signed to the record label Sub Pop. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign to a major label (A&M Records, in 1988), though the band did not achieve commercial success until Seattle contemporaries Nirvana and Pearl Jam popularized "grunge" in the early 1990s.
Soundgarden achieved its biggest success with the 1994 album Superunknown, which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and yielded the Grammy Award-winning singles "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman." In 1997, the band broke up due to internal strife over its creative direction. On January 1, 2010, Cornell alluded to a Soundgarden reunion, though no details have yet been released. Soundgarden has sold over eight million records in the United States, and an estimated twenty million worldwide.
Formation and early recordings (1984–1988)Edit
Soundgarden traces its origins to a cover band called The Shemps, which performed around Seattle in the early 1980s, and featured bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer and singer Chris Cornell. Following Yamamoto's departure, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil as its new bassist. Thayil had moved to Seattle from Park Forest, Illinois, with Yamamoto and Bruce Pavitt, who would later start the independent record label Sub Pop. Cornell and Yamamoto stayed in contact, and after The Shemps broke up Cornell and Yamamoto started jamming together, and were eventually joined by Thayil.
Soundgarden was formed in 1984 by Cornell (drums and vocals at the time), Yamamoto (bass), and Thayil (guitar). The band named themselves after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture, "A Sound Garden," located on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property next to Magnuson Park, Seattle. Cornell originally played drums while singing, but in 1985 the band enlisted Scott Sundquist to allow Cornell to concentrate on vocals. The band traveled around playing various concerts with this line-up for about a year. Their first recordings were three songs that appeared on a 1986 compilation album for C/Z Records called Deep Six. It also featured songs by fellow grunge pioneers Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, The U-Men, and The Melvins. In 1986, Sundquist left the band to spend time with his family, and was replaced by Matt Cameron, the drummer for Skin Yard.
KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman was impressed after seeing Soundgarden perform one night, later saying, "I saw this band that was everything rock music should be." Poneman offered to fund a release by the band, so Thayil told him to team up with Bruce Pavitt. Poneman offered to contribute $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop, effectively turning it into a full-fledged record label. Soundgarden signed to Sub Pop, and the label released "Hunted Down" in 1987 as the band's first single. The B-side of the "Hunted Down" single, "Nothing to Say," appeared on the KCMU compilation tape Bands That Will Make Money, which was distributed to record companies, many of whom showed interest in Soundgarden. Through Sub Pop, the band released the Screaming Life EP in 1987, and the Fopp EP in 1988. A combination of the two was issued as Screaming Life/Fopp in 1990.
Debut album, major label signing, and rift with audience (1988–1990)Edit
Though the band was being courted by major labels, in 1988 it signed to the smaller label SST Records for its debut album, Ultramega OK, released on October 31, 1988. Cornell said that the band "made a huge mistake with Ultramega OK" since they used a producer suggested by SST who "didn't know what was happening in Seattle." On that album, Soundgarden demonstrates, according to Steve Huey of Allmusic, a "Stooges/MC5-meets-Zeppelin/Sabbath sound." The band's first music video, "Flower," was directed by Mark Miremont, and aired regularly on MTV's 120 Minutes. Soundgarden supported Ultramega OK with a tour in the United States in the spring of 1989 and a tour in Europe, which began in May 1989 and was the band's first overseas tour. Ultramega OK earned the band a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1990.
After touring in support of Ultramega OK the band signed with A&M Records, which caused a rift between Soundgarden and its traditional audience. Thayil said, "In the beginning, our fans came from the punk rock crowd. They abandoned us when they thought we had sold out the punk tenets, getting on a major label and touring with Guns N' Roses. There were fashion issues and social issues, and people thought we no longer belonged to their scene, to their particular sub-culture." The band subsequently began work on its first album for a major label, and personnel difficulties caused a shift in the band's songwriting process, according to Cornell: "At the time Hiro [Yamamoto] had excommunicated himself from the band and there wasn't a free-flowing system as far as music went, so I ended up writing a lot of it." On September 5, 1989, the band released its second album, Louder Than Love, which saw the band take "a step toward the [heavy] metal mainstream," according to Steve Huey of Allmusic, describing "a slow, grinding, detuned mountain of Sabbath/Zeppelin riffs and Chris Cornell wailing." Because of some of the lyrics, most notably on "Hands All Over" and "Big Dumb Sex", the band faced various retail and distribution problems upon the album's release. Louder Than Love became the band's first album to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 108 on the chart in 1990.
A month before touring for Louder Than Love commenced, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who was becoming frustrated that he wasn't contributing much, left to go back to college. He was replaced by Jason Everman, formerly of Nirvana. The band toured North America from December 1989 to March 1990, opening for Voivod, which was supporting their album Nothingface tour, with Faith No More also serving as an opening act at the beginning and end of the tour. The band then went on to tour Europe. Bassist Jason Everman was fired immediately after Soundgarden completed its promotional tour for Louder Than Love in mid-1990; Thayil said that "Jason just didn't work out." Louder Than Love spawned the EP Loudest Love and the video compilation Louder Than Live, both released in 1990.
Established lineup, censorship, and rise in popularity (1991–1993)Edit
Bassist Ben Shepherd replaced previous bassist Jason Everman and the new line-up recorded Soundgarden's third album in 1991. Cornell said that Shepherd brought a "fresh and creative" approach to the recording sessions, and the band as a whole said that his knowledge of music and writing skills redefined the band. The resulting album, Badmotorfinger, was released on October 8, 1991. Steve Huey of Allmusic said that the songwriting on Badmotorfinger "takes a quantum leap in focus and consistency." He added, "It's surprisingly cerebral and arty music for a band courting mainstream metal audiences." Thayil suggested that the album's lyrics are "like reading a novel [about] man's conflict with himself and society, or the government, or his family, or the economy, or anything." The first single from Badmotorfinger, "Jesus Christ Pose", garnered attention when MTV decided to ban its corresponding music video in 1991. Many listeners were outraged by the song and its video, perceiving it as anti-Christian. The band received death threats while on tour in the United Kingdom in support of the album. Cornell explained that the lyrics criticize public figures who use religion (particularly the image of Jesus Christ) to portray themselves as being persecuted. Although overshadowed at the time of its release by the sudden popularity of Nirvana's Nevermind, the focus of attention brought by Nevermind to the Seattle scene helped Soundgarden gain wider attention. The singles "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" were able to find an audience at alternative rock radio and MTV. Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992. The album was among the 100 top selling albums of 1992.
Following the release of Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden went on a tour in North America that ran from October 1991 to November 1991. Afterward, the band took a slot opening for Guns N' Roses in North America on the band's Use Your Illusion Tour. Soundgarden was personally selected by Guns N' Roses as its opening band. The band took a slot opening for Skid Row in North America in February 1992 on the band's Slave to the Grind tour, and then headed to Europe for a month-long headlining theater tour. The band returned for a tour in the United States and subsequently rejoined Guns N' Roses in the summer of 1992 in Europe as part of the Use Your Illusion Tour along with fellow opening act Faith No More. Regarding the time spent opening for Guns N' Roses, Cornell said, "It wasn't a whole lot of fun going out in front of 40,000 people for 35 minutes every day. Most of them hadn't heard our songs and didn't care about them. It was a bizarre thing." The band would go on to play the 1992 Lollapalooza tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and Ministry, among others. In anticipation of the band's appearance at Lollapalooza, a limited edition of Badmotorfinger was released in 1992 with a second disc containing the EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas (a palindrome), featuring Soundgarden's cover of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void", titled "Into the Void (Sealth)", which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1993. The band later released the video compilation Motorvision, which was filmed at the Paramount Theatre in 1992. The band also made an appearance in the movie Singles performing "Birth Ritual". The song appeared on the soundtrack, as did a Cornell solo song, "Seasons".
Breakthrough Album and Mainstream Success (1994–1995)Edit
Soundgarden began working on its fourth album after touring in support of Badmotorfinger. Cornell said that while working on the album the band members allowed each other more freedom than on past records, while Thayil observed that the band spent a lot more time working on the actual recording of the songs than on previous records. Released on March 8, 1994, Superunknown became the band's breakthrough album, driven by the singles "Spoonman", "The Day I Tried to Live", "Black Hole Sun", "My Wave", and "Fell on Black Days"; Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The songs on Superunknown captured the creativity and heaviness of the band's earlier works, while showcasing the group's newly evolving style. Lyrically, the album was quite dark and mysterious, and of it is often interpreted to be dealing with substance abuse, suicide, and depression. Cornell was inspired by the writings of Sylvia Plath at the time. The album was also more experimental than previous releases, with some songs incorporating Middle-Eastern or Indian music. J. D. Considine of Rolling Stone said Superunknown "demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career." He also stated, "At its best, Superunknown offers a more harrowing depiction of alienation and despair than anything on In Utero." The music video for "Black Hole Sun" became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards and in 1995 it received the Clio Award for Alternative Music Video. Soundgarden won two Grammy Awards in 1995; "Black Hole Sun" received the award for Best Hard Rock Performance and "Spoonman" received the award for Best Metal Performance. Superunknown was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 1995. Superunknown has been certified five times platinum in the United States and remains Soundgarden's most successful album.
The band began touring in January 1994 in Oceania and Japan, areas where the record came out early and where the band had never toured before. This round of touring ended in February 1994, and then in March 1994 the band moved on to Europe. They began a theater tour of the United States on May 27, 1994, with the opening acts Tad and Eleven. In late 1994, after touring in support of Superunknown, doctors discovered that Cornell had severely strained his vocal cords, and Soundgarden canceled several shows to avoid causing any permanent damage. Cornell said, "I think we kinda overdid it! We were playing five or six nights a week and my voice pretty much took a beating. Towards the end of the American tour I felt like I could still kinda sing, but I wasn't really giving the band a fair shake. You don't buy a ticket to see some guy croak for two hours! That seemed like kind of a rip off." The band would make up the dates later in 1995. Superunknown spawned the EP Songs from the Superunknown and the CD-ROM Alive in the Superunknown, both released in 1995.
Internal Conflicts and Breakup (1996–1997)Edit
Following the worldwide tour in support of Superunknown, the band began what would become the band's final album, having chosen to produce the record themselves. However, tensions within the group reportedly arose during the sessions, with Thayil and Cornell allegedly clashing over Cornell's desire to shift away from the heavy guitar riffing that had become the band's trademark. Cornell said, "By the time we were finished, it felt like it had been kind of hard, like it was a long, hard haul. But there was stuff we were discovering." The band's fifth album, Down on the Upside, was released on May 21, 1996. The album was notably less heavy than the group's preceding albums, and marked a further departure from the band's grunge roots; Soundgarden explained at the time that it wanted to experiment with other sounds, which included acoustic instrumentation: David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said, "Few bands since Led Zeppelin have so crisply mixed instruments both acoustic and electric." The overall mood of the album's lyrics is less dark as on previous Soundgarden albums, with Cornell describing some songs as "self-affirming." The album spawned several singles, including "Pretty Noose", "Burden in My Hand", and "Blow Up the Outside World." "Pretty Noose" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1997. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of Superunknown.
The band took a slot on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour with Metallica, who had insisted on Soundgarden's appearance on the tour. After Lollapalooza, the band embarked on a worldwide tour, and already-existing tensions increased during that tour. When asked whether the band hated touring, Cornell replied "We really enjoy it to a point, and then it gets tedious, because it becomes repetitious. You feel like fans have paid their money and they expect you to come out and play them your songs like the first time you ever played them. That's the point where we hate touring." At the tour's final stop in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 9, 1997, Shepherd threw his bass into the air in frustration after suffering equipment failure, and subsequently stormed off the stage. The band retreated, with Cornell returning to conclude the show with a solo encore. On April 9, 1997, the band announced it was disbanding. Thayil said, "It was pretty obvious from everybody's general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction." Cameron later said that Soundgarden was "eaten up by the business." Soundgarden's final release, a greatest hits collection entitled A-Sides, was released on November 4, 1997. The album includes 17 songs, including one previously-unreleased song titled Bleed Together. The track had been recorded during the Down On The Upside recording sessions.
Cornell released a solo album in September 1999, entitled Euphoria Morning. Later, in 2001, he formed the supergroup Audioslave with former members of Rage Against the Machine, which recorded three albums (Audioslave (2002), Out of Exile (2005), and Revelations (2006)). Cornell left Audioslave in early 2007, resulting in the band's break-up. His second solo album, Carry On, was released in June 2007 and his third solo album, Scream, produced by Timbaland, was released in March 2009, both to mixed commercial and critical success. Thayil joined forces with former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Gina Mainwal for one show, performing as The No WTO Combo during the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle on December 1, 1999. Thayil later contributed guitar tracks to Steve Fisk's 2001 album, 999 Levels of Undo, as well as Dave Grohl's 2004 side-project album, Probot. In 2006, Thayil played guitar on the album Altar, the collaboration between the bands Sunn O))) and Boris. Cameron initially turned his efforts to his side-project Wellwater Conspiracy, to which both Shepherd and Thayil have contributed. He then worked briefly with The Smashing Pumpkins on the band's 1998 album, Adore. In 1998, he stepped in on drums for Pearl Jam's Yield Tour, and subsequently joined Pearl Jam as a permanent member; he has recorded four albums as the band's drummer (Binaural (2000), Riot Act (2002), Pearl Jam (2006), and Backspacer (2009)). Shepherd was the singer on Wellwater Conspiracy's 1997 debut studio album, Declaration of Conformity, but left the band in 1998. He has toured with Mark Lanegan and played bass on two of Lanegan's albums, I'll Take Care of You (1999) and Field Songs (2001). Shepherd and Cameron lent a hand with recording Tony Iommi's album IOMMI (2000); they were part of the side-project band Hater while they were members of Soundgarden and in 2005 Shepherd released the band's long-delayed second album, The 2nd.
Regarding a future Soundgarden reunion, Cornell stated in an October 2005 interview that it would "probably not happen." He continued, "It's almost like we sealed the lid and said, this is Soundgarden and this is its lifespan, and put it out there. And it looks really great to me. I think getting back together would take the lid off that and then could possibly change what...to me seems like the perfect lifespan of the band. I can't think of any reason to mess with that." In interviews following his departure from Audioslave in February 2007, Cornell reiterated that the members of Soundgarden had no interest in reuniting, later explaining to NME, "When Soundgarden broke up, my discussions with the rest of the band was [sic] 'We have to have an agreement that we will never tour Soundgarden—Soundgarden will never exist—without it being a unanimous decision and that everyone who was in the band is in the band.'" In the 2009 book Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd all reflected on the possibility of a Soundgarden reunion, Thayil saying, "I don't see it. I'd imagine it could, it's perfectly within the realm of possibilities—everyone's still alive [laughs]. But I don't see it happening." On March 24, 2009, Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd reunited with Tad Doyle on lead vocals to perform "Hunted Down," "Nothing to Say," and "Spoonman" at a Tom Morello solo show at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle. In a July 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Cornell shot down rumors of a reunion, saying that conversations between the band members had been limited to discussion about the release of a box set or B-sides album of Soundgarden rarities, and that there had been no discussion of a reunion at all.
On October 6, 2009, all the members of Soundgarden attended Night 3 of Pearl Jam's four-night stand at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, CA. During an encore, Temple of the Dog reunited for the first time since Pearl Jam's show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on October 28, 2003. Chris Cornell joined the band to sing "Hunger Strike". It was the first public appearance of Soundgarden together since their breakup in April 1997. Conseqeuntly, rumors of an impending reunion were circulating on the internet.
On January 1, 2010, Cornell alluded to a Soundgarden reunion via his Twitter, writing: "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!" The message linked to a website that features a picture of the group performing live and a place for fans to enter their e-mail address to get updates on the reunion. Entering that information unlocks an archival video for the song "Get on the Snake," from Soundgarden's second studio album, 1989's Louder Than Love. The lastest rumors indicate the band may be headlining festivals such as Lollapalooza, although no official word has been emitted from the band.
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Musical style and influencesEdit
Soundgarden was a pioneer of the grunge music genre, which mixed elements of punk rock and heavy metal into a dirty, aggressive sound. Soundgarden's sound during the early years of the Seattle grunge scene has been described as consisting of "gnarled neo-Zeppelinisms." The influence of Led Zeppelin was evident, with Q magazine noting that Soundgarden were "in thrall to '70s rock, but contemptuous of the genre's overt sexism and machismo." According to Sub Pop, the band had "a hunky lead singer and fused Led Zeppelin and the Butthole Surfers." The Butthole Surfers' mix of punk, heavy metal and noise rock was a major influence on the early work of Soundgarden. Soundgarden, like other early grunge bands, were also influenced by British post-punk bands such as Gang of Four and Bauhaus which were popular in the early 1980s Seattle scene. Soundgarden broadened its musical range with its later releases. By 1994’s Superunknown, the band began to incorporate more pop and psychedelic influences into its music. As a member of Soundgarden, Cornell became known for his wide vocal range and his dark, existentialist lyrics.
Soundgarden often utilized alternative tunings in its songs. Many Soundgarden songs were performed in drop D tuning, including "Jesus Christ Pose," "Outshined," "Spoonman," and "Black Hole Sun". The E strings of the instruments were at times tuned even lower, such as on "Rusty Cage," where the lower E is tuned all the way down to B. Some songs use more unorthodox tunings: "My Wave" and "The Day I Tried to Live" are both in a E-E-B-B-B-E tuning.
Soundgarden also used unorthodox time signatures; while such songs as "Jesus Christ Pose" are in typical 4/4 time, "Outshined" is in 7/4, "My Wave" uses 5/4, "Black Hole Sun" is in 4/4 and uses 9/8 in the bridge section, "Fell on Black Days" and "Somewhere" are in 6/4, "Never the Machine Forever" uses 9/8, "Beyond the Wheel" uses 9/4, "Face Pollution" uses 9/8 and 6/4, "Rusty Cage" uses 4/4 for the majority of the song and a repeated pattern of 3/4, 2/4, and 5/4 in its coda, and "Spoonman" alternates between 7/4 and 4/4 sections. Thayil has said that Soundgarden usually did not consider the time signature of a song until after the band had written it, and said that the use of odd meters was "a total accident."
Soundgarden was one of the early bands of the 1980s Seattle music scene and is regarded as being one of the originators of the genre later known as grunge. The development of the Seattle independent record label Sub Pop is tied closely to Soundgarden, since Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman funded Soundgarden's early releases, and the band's success led to the expansion of Sub Pop as a serious record label. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was a fan of Soundgarden's early music, and reportedly Soundgarden's involvement with Sub Pop influenced Cobain to sign Nirvana with the label. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign to a major label when the band joined the roster of A&M Records in 1989. Soundgarden, however, did not achieve initial success, and only with successive album releases did the band meet with increased sales and wider attention.
Regarding Soundgarden's legacy, in a 2007 interview Cornell said, "I think and this is now with some distance in listening to the records but on the outside looking in with all earnestness I think Soundgarden made the best records out of that scene. I think we were the most daring and experimental and genre pushing really and I'm really proud of it. And I guess that's why I have trepidation about the idea of reforming. I don't know what it would mean. I guess I just have this image of who we were and I had probably a lot of anxiety during the period of being Soundgarden, as we all did, that it was a responsibility and it was an important band of music and we didn't want to mess it up and we managed to not, which I felt is a great achievement." Soundgarden has been praised for its technical musical ability and the expansion of its sound as the band's career progressed. "Heavy yet ethereal, powerful yet always-in-control, Soundgarden's music was a study in contrasts," said Henry Wilson of Hit Parader. Wilson proclaimed the band's music as "a brilliant display of technical proficiency tempered by heart-felt emotion." Soundgarden is one of the bands credited with the development of the genre of alternative metal, with Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic stating that "Soundgarden made a place for heavy metal in alternative rock." Ben Ratliff of Rolling Stone defined Soundgarden as the "standard-bearers of stoner rock" during the 1990s. The band inspired and influenced a number of bands, ranging from The Dillinger Escape Plan to Trapt.