Soundgarden enters its second spring with ‘Telephantasm’
CHICAGO ó Soundgarden’s four grunge princes will dutifully talk about their musical legacy, marketing, tricky guitar tunings, today’s diffuse Seattle scene ó and one another. Just don’t ask them about the future.
During the band’s 1984-1997 run, their songs usually made tomorrow sound pretty uncertain, anyway, and now that a reunion has taken hold, the members will not be rushed into anything by outside forces.
“I think we’re taking it one day at a time at this stage,” says lead singer Chris Cornell on the eve of Soundgarden’s headlining show at Lollapalooza last month. “It’s super-fun and we want to keep it that way. Nothing concrete on the books. … We’ll know when we get there.”
Touring? “We’re certainly getting offers, so that’s kind of fun to know there’s still an audience that wants to hear this type of music,” says drummer Matt Cameron.
Writing new material? “Could be,” says guitarist Kim Thayil.
Personal plans? “I’m supposed to go to the space station in March,” jokes bass player Ben Shepherd.
Recently, they’ve been teasing Soundgarden loyalists ó who bought more than 20 million copies of the five studio albums and two compilations worldwide ó with glimpses of what could be. The band tested the waters in April with a quietly announced show in its hometown, the first time the four had shared a stage in a dozen years. In August, a pre-Lollapalooza show for 1,500 at the Vic Theatre sold out instantly, and the group’s headlining set three nights later at the festival drew perhaps 40,000 ó and critical raves. Band insiders hint that arena dates in Seattle might be in store.
Dusting off the cobwebs
Now, the group is stoking the anticipation again with Tuesday’s release of Telephantasm, a career retrospective that’s receiving an unconventional marketing push. A 12-song single-disc version, including Black Hole Sun and Blow Up the Outside World, has been packaged with 1 million copies of the new Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock video game. The bundle provides instant access to downloadable Soundgarden songs for the game. That same disc goes on sale separately Oct. 5. Also out Tuesday are two deluxe versions, including one with a DVD of all the band’s videos, plus rarities.
First single Black Rain, an outtake from the 1991 sessions for Badmotorfinger, leaked to the Internet in August. The track has sold 31,000 downloads since being released digitally Aug. 17, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Producer/engineer Adam Kasper describes the track as a “hybrid of old and new ó a long basic track was recorded back then, and we rearranged it. Chris did a new vocal, Kim added guitar and special effects, everyone contributed.”
The lure of such waiting-to-be-rediscovered gems and the need to kick-start the band’s Internet merchandising brought them together last year. “We needed to pay attention to a neglected store, dust off the cobwebs,” says Thayil. “We didn’t have a website ( launched in March) or any e-presence at all.”
“There’s also a ton of unreleased material we’re trying to unearth,” adds Cameron. “We’re trying to relaunch our catalog (highlighted by 1994’s five-times-platinum Superunknown), adding bonus tracks, making it special for newer fans.”
“We were having a great time just hanging out,” says Cornell, “so we talked about the idea of maybe playing a show. It was sort of slow and natural. But it all started with us in a room deciding that we should maybe do something about reviving the legacy so that it wouldn’t disappear.”
Actually, it was simpler than that, Shepherd says: “Somebody said, ‘My uncle has a bar. You guys wanna jam? Let’s put on a show!’ ”
Solo projects still in the works
The industry pressures and creative differences that led to the group’s dissolution are at bay for now, and each member still pursues other musical paths. Cornell, 46, who played with grunge supergroup Audioslave and has recorded three solo albums, plans to do more of the solo acoustic dates he began in the spring. Cameron, 47, continues to drum for Pearl Jam, which he joined in 1998. (“They’ve been super-duper supportive of me doing this ó there is no weirdness,” he says.) Shepherd, 42, has just finished a solo album, working with Kasper, and Thayil, 50, is working on the archives and occasionally plays with other Seattle musicians “at a pace I like.”
Cornell and Thayil differ slightly on the role that camaraderie plays in the reunion: The singer says, “We’re a band that always got along,” while the guitarist says friendship “was probably an element, but it probably wasn’t the specific element. It’s primarily a business with us.”
But everyone is united on the need for this phase of the band’s career to be viewed as something other than a cash-in nostalgia trip. “There certainly are business considerations,” says Thayil, “but the other consideration is our longevity and how we’ve influenced this younger crop of bands out there. That’s what’s really satisfying.”
“That’s what I hate about marketing the ages of rock ‘n’ roll,” adds Cornell. “You either mean it or you don’t. You can be a little kid or an old man ó it doesn’t matter (as long as) you mean it. Hopefully, we still do.”