Soundgarden Prepare Live Album, Plot Return to Studio

The band's first-ever live album, 'Live on I-5,' arrives while reunited band works on new material

February 18, 2011 8:50 AM ET
Danny Clinch

Ever since word got out last year that Soundgarden were reuniting for a handful of live performances, fans have been waiting to find out if the reunion was going to be a full-time proposition. Now, it appears that Soundgarden admirers are finally getting their wish. With the March 22nd release of their first-ever live album, Live on I-5 (comprised of performances from their 1996 West Coast tour), comes the news that Soundgarden has been jamming on ideas that will lead to a return to the recording studio sometime this year – which means the group's first new studio album since 1996's Down on the Upside.

Guitarist Kim Thayil recently gave Rolling Stone an update on what's currently going on in the world of Soundgarden and what to expect in the coming months.

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Why was there not a full tour after Lollapalooza last year?

The thing that got in the way of that the most, Matt [Cameron] had Pearl Jam obligations and Chris [Cornell] had some solo obligations. It took a lot to catch up on 13 years. You have to learn a whole bunch of songs to get ready for a few shows, and of course, putting out [compilation album] Telephantasm. And the "Black Rain" video. I was representing the band, supervising Telephantasm from artwork to track listing. So that was a big project. Then starting on mixing, mastering, and designing the artwork and packaging for the Live on I-5 album. And Ben [Shepherd] wrote and recorded a solo record in that period too, that hasn't been released. It was a very busy year for us.

Were the performances on Live on I-5 supposed to come out in 1997, but got shelved when the band broke up?

We brought Adam Kasper out on the West Coast leg of our headlining '96 tour. We wanted him to record it for a number of things - as a way to appraise and review the performances, we were hoping to maybe provide content for B sides for foreign releases, and possibly, to do a live record. So that's what was on our mind. Of course, the band broke up after that tour.

When I spoke with Matt and Ben about Soundgarden's 1996-1997 tour for the book Grunge is Dead, Matt said, "The shows were increasingly bad," but Ben thought it was "the most creative and destructive music that I'd ever heard or been part of." Where do you stand?

I think Chris and I were also drinking a bunch. I think there may have been the occasion of some "smashing" in the dressing room. But I completed all the shows! [Laughs] I didn't storm off the stage or smash my guitar out of...well, if I ever banged my guitar around, from Soundgarden's first gig to its last gig, it wasn't out of theater. It was more out of passion or frustration.

Adam [Kasper] was recording the West Coast leg of the tour – there were a number of great shows. And even among the bad shows, there were great performances of individual songs. We didn't pick tracks from every performance. What we chose ultimately was not just great performances, but a great recording. Ultimately, Adam is going through the tapes and finding really sonic performances. Great drum sounds or guitar sounds. Then you find the performances that go along with those sounds. Then you might look for inventive or particularly expressive or emotive performances.

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What did you think of Live on I-5 when you heard it from start to finish?

Ben and I were just talking about this last weekend – we're both still in awe of this album, the performances and the songs. It's kind of ridiculous how fast we're playing "Jesus Christ Pose" or "Ty Cobb" – it's much faster than the studio version. And there are some crazy fills in there from Ben, Matt and me. Guitar solo things, weird bass runs and drum stuff. I think everyone was listening to the recordings and were surprised by individual performances, flourishes, and collective performances.

There is also a bonus disc of tracks if the album is purchased through the Soundgarden site, or as downloadable content through iTunes, right?

Tentatively, we're calling it Before the Doors, because it's during soundcheck, before the doors were opened. We'd run through some songs and record them – both as a test of the recording equipment, but also for us to run through some songs that we may or may not want to include in our set. What's unusual about them is that they sound live, but there's no audience present. These amazing performances played to an empty arena, but you get the ambience and sound of the arena, and you get the reverb and echo that is emanating from the stage. It's a pretty trippy thing, it's like we're playing alone in a canyon or a cathedral.

Is there any talk of Soundgarden doing a full tour soon, as opposed to just one-off dates?

I think we're definitely interested in playing live again. It would be more satisfying if we were to get that momentum rolling. It's never ultimately satisfying to play a one-off show here and there, because you don't have the subsequent nights to redeem yourself if there is something that you feel went unsaid or something you feel went unexpressed or something you could do better. And the cool thing about being on a tour is there is always the next night. You have great nights, you have nights that aren't so great. And when you're on tour, you can build on that momentum.

Any chance of a full summer tour?

I think Matt's got some Pearl Jam commitments coming up, but we're always talking about stuff. There's always ideas. I don't mean to be vague, but we're always talking to each other and jamming with each other, and I think it's probably likely that we'll be playing live. And I think we would be happier to do that in tour form than just to do it as one-offs. If nothing's on paper or in stone, I wouldn't want to disappoint people – other than we want to do that and we're definitely talking about that.

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