Kim Thayil Tells Stories of Soundgarden's Best Songs - Rolling Stone
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Kim Thayil Tells Stories of Soundgarden’s Best Songs

The band’s guitarist breaks down new best-of ‘Telephantasm’ track by track

What exactly does Telephantasm — the title of Soundgarden‘s new best-of, which hits stores today — mean? We asked guitarist Kim Thayil, who came up with the name. “‘Tele’ is at a distance, or from afar,” he explains. “And ‘Phantasm’ is an illusion, or could be used to refer to a ghost. So I guess ‘Telephantasm’ would be an illusion at a distance, or a ghost from afar. Which I think would be an appropriate reference to what we have here — a retrospective of a band that had been inactive for thirteen years.”

The album — which coincides with Soundgarden’s first live dates since 1997, and includes the previously unreleased tune, “Black Rain” — will be released in four configurations: as a single disc with twelve tracks, two-CD/one-DVD set, a three-LP vinyl package, and a “super deluxe” version that includes the CDs and vinyl, liner notes, photos, and more. Meanwhile, Thayil says, “There are definitely other releases coming down the pike. For one, that B Sides record I’ve been threatening for 15 years now. There’s live material that we’ve been mixing, there’s some material that was never released, that was intended for [Screaming Life]. And I certainly wouldn’t rule out the interest amongst the band in doing some new stuff.” In the meantime, Thayil has shared his thoughts and memories about Telephantasm’s 12 main tracks.

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“Hunted Down”

That was the A side of our first single. But for some reason, it wasn’t included on the [1997] album A Sides — the B side of the single was included on A Sides. That’s about the level of communication the band was at back then [laughs]. It has a heavy, visceral riff, a nice chaotic noise-jazz. I don’t know if they’re really “solos,” they’re sort of “accent leads” in between the verses. I think originally, we did the song slower, because we wanted it to sound heavy. But it naturally sped up and became more up-tempo rock riff.

“Hands All Over”

I think there was a minor protest about [the lyric “You’re gonna kill your mother”] — of course, “your mother” being a metaphor for the environment or the Earth. People flipped out about that. But I am going to go on the record now to tell everyone, “Kill your fucking mother!” [Laughs]

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The video we released, by [directors John] Dayton and [Julie] Faris, was one of the first videos the two had done for MTV. But that was not the original video — the original video was shot by Matt Mahurin, and personally, I thought was much more beautifully shot. But it was not satisfactorily edited and put together. The video that did get released was thrown together at the last minute — it got a lot of airplay, but it was not the original and intended video.

“Rusty Cage”

Chris came up with that intro, and augmented it by suggesting we use a wah-wah pedal on it. And then came up with this really cool, backwards sound. What I love about that song is the arrangement — it has this one kind of “A” section, then it goes to a “B” section, and then culminates in this slower, heavy “C” section. I love the way it starts out kind of fast, and ends in a heavy, undanceable riff.

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“Birth Ritual”

That’s a cool riff that Matt [Cameron] wrote. That track ultimately was reserved for the Soundgarden B Sides album, which we’ve been discussing for about a decade now. [Telephantasm] would have been the B Sides album, had it not been for the fact that we need to re-establish ourselves with the rock and roll audience out there, the younger audience.

“Black Hole Sun”

When we heard Chris’ demo, we said, “This could be a very popular song.” Once we fleshed it out, we definitely felt very strongly that there was something about that song that was going to have an appeal beyond just the rock musicians that we had appealed to. It seemed like that song might be picking up some housewives and people who listen to rock radio while commuting to and from work … maybe even some junior high school girls.

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[Pearl Jam’s] Jeff Ament had made up a mock set list of titles [for a demo tape on the set of Singles], and Chris [Cornell] thought that the titles were interesting, and wrote songs for each of those titles. That was some time after we lost Andy Wood, the singer for Mother Love Bone, and Chris became very prolific.

“My Wave”

Whenever we start that song, the whole audience bounces up and down — it’s as if they’re at a Rage Against the Machine concert. But unlike a Rage Against the Machine concert, we’re not going to whip you with a 4/4 dance groove. Instead, that song very quickly is established as the 5/4 song it is. That loses everybody.

“Fell On Black Days”

The title really captures the whole thing — the feel of the song. I like the song now more than I liked it then. I liked the song then, but it was a little more mellow and subdued. I like listening to it more than I liked playing it. But now, I actually enjoy playing it.

“Burden in My Hand”

It has that “classic rock element” to it, but I don’t know, I thought “Black Hole Sun” may have had that, too. I thought of “Burden in My Hand” as the contemporary “Hey Joe.” I thought there was something to the melody, the lyric, and the feel — the overall emotive sort of discomfort and beauty that that song elicited was very similar to that sort of squirming beauty that “Hey Joe” elicited.

“Blow Up the Outside World”

Even though there’s an aspect of blues guitar playing — which I definitely picked up either by osmosis or just assimilating rock guitar — I’m not generally a huge fan of blues in general. But I am with specific artists. And with “Blow Up the Outside World,” which is sort of a pop arrangement, I remember approaching that with a blues sensibility. It was very strange, because it is a pop arrangement, but it had a feel to it like a blues song, so that’s why I came up with the blues solos for that.

“Black Rain”

(Review) I’ve been reading some stuff on web forums, and some people refer this to as a “brand new song,” and some people are disappointed because they think it’s an old song. Well, they can rest assured that in many ways, it’s a new song. It was uncompleted. I love that song, I think it’s got a heavy groove, and it’s got a couple of memorable rock guitar riffs in it. I’ve had a number of people point out that Chris’ vocal style and performance is very much from the Louder Than Love sessions. But there is something about the viscerality of the song that will remind you of Badmotorfinger. And then the intro and outro has got this ambient trippiness that you could file neatly with Superunknown.

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