Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil on Reissues, Rarities and What’s Next
Although the tour in support of their reunion album, King Animal has apparently ended, Soundgarden will keep up their profile in the coming months with a few new releases. The first will arrive Tuesday, when Sub Pop reissues the band’s first two classic EPs, 1987’s Screaming Life and 1988’s Fopp, together as a remastered single release (available as a CD, double LP and download), with a bonus track tacked on.
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Guitarist Kim Thayil recently spoke to Rolling Stone on several topics, including the Screaming Life/Fopp reissue, the early days and what’s next for the grunge band.
Why did the Screaming Life and Fopp EPs go out of print?
There was a little bit of neglect with our band and management together. The way we looked at catalog issues, we kind of thought, “We’ll get back to that. Let’s go forward.” So we were always looking forward. And unfortunately, the forward thinking of the band and management did not include having all the properties that we invested our creative and labor into keeping them active. For some reason, we let that slide, and that slid even more after the band broke up. So when we got back together again in 2010, it was really focusing on these catalog issues, merchandise and online presence.
What’s the story behind the extra track “Sub Pop Rock City”?
“Sub Pop Rock City” was off of the great compilation Sub Pop 200. Now that’s a must-have record, Sub Pop 200 – it’s a nice little box of a bunch of songs capturing just about every band that was on Sub Pop then, as well as other bands that never released records on Sub Pop but were affiliated with the community and scene. And we contributed the song “Sub Pop Rock City” to that. I think I wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics with Chris [Cornell].
Screaming Life was the second-ever band release by Sub Pop. At that point, did you realize there was something special brewing with other Seattle bands?
Oh yeah, totally. Because the Deep Six album came out in ’86, it was recorded in ’85, and that was a bunch of our colleagues from Seattle – the U-Men, Green River, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, and Skin Yard. The six of us played shows together, and there was another good half dozen bands, like Feast, My Eye, Bundle of Hiss, Girl Trouble, 64 Spiders. There was a really strong community. The Seattle bands would outdraw the national punk rock or metal bands that would come here and play for five hundred or a thousand people. And then Green River, Soundgarden, or Mother Love Bone would play, and they’d draw thirteen/fifteen hundred. It was going. So we were very aware of that.
I’m chronologically off by a little bit – by the time that Mother Love Bone, Green River, and Soundgarden were drawing really well, we had all made records. But prior to us making a record, it was pretty big. We were packing in all the venues that a local or indie band would play – mostly bars and clubs. We were setting attendance records, and there was a huge scene here. A lot of skateboards and a lot of black clothing. We were very aware of the growing scene and the fact that there were a lot of other bands.
There’s also the possibility of a collection of unreleased material. Will this upcoming set be just strictly B-sides, or also include some unreleased songs?
This is almost exclusively – there might be one or two exceptions – released material, focusing on original Soundgarden released and published material that has never been compiled on a Soundgarden album. Things from compilation records, like “Sub Pop Rock City,” for instance, might have been on the B-sides album.
I recall around the time of Badmotorfinger, a lot of non-album cover songs were issued overseas, like Devo’s “Girl U Want” and Budgie’s “Homicidal Suicidal.”
Those are covers, but if we focus on originals, there’s certainly enough for another album-plus. Around Badmotorfinger, we did the song “Cold Bitch,” which was an original. We did “Birth Ritual,” which was in the movie soundtrack for Singles. “Birth Ritual” we put out on the Telephantasm album, but that’s a compilation of already released songs. But as far as compiling an album’s worth of original material that hadn’t been compiled on other Soundgarden albums, this would be like another studio album.
So originals such as “Heretic” and “Toy Box” will be included?
Yeah, “Heretic,” maybe “Toy Box.” “Toy Box” was recorded during the Screaming Life period, eight-track with Jack Endino. There might be some interest in putting that together with other material from that period of time.
What’s next for Soundgarden?
Right now, a couple of guys are committed to other tours – Chris is doing a solo acoustic tour and Matt [Cameron] is out on the road with Pearl Jam. So this year  is going to be kind of tough for touring. But I will be tending to the catalog, compiling the B-sides record, which I first announced back in 1995 . . . it’s been almost 20 years of backburner neglect. The past four years, I’ve taken some action toward getting the ball rolling. Now it’s just a matter of working with Jeff Fura at A&M Records and getting this thing going. And of course, the reissue of Screaming Life, and the eventual remixing and re-release of Ultramega OK.
Would you like to see a follow-up to King Animal?
Yeah, the band has talked about that. That’s something that we’ll look at in the next two years.
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