How Seattle’s Sound, Became World Renowned,
Pt. 1 – Soundgarden.
Photo Credit – Soundgarden – Lance Mercer
As an outsider looking in, I have always been impressed, amazed, and confused by the family tree of the Seattle sound. The more I talk to “locals” the more it seems many Washingtonians share the same feelings, bear with me as I attempt, over several parts, to breakdown the backstory of Seattle’s most influential bands on the world.
We all know and love Soundgarden’s 1994 release Superunknown and we know how it propelled the band to new heights, really introducing them to the world and left a legacy that’s lasted almost 30 years. Saw the band touring Australia for the first time. The music video for Black Hole Sun is a hit on MTV and wins Best Metal/Hard Rock Video. Gaining two Grammy Awards in 1995; Black Hole Sun for Best Hard Rock Performance and Spoonman for Best Metal Performance.
As part of the 20th anniversary deluxe reissue, Chris commented on how the song writing had become a process for trauma he was still dealing with. While not stated directly, we can conclude this trauma included the passing of his friend, housemate, and fellow musician Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. In the liner notes, Chris said about the final track, Like Suicide “about all of these beautiful lives around us, twice as bright and half as long, careening into walls”.
There is no doubt, Superunknown was a game changer for Soundgarden and remains on many playlists, mine included, but their story starts more than 10 years earlier.
Travelling back to 1984, in the heart of Seattle we will find three fresh faced young men, Chris Cornell (20) Kim Thayil (24) and Hiro Yamamoto (23), but the bands roots do lie in Chicago. Kim and Hiro and friend Bruce Pavitt grew up there before moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1981 attending Evergreen State College in Olympia. Later making their way to Seattle.
After meeting Chris, they founded Soundgarden, named after the art structure A Sound Garden, erected in Magnuson Park, while Bruce started independent record label, Sub Pop.
This initial line up saw Chris singing from behind the drums, Hiro playing bass and Kim on lead guitar. In 1985 they recruited Scott Sundquist to take on drumming allowing Chris to take front of stage. Soundgarden’s earliest recordings can be found on C/Z Records heralded compilation album, Deep Six, featuring many of their contemporary artists, Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, The U-Men and the Melvins. This saw them play their first show at Top of the Court
1986 saw drummer Scott Sundquist is replaced by Matt Cameron and the band is signed to Sub Pop, releasing the Screaming Life EP in 1987, and the Fopp EP in 1988.
This led to the band signing to SST Records and releasing 1988s Ultramega OK, showing the bands many influences combining elements of 1960s psychedelic rock, 1970s hard rock and heavy metal, and 1980s hardcore punk. At the time Thayil told the Chicago Tribune: “We were a punk band with long hair, and we played with a punk attitude, but the music was slower, trippier.” Cornell told the Los Angeles Daily News: “A lot of people hated us, which I dug a lot. Sometimes it’s fun to be hated. When you’re always liked, you become self-conscious.”
On September 5th, 1989, Louder Than Love, the bands second studio album and major-label debut, released on A&M Records, marking the new wave of PNW bands to be signed to a major label. The tracks on Louder Than Love carried that metal-leaning punk sound, but also introduced us to a liberal use of drop D tuning with many songs featuring unorthodox time signatures.
Due to the poorly vailed intent and sometimes controversial style of the lyrics, particularly on Big Dumb Sex, a Parental Advisory sticker was placed on the album packaging. This more than likely helped attract the young audience to the album, not deter them, as the warning sticker was intended.
This time also saw Hiro leave the band, returning to college, and was briefly replaced by Jason Everman, formerly of Nirvana. Jason only recorded one track with Soundgarden, a cover of Beatles Come Together before being replaced by Ben Shepherd. With what we would now know to be the bands permanent line up, they set about recording their third studio album, Badmotorfinger.
Released on October 8th, 1991 and saw them embarking on a National tour supporting Guns N Roses on their 1992 Use Your Illusion tour.
This also saw the only Soundgarden song to be banned on MTV, that ban for Jesus Christ Pose still stands today. The song was viewed as anti-Christian with the video outraging many, to the point the band receiving death threats during a UK tour.
With a settled line-up Soundgarden started a few years of relentless touring, including a mega month at Lollapaloosa, July 18th to September 13th in 1992. During this period, they also appeared in the Singles movie, directed by Cameron Crowe, who had recently moved to Seattle after marrying Hearts Nancy Wilson. Crowe has described Singles as his love letter to Seattle. Soundgarden performed Birth Ritual with Chris offering a solo song Seasons, to be included on the soundtrack. When reviewing the movie, Tim Appelo wrote in Entertainment Weekly, “With … an ambling, naturalistic style, Crowe captures the eccentric appeal of a town where espresso carts sprout on every corner and kids in ratty flannel shirts can cut records that make them millionaires.”
The band began work on Superunknown just months after a massive tour culminating in the month-long ride at Lollapalooza. Working somewhat individually before coming together to share ideas and complete tracks allowing each member more freedom than they had on previous recordings.
Recording took place from July 1993 to September 1993 at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle, Washington, utilizing their Neve console. Superunknown charted well around the globe, reaching the magical #1 in the Australian, Canadian and New Zealand charts while also topping the US Billboard 200. Spawning such amazing songs, including the singles, Spoonman, The Day I Tried to Live, Black Hole Sun (#1 US), My Wave (Australia only single reaching ARIA Gold status) and Fell on Black Days (UK release only)
So, that’s the backstory on pre world fame Soundgarden, let’s have a look at the musical life outside of the band for all the members.
Jason Everman – Photo Credit – New York Times
I won’t be including Jason Everman, as mentioned in the story above, he only recorded one track with the band during his tenure. But please read up on what this amazing man, no, this hero did with his life after leaving the music industry.
Photo Credit – Paul Bergen-Redferns
In 1990, following the passing of friend and roommate Andrew Wood, Malfunction & Mother Love Bone lead singer, Chris found himself writing music while on a European tour with Soundgarden, using this emotion as a cathartic experience with many of the songs addressing his relationship with and the passing of Andy. This produced two songs, Reach Down and Say Hello 2 Heaven. These were slow, almost ballads, compared to the deep, driving rock of Soundgarden. After returning to Seattle following the tour, Chris set about recording what he had before approaching Andy’s former Mother Love Bone bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament with the intention of releasing a single, dedicated to Andy. The band they assembled included Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron with Mike McCready on lead guitar. Mike was Gossard’s childhood friend and formally played with Vashon Island band, The Rockfords. They named themselves Temple of the Dog, a reference to a line in the lyrics of the Mother Love Bone song, Man of Golden Words.
The single idea was soon dropped once everyone was in the same room and ideas started flowing. Chris introduced some ideas he was working on before Andy’s passing. Stone and Jeff both had songs in progress, including a demo that became a song for two bands, Footsteps by Pearl Jam and Times of Trouble by Temple of The Dog were both spawned by the same demo track. Speaking of Pearl Jam, out of the ToTD sessions was born Mookie Blaylock, during the writing and recording of their first album and signing to a major label Mookie Blaylock became Pearl Jam. But that is a story for another day.
Flying in from San Diego while ToTD was in the studio, Eddie Vedder, with the intention to be the singer of Ament, Gossard, and McCready’s new band, Mookie Blaylock, Eddie ended up providing backing vocals on a few songs, including Hunger Strike and the rest as they say, is history.
Using the moniker M.A.C.C (McCready, Ament, Cornell, Cameron), in 1993, Chris covers Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (House of The New Rising Sun)” along with Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron. The track is released in October on Hendrix tribute album Stone Free.
On January 30, 2015, Cornell joined Mike McCready, Barrett Martin, Duff McKagan, Sean Kinney, and the Seattle Symphony for a special concert at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall in a tribute to Mad Season.
Honestly, this article would be 30 pages long, just on Chris, if I was to list and fully explain everything he has done.
So here is a list of collaborations that I know of, if I missed anything, please chuck it in the comments.
Chris Co-produced and provided backing vocalist on the Screaming Trees’ 1991 album, Uncle Anaesthesia.
Co-wrote the song “The Message” for Arizona metal band Flotsam and Jetsam. He also wrote, or co-wrote songs for Slash, Andrew Wood, David Cook and even wrote a song/poem for a fan, Rory De La Rosa, who was diagnosed with cancer. Tragically, just months after losing his 6-year-old daughter to the same disease. The song, I promise it’s not goodbye, was available for free download on Cornell’s official website in April 2009. Cornell asked, however, that his fans would consider donating in memory of Rory’s daughter and to help ease the financial burden of his disease.
Chris and Mark Arm of Mudhoney, contributed vocals on the Alice in Chains song from their SAP album (1992), Right Turn. The band credited for this song is Alice Mudgarden.
Chris has also contributed vocals on tracks by Alice Cooper, Eleven, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Rita Wilson, Andrew Wood, Slash, Santana, and I am sure many, many more.
Wow Chris was a busy man, after soundtracks we will move on, I promise.
I am just going to list these, hopefully in the correct order.
The Avengers (Soundgarden)
Machine Gun Preacher
12 Years a Slave
Vinyl (TV) – On a personal note, fucking awesome series that deserved more than one season ☹
Photo Credit – Mark Van-S
Kim started writing at 12 years old and in 1977 formed his first band. Bozo and the Pinheads was a punk rock band covering tracks from The Ramones and Sex Pistols while crafting original songs. After moving on from Bozo, Kim joined post-punk band, Identity Crisis playing guitar. They release one 7” EP called Pretty Feet in 1980.
Kim met Hiro in High School with the pair graduating in 1979, the same school Bruce Pavitt graduated from 2 years earlier, in 1977. They decided to move to Olympia, Washington, to study at The Evergreen State College. Unable to find work in Oly. they decided to move to Seattle.
Kim found work as a DJ for KCMU while working on his degree in philosophy at the University of Washington.
Like Chris, during the hiatus of Soundgarden, Kim found a lot to keep himself out of trouble in the form of new bands and collaborations.
Please see my list below, but feel free to add or correct anything in the comments.
No WTO Combo – with Jello Biafra, Krist Novoselic, and Gina Mainwal.
Collaborations and contributions.
Presidents of the United States of America
The Barret Martin Group
The Pretty Reckless
Photo Credit – Michelle Zimmerman
After leaving Soundgarden in 1989 and going back to study, the music bug bit and in 1991 he formed Truly. A three-piece outfit with Rob Roth on vocals and Mark Pickerel drumming (formally Screaming Trees). Releasing three albums, Heart and Lungs, Fast Stories from Kid Coma, and Feeling You Up, before breaking up in 2000, with a compilation (Twilight Curtains) of unreleased work following.
In 2016 Hiro formed a surf rock band named Stereo Donkey, inspired by a jam session with drummer Mike Bajuk, and guitarist Pat Wickline. In November 2018, the band released the self-titled six-track EP, recorded in the old church that Wickline lives in. According to Wickline, “’The room is a fourth member of the band.’” The recording reportedly works as both surf music and exotica, yet is still rooted in, “Pacific Northwest rock history.”
Photo Credit – Soundgarden – Twitter
Scott hasn’t gone on to do anything musically that I’m aware of or can find. After joining Soundgarden in 1985, he left in 1986 saying the touring wasn’t for him and he wanted to spend time with his family. Scott was friends with Chris prior to joining SG and remained friends with Chris and Kim.
Photo Credit – Drummer World
Born and raised in San Diego, California. Matt began playing drums at the age of thirteen. In 1978, while still in High School he sang the song Puberty Love, which was featured in the movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
After moving to Seattle in 1983, Matt found odd jobs to pay rent while playing with Bam Bam.
1985 saw Matt recruited to Jack Endino’s new project, Skin Yard. He left the band a year later after contributing to their self-titled debut and writing the track Reptile. Two tracks from this album would feature on the aforementioned Deep Six compilation.
Joining Soundgarden in September of 1986, after leaving Skin Yard earlier that year. With only 2 years in the Seattle scene, Chris has said, “When I first met Matt, he was already the best drummer in town … He just seemed very confident and well-adjusted”.
A year after Soundgarden went into hiatus, friends and rock legends, Pearl Jam asked Matt to tour with them following the departure of Jack Irons. Since the summer of 1998, Matt has been the permanent member of Pearl Jam, becoming the bands longest serving drummer.
As mentioned earlier, Matt was part of the Pre-Super Group, Temple of The Dog, but he didn’t stop there with side projects, including.
Queens of the Stone Age
As well as contributing to work by.
The Smashing Pumpkins
Chris Cornell – Solo
Geddy Lee – Solo
Our Lady Piece
Nighttime Boogie Association
3rd Secret and much, much more
Photo Credit – Grungeindiani
Hunter Benedict Shepherd was born in 1968 in Okinawa, Japan on a US Military base, before his family settled in Kingston, WA.
Playing in various Seattle based punk-rock bands (March of Crimes, Mind Circus and 600 School) Ben joined Soundgarden as a bassist in 1990, contributing to the band’s musical evolution, playing a significant role in song writing.
Commenting in David Peisner’s book, Soundgarden – Alive in the Superunknown, Ben said he was terribly affected by Soundgarden’s 1997 hiatus/breakup, offering, “my fiancée broke up with me; and then I broke three ribs. I got addicted to pain pills, drank a ton, and wound-up OD’ing on morphine. I was laid out in my house for five days, and no one knew it. It was a fucking horrible time — this total rock’n’roll cliché.”
Collaborations and contributions.
Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions – Vol 1 & 2
Mark Lanegan’s solo albums – I’ll Take Care of You and Field Songs
Using his initials as the band name, in 2013 Ben announced the release of Deep Owl by HBS.
Originally intended for the songs to be just voice and acoustic guitar, but soon, the Matt’s (Cameron & Chamberlain) offered up their services on drums.
The rest of the band consisted of,
Joseph Braley – Drums
Greg Gilmore – Drums
Klaus – Sax
On top of all that, Ben also owns a bar in Seattle called Hazelwood on NW Market St.
WOW, that was a massive read, I know it took me like 20 hours to compile and edit.
I hope you made it through and maybe learned something or maybe I forgot something or got something wrong.
Either way, let me know in the comments.
This has been Aussie Wardy and as always,
Photo Credit – Danny North
Photo Credit – Rolling Stone Magazine
Hi Elsa, thank you so much for the feed back and you are right, I knew I would have missed something, these guys have been so prolific over the last, almost, 40 years.
Wow, fantastic article! Thanks so much for this. I’ve been following Soundgarden ever since I saw them open for Love and Rockets at Seattle’s Moore Theater in 1986. I was sure to pick up Deep Six on C/Z soon after – and one of the first pressings of their 1988 Screaming Life EP on SubPop on Orange vinyl(!!!) that I will never part with. I’ve also had the pleasure of briefly meeting Chris, Matt, and Kim at various shows ad parties in Seattle over the years in the late 80’s-early 90’s. Nice humble guys – all of ’em.One additional collaboration you left off for Kim Thayil was with the bands Boris and SunnO))) on the 2006 album “Altar” on Southern Lord Recordings.Cheers!