Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil Talks ‘Echo of Miles’ Rarities Collection, Band’s Legacy + More
Soundgarden will be keeping fans glued to their players this holiday season with the epic new rarities collection 'Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path.' Guitarist Kim Thayil was charged with overseeing the project and he recently spoke with 'Loudwire Nights' host Full Metal Jackie about the collection. Check out the chat below.
Kim, being the one who's totally hands on in compiling 'Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path,' what was your most important criteria in choosing the rare tracks that would best tell the Soundgarden story?
Well, I think the criteria that was most important were to find songs that were sort of like loose ends, that hadn't been given a home on a Soundgarden album of originals. You know, there are a couple of songs here that were on other compilations, you know, greatest hits records, but they weren't actually partnered with these other loose ends that we produced over the last 30 years.
I think that that was the goal, was to take original and unique titles, songs like 'The Storm' or 'Heretic' or 'Kristi,' that were put out as B-sides for singles or international releases or movie soundtracks or other compilations over the years and it's kind of, "Why don't you collect them all together, putting them on a Soundgarden album?" And that had been a goal and a desire since the mid-90s because we had produced so many songs that were just kind of loose ends, just on some album, somewhere in Europe or Australia or some movie soundtrack that maybe I have a copy of and I imagine most fans wouldn't have the time or the resources to pursue. And so our goal was to put them all in one place.
So we're not going to have any alternate versions of songs that are already on albums, no alternate mixes or radio edits or live versions with the exception of DJ remixes. We have DJ remixes by Moby, Bill Rieflin, formerly of Ministry that offer a creative twist on a song that might otherwise be familiar. So everything on this is going to be a unique title and something that's not available previously on any of our seven albums.
How did you come to be the guy who spearheaded this whole project and what made the process so satisfying to you?
I think I was always kind of that guy. I mean I oversaw the artwork for the packaging for 'Screaming Life,' which was our Sub Pop debut, and 'Badmotorfinger,' I worked with Mark Dancey, who is the former guitarist for the band Big Chief, if you recognize those guys, and artists from the band. I worked with him to come up with the now iconic logo from the 'Badmotorfinger' cover, so it's always been something that the whole band has been involved with to various degrees but primarily me. And, you know, I supervised the packaging of 'Telephantasm' and 'Live on I-5,' and 'Echo of Miles' in particular, was a baby of mine since the mid-'90s, just keeping track of a lot of these loose ends and songs that we, that didn't make any of our albums, and wanting to put them together onto an album. As a fan, that's what I'd want.
Growing up it was always a drag when a band you loved would put out one song on a movie soundtrack, and you'd hope it would come up on the next album, and it wouldn't be there, and you'd think, you'd wish that you wouldn't have to buy a movie soundtrack just to get that song. And I thought that if we ever had that opportunity, we wouldn't want to do that the fans, didn't want to put all the songs available in one nice little package so that you wouldn't have to go track them all down.
Going through all these tracks that are kind of below the radar, what's most apparent to you about Soundgarden that might not be recognizable to anyone just listening to the more familiar hits?
I think our willingness to take creative risks and to experiment has been present right from our first records on Sub Pop. The fact that we would do remixes, DJ remixes, not engineering remixes, but DJ remixes where we hand over a song of ours to a guy like Steve Fisk or Moby and have them utilize some creative license in reinterpreting and adding elements to the song and making it, utilizing a creative format that is popular sort of in dance clubs. That's a strange thing for a young band that kind of came out of the punk-indie scene and ended up incorporating hard rock and metal elements into their music to also add these club/DJ elements was a strange thing back in the mid-'80s when we recorded 'Screaming Life' and the 'Fopp' EP. But, it makes more sense when you think about in the context of bands like Ministry and KMFDM and the Young Gods and also NIN. This is the kind of thing we did right from the beginning, instrumental jams.
I noticed that we had three different bass players and that's one thing that stands out for me, the stylistic influence of Hiro Yamamoto as opposed to Ben Shepherd and even Jason Everman, whose one studio track that he played on is present on this album. He played on the cover song, The Beatles song 'Come Together.' I think there are a couple of live tracks he played on that are here, but they're songs that exist only in live format as performed by Soundgarden, that's a Cheech and Chong cover and a Spinal Tap cover. That's another strange part about the band, from day one we were also fairly tongue in cheek about a number of things we did. Humor and one off spoofs have been things we've done from the beginning as well, hence the Cheech and Chong and Spinal Tap covers. [laughs] Or the very first song on the album is 'Sub Pop Rock City' which is a nice slap at the founders of Sub Pop Records, Bruce Pavitt and John Poneman.
When did you first start to notice that Soundgarden songs were transitioning from initial popularity to more of a long term timelessness?
If what you're asking is when did the ephemeral nature of the MTV hit become something that would be more classic? Is that what you're asking?
I'm not really sure of when I became aware of that, or if I ever really did. I think it was something that we always had intended from the beginning, was that we produce things that would have some longevity or sustain itself and not cheapen ourselves by patronizing whatever the popular music market was at that time. Of course, this is what happened with the bands out of Seattle like Alice in Chains or Nirvana, Pearl Jam or ourselves. We didn't patronize what was popular in hard rock then. We didn't emulate the glam music of the time or the funk metal that was kind of getting popular. We were kind of doing what we did and the attention and spotlight was directed and moved toward us. So, we didn't really have to change our style or the way we played or looked in order to find an audience. We were building an audience all along just merely by making van tours.
I think our goal was to do things that we liked now and that we'd like later and to have the kind of sustainability in our body of work that we saw in the bands that we loved growing up -- bands like Pink Floyd or Sabbath, Zeppelin or The Ramones. I think we wanted to regard ourselves in the way that us and our peers regarded our own record collections. I think we've always acted to achieve that and so we've always had that understanding of what it was we were doing as being classic, regardless of whether the industry took it that way or not.
Audiences tend to equate success with the amount of albums or concert tickets a band sells. But musicians might also think of success in creative terms, so artistically, what do you count as Soundgarden's biggest success?
I think bands do have that kind of awareness and whether they're self-conscious or not I think there's some level, which they should be, attending to their body of work and their identity. I think there's a certain level of benefits from commercial success, I suppose. If you're another rock star you might enjoy limousines, scarves and private jets. I think with us, I think the fact that we didn't have to have our day jobs and we could all buy homes was pretty damn cool.
But I think the creative success, ultimately is how we've always measured our achievements. The fact that people like our records. It didn't have to be a lot of people. Critics liked it, that was great. People in other bands liked it, that was fantastic. This is exactly where we're at. We wrote music for guys who play drums and guitar. We wrote music for people in bands because that's where we came from. We kind of thought that if we maintained that, that we would have that successful longevity. If we made music that people want to listen to and are learning to play their instruments, and if we played the music that we love playing as we're learning to write songs to play our instruments then we'll do the right thing.
That's what I've seen over time many young musicians, people in bands are doing their own thing. They're finding their own voice, producing original material -- these guys and girls, who have found inspiration in 'Superunknown' or 'Badmotorfinger' or 'Louder Than Love.' That was our target audience all along, people whom are similar to us, our ourselves. If we can entertain ourselves and move ourselves the way that Pink Floyd did or Aerosmith would, fantastic. That was part of the objective and I think our satisfaction in knowing the success our career has had is really found in the kind of influences or inspiration we've had in other musicians, that's what I'm probably the most proud of.
What do you understand about music, both Soundgarden's music and music in general that maybe wasn't so obvious to you during the band's early days?
I suppose there's a number a different ways I could answer that. The one that probably most is getting out of the weird cultural schisms and social prejudices you might have when you're younger. Think, as we've developed incorporating styles from other genres, having appreciations for other people's body of work -- I think when you're young and trying to define yourself and trying to find some kind of identity culturally you might latch on to a particular attribute of popular music like punk rock or heavy metal. I think thirty years ago and maybe a little longer than that, there was a real gap between what punk rockers liked about their music and culture, what metal guys liked about theirs there really wasn't a hell of a lot of crossover so it was strange that there was any friction but there seemed to be that. Throw things like country music and R&B and rap into the mix and it's all beautiful, fantastically inspired music that you come to understand when you get older.
But when you're younger and this isn't just ourselves but our peers, friends, they're really -- I don't know to describe it other than prep the strident sort of affection to one kind of music over another. A lack of flexibility in checking things out but ive found that the best and most interesting musicians and songwriters and deejays are people that have a pretty big vocabulary and repertoire of musical ideas. I think that's been the biggest benefit of my personal growth music and the bands growth musically.
Thanks to Soundgarden's Kim Thayil for the interview. Soundgarden's 'Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path' is available to order at Amazon and iTunes. Tune in to Loudwire Nights With Full Metal Jackie and Tony LaBrie’ Monday through Friday 7PM through midnight online or on the radio. To see which stations and websites air ‘Loudwire Nights,’ click here.
Listen to Soundgarden's Track 'Storm'