Personalities | Kim Thayil | A Grunge Great | Guitar Heroes

Grunge guitarist Kim Thayil (b. 1960) was born in Seattle, Washington. He was inspired to play guitar by Kiss, subsequently backtracking to the music which inspired them – The New York Dolls, MC5, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground.

He bought his first guitar, a Guild S-100, which he would use throughout his career, and formed his first band in high school. While studying philosophy at the University of Washington, he became a member of Soundgarden in 1984.

With a sound influenced equally by heavy metal and punk, Soundgarden were crucial to the development of the Seattle movement that was dubbed ‘grunge’. Their first album, Ultramega OK (1988), was released on independent label SST, before they became the first band from the Seattle scene to sign with a major label, although they only found commercial success in the wake of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They released four albums, Louder Than Love (1989), Badmotorfinger (1991), Superunknown (1994) and Down On The Upside (1996). Their breakthrough came with Superunknown, which featured the singles ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Black Hole Sun’, and added a radio-friendly sheen to their trademark heaviness. The final album, Down On The Upside, represented a departure from their grunge roots, and creative tensions between Thayil and singer Chris Cornell led to the band splitting up in 1997. Thayil has since collaborated with former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, The Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, Presidents of the United States of America and Johnny Cash. Thayil went on to play with Greg Gilmore and Danny Kelly in the group Set And Setting, then again with Soundgarden when they reformed in 2010. A new Soundgarden album, King Animal, was released in 2012.

Best known for his hard-edged riffing, Thayil has said of his own style, ‘I play guitar because I like to make loud noises. And the guitar is the coolest way to make a loud noise.’ He is disparaging about guitar solos: ‘Most are annoying, self-indulgent.’ In addition to his ever-present Guild S-100, Thayil has also used Gibson Les Paul models, the Gibson Firebird and the Fender Telecaster and Jazzmaster. Thayil often employs alternative and unorthodox tunings, ‘Black Hole Sun’ being performed in a drop-D tuning.

Essential Recordings

Soundgarden: Badmotorfinger

Soundgarden: Superunknown

Soundgarden: Down On The Upside

No WTO Combo: Live From The Battle In Seattle

Personalities | The Edge | Searching for Sonic Meaning | Guitar Heroes


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