|Formation and early years: 1984-1986
Soundgarden traces its origins to a cover band called The Shemps that performed around Seattle, Washington in the early 1980s. The Shemps featured bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer and vocalist Chris Cornell. Following Yamamoto's departure from The Shemps, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil as its new bassist. Thayil had moved to Seattle from Park Forest, Illinois with Yamamoto and Bruce Pavitt, who would later start the independent record label Sub Pop. Cornell and Yamamoto stayed in contact, and after The Shemps broke up Cornell and Yamamoto started jamming together, eventually bringing in Thayil to join them.
Soundgarden was formed in 1984 by Cornell (drums and vocals), Yamamoto (bass), and Thayil (guitar). The band named themselves after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture, "A Sound Garden," located on NOAA property next to Magnuson Park, Seattle, Washington. Cornell originally played drums while singing, but in 1985 the band enlisted Scott Sundquist to allow Cornell to concentrate on vocals. The band traveled around playing various concerts with this line-up for about a year. The band's first recordings were three songs that appeared on a 1986 compilation album for C/Z Records called Deep Six. It also featured songs by fellow grunge pioneers Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, The U-Men, and The Melvins. Kathleen C. Fennessy of Allmusic stated that the compilation "documents a formative period in Northwest rock history. In 1986, Sundquist left the band to spend time with his family, and was replaced by Matt Cameron, who was the drummer for Skin Yard.
First releases: 1987-1990
KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman was impressed after seeing Soundgarden perform one night, later saying, "I saw this band that was everything rock music should be." Poneman offered to fund a release by the band, so Thayil told him to team up with Bruce Pavitt. Poneman offered to contribute $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop, effectively turning it into a full-fledged record label. Soundgarden signed to Sub Pop, and the label released "Hunted Down" in 1987 as the band's first single. The B-side of the "Hunted Down" single, "Nothing to Say", appeared on the KCMU compilation tape, Bands That Will Make Money, which was distributed to record companies. Upon hearing the song, record labels began contacting the band. Through Sub Pop, the band released the Screaming Life EP in 1987, and the Fopp EP in 1988. A combination of the two was issued as Screaming Life/Fopp in 1990.
Though the band was being courted by major labels, in 1988 it signed to the lesser known SST Records to release its debut album, Ultramega OK, released on October 31, 1988. Cornell said that the band "made a huge mistake with Ultramega OK" due to using a producer suggested by SST who "didn't know what was happening in Seattle.''Steve Huey of Allmusic said that the album is the "best expression of Soundgarden's early, Stooges/MC5-meets-Zeppelin/Sabbath sound. The band's first music video, "Flower" , was directed by Mark Miremont, and aired regularly on MTV's 120 Minutes. Soundgarden supported Ultramega OK with a tour in the United States in the spring of 1989 and a tour in Europe, which began in May 1989 and was the band's first overseas tour. Ultramega OK earned the band a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1990.
After touring in support of Ultramega OK the band signed with A&M Records. The signing caused a rift between Soundgarden and its traditional audience. Thayil said, "In the beginning, our fans came from the punk rock crowd. They abandoned us when they thought we had sold out the punk tenets, getting on a major label and touring with Guns N' Roses. There were fashion issues and social issues, and people thought we no longer belonged to their scene, to their particular sub-culture. The band subsequently began work on its first album for a major label. Cornell said, "At the time Hiro [Yamamoto] had excommunicated himself from the band and there wasn't a free-flowing system as far as music went, so I ended up writing a lot of it. On September 5, 1989, the band released its second album, Louder Than Love. Regarding the album, Steve Huey of Allmusic said that the band took "a step toward the metal mainstream" with "a slow, grinding, detuned mountain of Sabbath/Zeppelin riffs and Chris Cornell wailing. Because of some of the song lyrics, most notably on "Hands All Over" and "Big Dumb Sex", the band faced various retail and distribution problems upon the album's release. Louder Than Love became the band's first album to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 108 on the chart in 1990.
A month before touring for Louder Than Love commenced, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who was becoming frustrated that he wasn't contributing much, left to go back to college. He was replaced by Jason Everman, formerly of Nirvana. The band embarked on a North American tour that went from December 1989 to March 1990. On this tour the band served as the opening act for Voivod on the band's Nothingface tour, with Faith No More also serving as an opening act at the beginning and end of the tour. The band then went on to tour Europe. Bassist Jason Everman was fired immediately after Soundgarden completed its promotional tour for Louder Than Love in mid-1990. Thayil said that "Jason just didn't work out." Louder Than Love spawned the EP Loudest Love and the video compilation Louder Than Live, both released in 1990.
Bassist Ben Shepherd replaced previous bassist Jason Everman and the new line-up recorded Soundgarden's third album in 1991. Cornell said that Shepherd brought a "fresh and creative" approach to the recording sessions, and the band as a whole said that his knowledge of music and writing skills redefined the band. The resulting album, Badmotorfinger, was released on October 8, 1991. Steve Huey of Allmusic said that the songwriting on Badmotorfinger "takes a quantum leap in focus and consistency." He added, "It's surprisingly cerebral and arty music for a band courting mainstream metal audiences''. Thayil suggested that the album's lyrics are "like reading a novel [about] man's conflict with himself and society, or the government, or his family, or the economy, or anything." The first single from Badmotorfinger, "Jesus Christ Pose" , garnered attention when MTV decided to ban its corresponding music video in 1991. Many listeners were outraged by the song and its video, perceiving it as anti-Christian. The band received death threats while on tour in the United Kingdom in support of the album. Cornell explained that the lyrics criticize public figures who use religion (particularly the image of Jesus Christ) to portray themselves as being persecuted. Although overshadowed at the time of its release by the sudden popularity of Nirvana's Nevermind, the focus of attention brought by Nevermind to the Seattle scene helped Soundgarden gain wider attention. The singles "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" were able to find an audience at alternative rock radio and MTV. Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992. The album was among the 100 top selling albums of 1992.
Following the release of Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden went on a tour in North America that ran from October 1991 to November 1991. Afterward, the band took a slot opening for Guns N' Roses in North America on the band's Use Your Illusion Tour. Soundgarden was personally selected by Guns N' Roses as its opening band. The band took a slot opening for Skid Row in North America in February 1992 on the band's Slave to the Grind tour, and then headed to Europe for a month-long headlining theater tour. The band returned for a tour in the United States and subsequently rejoined Guns N' Roses in the summer of 1992 in Europe as part of the Use Your Illusion Tour along with fellow opening act Faith No More. Regarding the time spent opening for Guns N' Roses, Cornell said, "It wasn't a whole lot of fun going out in front of 40,000 people for 35 minutes every day. Most of them hadn't heard our songs and didn't care about them. It was a bizarre thing." The band would go on to play the 1992 Lollapalooza tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and Ministry, among others. In anticipation of the band's appearance at Lollapalooza, a limited edition of Badmotorfinger was released in 1992 with a second disc containing the EP SOMMS, featuring Soundgarden's cover of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void", titled "Into the Void (Sealth)", which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1993. The band later released the video compilation Motorvision, which was filmed at the Paramount Theatre in 1992. The band also made an appearance in the movie Singles performing "Birth Ritual". The song appeared on the soundtrack, as did a Cornell solo song, "Seasons".
Soundgarden began work on its fourth album after touring in support of Badmotorfinger. Cornell said that while working on the album the band members allowed each other more freedom than on past records, while Thayil observed that the band spent a lot more time working on the actual recording of the songs than on previous records. Released on March 8, 1994, Superunknown became the band's breakthrough album, driven by the singles "Spoonman", "The Day I Tried to Live", "Black Hole Sun" , "My Wave", and "Fell on Black Days". Upon its release in March 1994, Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The songs on Superunknown captured the creativity and heaviness of the band's earlier works, while showcasing the group's newly evolving style. Lyrically, the album was quite dark and mysterious, as much of it is often interpreted to be dealing with substance abuse, suicide, and depression. Cornell was inspired by the writings of Sylvia Plath at the time. The album was also more experimental than previous releases, with some songs incorporating Middle-Eastern or Indian music. J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone said Superunknown "demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career." He also stated, "At its best, Superunknown offers a more harrowing depiction of alienation and despair than anything on In Utero." The music video for "Black Hole Sun" became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards and in 1995 it received the Clio Award for Alternative Music Video. Soundgarden won two Grammy Awards in 1995; "Black Hole Sun" received the award for Best Hard Rock Performance and "Spoonman" received the award for Best Metal Performance. Superunknown was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 1995. Superunknown has been certified five times platinum in the United States and remains Soundgarden's most successful album.
The band began touring in January 1994 in Australasia and Japan, areas where the record came out early, as well as regions where the band had never toured before. This round of touring ended in February 1994, and then in March 1994 the band moved on to Europe. The band began a theater tour of the United States on May 27, 1994,with the opening acts Tad and Eleven. In late 1994, after touring in support of Superunknown, doctors discovered that Cornell had severely strained his vocal cords. Soundgarden cancelled several shows to avoid causing any permanent damage. Cornell said, "I think we kinda overdid it! We were playing five or six nights a week and my voice pretty much took a beating. Towards the end of the American tour I felt like I could still kinda sing, but I wasn't really giving the band a fair shake. You don't buy a ticket to see some guy croak for two hours! That seemed like kind of a rip off." The band would make up the dates later in 1995. Superunknown spawned the EP Songs from the Superunknown and the CD-ROM Alive in the Superunknown, both released in 1995.
Down on the Upside and break-up: 1996-1997
Following the worldwide tour in support of its previous album, Superunknown, the band commenced work on what would become the band's final album. The members of Soundgarden opted to self-produce the record. However, tensions within the group reportedly arose during the sessions, with Thayil and Cornell allegedly clashing over Cornell's desire to shift away from the heavy guitar riffing that had become the band's trademark. Cornell said, "By the time we were finished, it felt like it had been kind of hard, like it was a long, hard haul. But there was stuff we were discovering." The band's fifth album, Down on the Upside, was released on May 21, 1996. The album was notably less heavy than the group's preceding albums, and marked a further departure from the band's grunge roots. Soundgarden explained at the time that it wanted to experiment with other sounds. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said, "Few bands since Led Zeppelin have so crisply mixed instruments both acoustic and electric." The overall mood of the album's lyrics isn't as dark as on previous Soundgarden albums, with Cornell describing some songs as "self-affirming." The album spawned several singles, including "Pretty Noose", "Burden in My Hand" ,and "Blow Up the Outside World". "Pretty Noose" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1997. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of Superunknown.
The band took a slot on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour with Metallica, who had insisted on Soundgarden's appearance on the tour. After Lollapalooza, the band embarked on a worldwide tour. Tensions continued to increase during the band's ensuing tour in support of the album. When asked if the band hated touring, Cornell said, "We really enjoy it to a point and then it gets tedious, because it becomes repetitious. You feel like fans have paid their money and they expect you to come out and play them your songs like the first time you ever played them. That's the point where we hate touring." At the tour's final stop in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 9, 1997, Shepherd threw his bass into the air in frustration after suffering equipment failure, and subsequently stormed off the stage. The band retreated, with Cornell returning to conclude the show with a solo encore. On April 9, 1997, the band announced its disbanding. Thayil said, "It was pretty obvious from everybody's general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction." Soundgarden's final release, a greatest hits collection entitled A-Sides, was released the following fall
Reunion, Telephantasm and King Animal (2010-present)
On January 1, 2010, Cornell alluded to a Soundgarden reunion via his Twitter, writing: "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!" The message linked to a website that features a picture of the group performing live and a place for fans to enter their e-mail addresses to get updates on the reunion. Entering that information unlocks an archival video for the song "Get on the Snake", from Soundgarden's second studio album, 1989's Louder Than Love. On March 1, 2010, Soundgarden announced to the people who signed their e-mail subscribers that they are re-releasing an old single "Hunted Down" with the song "Nothing to Say" on a 7-inch vinyl released on April 17 only at Record Store Day. Also, they released "Spoonman" live at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego, California from 1996. Soundgarden played its first show since 1997 on April 16 at the Showbox at the Market in the band's hometown of Seattle. The band headlined Lollapalooza on August 8.
Telephantasm: A Retrospective, a new Soundgarden compilation album, was packaged with initial shipments of the Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock video game and released on September 28, 2010. This is the first time a retail music CD has been packaged with a video game, and is one week before the same CD is available in stores on October 5, 2010. An expanded version of Telephantasm consisting of two CDs and one DVD is currently available for sale. A previously unreleased Soundgarden song—"Black Rain"—debuted on the Guitar Hero video game and appears on the compilation album. The compilation album achieved platinum certification status after its first day of retail availability. "Black Rain" hit rock radio stations on August 10, 2010. It became the band's first single since 1997. In November 2010, Soundgarden was the second musical guest on the show Conan, making it their first television appearance in 13 years, and issued a 7-inch vinyl, "The Telephantasm", for Black Friday Record Store Day. In March 2011, Soundgarden released their first live album, Live on I-5.
In February 2011 it was announced on Soundgarden's homepage that they had started recording a new album. On March 1, 2011, Chris Cornell confirmed that Adam Kasper would produce the new album. Four days later, the band stated it would consist of material that was "90 percent new" and the rest consisting of updated versions of older ideas. They also noted that they had 12 to 14 songs that were "kind of ready to go". Although Cameron claimed the album would be released in 2011, the recording was prolonged as Thayil said that "the more we enjoy it, the more our fans should end up enjoying it.". Thayil also reported that some songs sound "similar in a sense to Down on the Upside" and that the album would be "picking up where we left off. There are some heavy moments, and there are some fast songs." The next day, Cornell reported that the new album would not be released until the spring of 2012.
In April 2011, Soundgarden announced a summer tour consisting of four dates in July, and was also headliner for Voodoo Experience at City Park in New Orleans Halloween weekend 2011. It was announced in March 2012 via the band's official Facebook page that they would be including a new song on the soundtrack of the upcoming movie The Avengers, based on the franchise by Marvel Comics. The song was titled "Live to Rise" and marked the first newly recorded song that the band have released since reforming in 2010. "Live to Rise" was released as a free download on iTunes April 17, 2012. Also in March it was announced that Soundgarden will headline the Friday night of the Hard Rock Calling Festival in July 2012. In April 2012, Soundgarden announced the release of a box set titled "Classic Album Selection" for Europe, containing all of their studio albums (except for Ultramega OK) and live album Live on I-5. On May 5, 2012, just before The Offspring began playing their set, the band appeared as a special guest at the 20th annual KROQ Weenie Roast in Irvine, California. Later that month, Soundgarden told Rolling Stone they were eyeing an October release for their new album. In June 2012, the band appeared at Download Festival in Donington, England. The band released "Been Away Too Long", the first single from their new album King Animal on September 27, 2012. King Animal was released on November 13, 2012.
On January 21, 2013, Cornell was asked by Billboard.com if Soundgarden would make more music in the future. His response was, "I don't see any reason why not. I think the overall attitude about keeping it going and the way we want to treat it to keep it going is really good. There's nothing stopping us from continuing to make records and continuing to play shows, that's for sure."