Grunge sparks again for Soundgarden

Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. So fans of Seattle grunge-meisters Soundgarden rejoiced in 2010 when the quartet announced its comeback, began touring and released a greatest-hits collection (“Telephantasm: A Retrospective”) and a circa-1996 concert document (“Live on I-5”).

Then, in 2012, the band released a new album, “King Animal.” With sludgy anthems such as “Worse Dreams,” “By Crooked Steps” and the aptly titled “Been Away Too Long,” it seemed like the group hadn’t splintered at all.

But absence can also be perplexing.

When vocalist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron — who play the Fox Theater in Oakland this week — reconvened for a red-carpet walk at last year’s premiere of “The Avengers” (which featured their first new post-breakup track, “Live to Rise”), they found the rules of the show biz game had changed. Dramatically.

The film’s publicists, Thayil says, were “really” concerned with their appearance: “The more they were concerned about it, the more hilarious it got. It was like they were trying to dress us up for church or something.”

The modern concept of star-dressing stylists was an anathema to the old-school rockers. “They were like, ‘We’ll get you some pants! We’ll get you some nice shirts!’” says Thayil, 52, who, like his bandmates, simply brought his own black jeans and blazer.

“It’s like, I have shirts, I wear dress shirts when I go out to dinner, unless I’m going to a rib place. I can dress my f***ing self!”

Although Cornell had recorded a James Bond theme (“You Know My Name” for “Casino Royale”), film song placement was relatively unfamiliar turf for the group.

But since key Avenger Iron Man loves metal, Soundgarden made perfect soundtrack sense. “It’s all part of the merchandising that goes along with making movies these days,” Thayil adds.

The guitarist, who has stayed busy with session work and side combos, is also puzzled by groups licensing material to TV commercials, which Soundgarden had refused to do, considering it selling out.

“But a lot has happened in the music industry since we broke up,” he says. “It does about a third of the business it used to, and gold and platinum records are rarer occurrences. So if anything has changed about us, it’s probably our need to adapt to the market.”

Soundgarden didn’t plan to regroup. The members simply got together to address shared financial concerns: the catalog, website and fan club, which had gone neglected for a decade. But that grunge spark was still there.

So was the old modus operandi. “King Animal” is available as a deluxe $100 vinyl box set, Thayil says. “Because there are people out there who like that, who still really want that!”


  • Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
  • When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday
  • Tickets: $59.50
  • Contact: (510) 302-2250,
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