Wednesday, November 26, 2014

90's Alternative: Soundgarden

Soundgarden was one of the seminal bands in the creation of grunge, a style of alternative rock that developed in Seattle.
Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign to a major label (A&M Records, in 1988), though the band did not achieve commercial success until they popularized the genre in the early 1990s with Seattle contemporaries Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains.

Soundgarden achieved its biggest success with the 1994 album Superunknown, which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and yielded the Grammy Award-winning singles "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman". In 1997, the band broke up due to internal strife over its creative direction. After several years working on projects and other bands, Soundgarden reunited in 2010 and their sixth studio album, King Animal, was released two years later.

"Black Hole Sun" was written by frontman Chris Cornell. Cornell said that he wrote the song in about 15 minutes. He used a Gretsch guitar to write the song, and commented, "I wrote the song thinking the band wouldn't like it—then it became the biggest hit of the summer." Cornell came up with the song while using a Leslie speaker. Guitarist Kim Thayil said that the Leslie speaker was perfect for the song as "it's very Beatlesque and has a distinctive sound. It ended up changing the song completely." The song was performed in drop D tuning. Drummer Matt Cameron called the song "a huge departure". Credit is due to Michael Beinhorn and Brendan O'Brien, producer and recording engineer, respectively.

"[Black Hole Sun] wasn't safe as milk, but it wasn't glass in someone's eye either. It was the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Now it's the 'Dream On' of our set." ~Guitarist Kim Thayil
 "It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song ...lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written ... It's funny because hits are usually sort of congruent, sort of an identifiable lyric idea, and that song pretty much had none. The chorus lyric is kind of beautiful and easy to remember. Other than that, I sure didn't have an understanding of it after I wrote it. I was just sucked in by the music and I was painting a picture with the lyrics. There was no real idea to get across ... No one seems to get this, but 'Black Hole Sun' is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it's almost chipper, which is ridiculous." ~Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden

"Spoonman" was originally written for the soundtrack to the 1992 film, Singles. At this time, Soundgarden, along with fellow alternative rock band Pearl Jam, was working on the soundtrack for the film. Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament had been put in charge of creating the name for a fictional band that would appear in the film. Before finally choosing Citizen Dick for its name, Ament had compiled a list of potential names which included the name "Spoonman". The name was inspired by Artis the Spoonman, a street performer from Santa Cruz, California and later Seattle, Washington, who plays music with a set of spoons. Soundgarden vocalist and songwriter Chris Cornell eventually used the names on the list to create songs for the film. "Spoonman" was among these, and an acoustic version was created from it. This early version of the song can be heard in the background during a scene of the film.

Rather than just leave the song on the film's soundtrack, Soundgarden began working on an electric version of "Spoonman". The song's inspiration, Artis the Spoonman, played a prominent role in the song itself. The final version of the song featured Artis the Spoonman playing his spoons as part of the song's bridge. Drummer Matt Cameron also plays pots and pans on the song. Bassist Ben Shepherd performs backing vocals on the song.