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Following the release of their fifth album “Down on the Upside”, the band split, with Cornell embarking on a solo career as well as joining forces with ex Rage Against The Machine members to form the supergroup Audioslave. Following a 12 year hiatus, Soundgarden hit the road again, and much to the fans delight began recording new music.
In this issues, Tech Session Jamie Humphries takes a detailed look at some of the unorthodox and inventive approaches used by Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell to create the guitar parts that made Soundgarden one of the most iconic hard rock bands to emerge from the 90’s Grunge scene.
The 90s saw a huge shift in rock music, with the “hair bands” of the 80s losing popularity, and in many cases losing their record deals overnight; with the more alternative rock bands gaining popularity and becoming the mainstream. The city of Seattle took over from LA as the central hub of rock music, with the “Seattle scene” producing a new genre of rock; Grunge. Although Grunge spawned from alternative rock, it crossed into many other genres, with some bands blending the alternative sound with punk, whilst others mixed it with hard rock and metal. The genre was hugely successful throughout the early to mid 90’s, launching such bands as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden into the mainstream spotlight. Of all the bands to emerge from the Grunge scene, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains stand out as Grunge bands that embraced hard rock and metal influence, with Soundgarden blending alternative melodic chord progressions with crushing Sabbath inspired riffs, experimenting with some extreme altered tunings.
Soundgarden was formed in 1984, and are one of the seminal creators of the grunge movement. The band was formed by singer/guitarist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who was later replaced by long-standing bassist Ben Shepherd. Originally signed to the independent “Sub Pop” label, Soundgarden achieved global success when they signed to a major in the late 80’s, releasing the hugely successful and influential album “Badmotorfinger” in 1991.
In 1994 they released “Superunknown” which was their breakthrough album and for fans and critic their best. The album included such classic tracks as “Black Hole Sun”, “Spoonman”, “Fell on Black Days”, and “The Day I Tried to Live”; the album has sold more than 9 million copies. This album saw the band's songwriting evolve to a new level; still including their hard rock/metal influence but delving into my intricate arrangements and psychedelic chord progressions.
Following the release of their fifth album “Down on the Upside”, the band split, with Cornell embarking on a solo career as well as joining forces with ex Rage Against The Machine members to form the supergroup Audioslave.
Following a 12 year hiatus, Soundgarden hit the road again, and much to the fans delight began recording new music. In 2012 they released their sixth studio album “King Animal”, which was very well received, become the third best selling album of the band's career. The band had announced that they would start working on new music on new music, but sadly this was never to be, with Cornell being found dead in his hotel room following his final performance with the band at the Fox Theatre Michigan on May 18th, 2017.
Soundgarden is seen as one of the earliest pioneers of the grunge movement but compared to many of the other bands of the genre they had a very unique, dark yet melodic sound. They fused heavy Sabbath inspired riffs, with odd time signatures, and complex chord harmony, a result of their experimentation with very unique altered tunings. Their guitars tones ranged from thick metal tones, retro fuzz tones, to chiming clean chords. The guitar parts by Thayil and Cornell were well orchestrated, with lines that interviewed forming a complex rich sound. Thayil would often experiment with feedback soaked solos, natural harmonics and drone tunings.
For this Tech Session I have based the track on the ‘Badmotorfinger’/ ’Superunknown’ period, taking inspiration from such tracks as “Rusty Cage”, “Limo Wreck”, “Spoonman” and “Superunknown”, I have also given “Non-State Actor” from “King Animal” a slight tip of the hat in our main riff. There are a few things that you’ll have to pay attention to when tackling our Tech Session study piece, the first thing being the unusual altered tuning used for this track. This tack features a tuning with the 6th string tuned down to C and the 5th string tuned down to G, while the remaining 4 strings are in regular tuning. This tuning can be heard on “Limo Wreck” taken from “Superunknown”. Our track also features various times signatures, a compositional tool that Soundgarden use to great effect. Our track features the following time signatures, 4/4, 6/8, 5/4 and 7/4, so make sure you pay attention to the meter changes throughout our piece and when reading the accompanying transcription.
Bars 1-9 kick off with our intro riff that includes a unique sounding riff based around C Mixolydian, that utilises left-hand slides and hammer on lines fused with open string pull-offs, resulting in a very intervallic sounding riff. This opening riff kicks the track off and features just the guitar. I have chosen to use the neck pickup for a slightly “sludgy” tone during this section. The riff concludes with the chord of Bb5 resolving to the low register C5 chord performed with the open 5th and 6th string. This section features the start of the riff on the final bar which acts as a pickup into the track, with the rest of the band entering.
Bars 10-23 include our main riff, which is based on the same idea found in the intro. During the verse, we switch to the bridge humbucker for a crunchier more contemporary hard rock tone.
Bars 24-28 include the final bars of the riff, which includes the chord of Bb5 resolving to a C5 chord. The riff concludes with a series of chromatic power chords that lead us back into the main riff.
Bars 10-26 include our repeat of the verse which is exactly the same, apart from the conclusion of this section illustrated as a 2nd time bar.
Bars 29-30 include our 2nd time bar section that concludes the repeat of our verse. This section includes our chromatic power chords and concludes with the held chord of Eb5.
Bars 31-38 include our bridge section which features a driving riff based around the of low C note performed on the open 6th string. The riff also includes notes from the C blues scale, as well as a chromatic power chord run introduction the second half of our bridge.
Bars 39-49 illustrate the second half of our bridge section, and whilst the C blues riff is the same we include some additional power chord fills for variation. This section concludes with the Bb5 chord that concludes with a C major7th chord, adding a harmonic twist to the end of this section. We conclude with the chord of C5, but pay attention to the new time signature of 6/8 introduced in preparation for the next section.
Bars 50-52 introduce the middle 8 section, with some signature Kim Thayil natural harmonics performed against the droning open 6th string. The natural harmonics are performed at both the 5th and 12th frets and introduce an ethereal harmonic quality in contrast to the heavy riffs of the previous sections.
Bars 54-62 include a chord arpeggio section that demonstrates how Thayil/Cornell would create complex chord harmony by utilising open string whilst using an altered tuning. The notes of the chords should be allowed to sustain so take care when changing between each of the chord shapes.
Bars 62-65 introduces a new section and a new time signature of 5/5. This new section is based around a G minor/major Lick as it includes both the notes of b natural and Bb. The riff also includes open string pull of ideas using the open 2nd and 3rd strings.
Bars 66-67 introduce another new time signature, this time we are using 7/4 for our solo section. The guitar solo is based around the C minor pentatonic scale and includes notes from C Dorian. We kick off with some unison bends and a descending left-hand figure using hammer-ons, pull offs and slides.
Bar 68 includes a very “stock” sounding pentatonic Lick, something similar to what Thayil would use in one of his more orthodox sounding solos, and demonstrating his Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin influence.
Bars 69-71 conclude our solo with some fast tremolo picking lines mixed with hammer-ons and pull-offs. The track concludes with the chords of C5, Bb5 resolving to C major7th.
Kim Thayil's main guitar is a Guild S100, which features an SG style body, running into Mesa amps and cabs. Chris Cornell favoured his signature ES-335 Chris Cornell signature model into Divided by 13 amps. For the session, I used my custom built Musicman Axis fitted with P90 style pickups, with a DiMarzio DLX plus in the bridge. This was plugged into my Mesa Boogie JP2-C head which was running into a Two Notes Torpedo Studio digital load box. I also used a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Wah pedal.