Krist Novoselic, Kim Thayil On Why Grunge Hit The Music Industry So Hard
By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta
September 2, 2022
While the grunge movement ushered in a new era of music in the early-'90s, the genre's disruptive influence in pop culture stemmed from more than just fashion and unconventional songcraft.
Speaking to Rick Beato about their early courtships with major record labels, producer Jack Endino, Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic pointed out the disconnect between the labels of the day and the goals of the artists in the Seattle music scene.
Thayil explained that Soundgarden wasn't remotely tempted by the first deal it was offered, and that seemingly flummoxed the record label with which they were negotiating.
"We don't need that [much] money to make a record, necessarily, and we don't need to go in debt with you guys," Thayil recalled thinking. "We thought that [offer] was strange. And then the usual conversations that an A&R guy would have with a band, you know, money, girls, cars, just fell right off of us."
Endino pointed out that the music culture in Seattle operated far outside the purview of the major record industry at the time.
"The major labels, I don't think they had offices in Seattle," Endino said. "The whole way of dealing with a major label, it was completely over everyone's head here; it was very suspicious [to us]."
While the level of aggression in grunge music was far beyond what was happening on the Sunset Strip in L.A. at the time, Novoselic noted that Nirvana and Soundgarden's hard rock sound belied an innate sensitivity. Theirs was a hippie worldview masked by a punk aesthetic and heavy metal riffs.
"The hair metal bands were like macho and strutting, but then they had soft features, like soft hair and just like makeup and doing this thing," he continued. "And then the grunge guys had facial hair and grungy looking, but we had like a feminine sensitivity. We were more sensitive. Like, we could cry (laughs)."
While the L.A. scene was notoriously competitive, Thayil recalled one label meeting in which the members of Soundgarden heaped praise on Nirvana, despite not yet having a deal for themselves.
"The A&R guy was just like, 'Well, we're still working with you guys (laughs) and trying to figure out what's going to happen with you,'" Thayil recalled. "It's like, 'You should sign Nirvana. You should talk to these guys.'"
Novoselic added that he wasn't surprised that Soundgarden was the first Seattle band to garner major label interest. The band was more firmly established locally at the time, and Chris Cornell fit more comfortably into the classic frontman archetype than Kurt Cobain did.
"You had Chris!" the bassist emphasized. "When Chris would go onstage and take his shirt off, that was called the Full Cornell. ... (laughs) He was fabulous."