Formation and early recordings (1984–1988)
Soundgarden's origins began with a band called the Shemps, which performed around Seattle in the early 1980s, and featured bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer and singer Chris Cornell. Following Yamamoto's departure, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil as its new bassist. Thayil 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, and were eventually joined by Thayil.
Soundgarden formed in 1984 and included Cornell (drums and vocals), Yamamoto (bass), and Thayil (guitar). The band named themselves after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture titled A Sound Garden, on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property at 7600 Sand Point Way, next to Magnuson Park in Seattle. 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 lineup for about a year. Their first recordings were three songs that appeared on the 1986 compilation album for C/Z Records called Deep Six—"Heretic", "Tears to Forget" and "All Your Lies". It also featured songs by fellow grunge pioneers Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, the U-Men, and the Melvins. In 1986, Cornell's then-girlfriend and future wife, Susan Silver started managing Soundgarden. In the same year, Sundquist left the band to spend time with his family. Skin Yard's drummer Matt Cameron replaced him.
A Soundgarden performance one night impressed KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman who later said: "I saw this band that was everything rock music should be." Poneman offered to fund a release by the band, so Thayil suggested he 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 "Hunted Down," "Nothing to Say," appeared on the KCMU compilation tape Bands That Will Make Money, which was distributed to record companies, many of whom showed interest in Soundgarden. Through Sub Pop, the band released the Screaming Life EP in 1987, and the Fopp EP in 1988, and a combination of the two, Screaming Life/Fopp, in 1990.
Ultramega OK, major label signing, and Louder Than Love (1988–1990)
Though major labels were courting the band, in 1988 they signed to the independent label SST Records for their independent album, Ultramega OK, released on October 31, 1988. Cornell said the band "made a huge mistake with Ultramega OK" because they used a producer suggested by SST who "didn't know what was happening in Seattle". According to Steve Huey of AllMusic, Soundgarden demonstrates, a "Stooges/MC5-meets-Zeppelin/Sabbath sound" on the album. Mark Miremont directed the band's first music video for "Flower," which aired regularly on MTV's 120 Minutes. Soundgarden supported Ultramega OK on a tour in the United States in the spring of 1989, and a tour in Europe, which began in May 1989—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, which 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 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 later began work on its first album for a major label, but personnel difficulties caused a shift in the band's songwriting process, according to Cornell: "At the time Hiro [Yamamoto] 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 debut major-label album, Louder Than Love, which saw it take "a step toward the metal mainstream," according to Steve Huey of Allmusic, describing it as "a slow, grinding, detuned mountain of Sabbath/Zeppelin riffs and Chris Cornell wailing". Because of some of the 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 was to begin, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, who was becoming frustrated that he was not making much of a contribution, left the band to return to college. Jason Everman, formerly of Nirvana, replaced him on bass. The band toured North America from December 1989 to March 1990, opening for Voivod, who were supporting their album Nothingface, with Faith No More and the Big F also serving as opening acts at the beginning and end of the tour. The band then went on to tour Europe. The band fired Everman in mid-1990 immediately after completing its promotional tour for Louder Than Love. 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.
Established lineup, Badmotorfinger, and rise in popularity (1991–1993)
Bassist Ben Shepherd replaced Jason Everman and the new lineup 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 band released the resulting album, Badmotorfinger, on September 24, 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 music video in 1991. The song and its video outraged many listeners who perceived 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 eclipsed 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 on alternative rock radio and MTV. Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992, and was among the 100 top-selling albums of the year.
Soundgarden logo from Badmotorfinger
Following the release of Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden went on a North American tour in October and November 1991. Afterward, Guns N' Roses personally selected the band as its opening act for their Use Your Illusion Tour. The band also opened for Skid Row in North America in February 1992 on the its 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 then 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. Describing 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 never heard our songs and didn't care about them. It was a bizarre thing." The band played the 1992 Lollapalooza tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Ministry and the Jim Rose Circus among others. In anticipation of the band's appearance at Lollapalooza, they released a limited edition of Badmotorfinger in 1992 with a second disc containing the EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas (a palindrome), 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, filmed at Seattle's Paramount Theatre in 1992. The band appeared in the movie Singles performing "Birth Ritual". The song is included on the soundtrack, as is a Cornell solo song, "Seasons".
In 1993, the band contributed the track "Show Me" to the AIDS-Benefit Album No Alternative produced by the Red Hot Organization.
Superunknown and mainstream success (1994–1995)
Soundgarden began working on its fourth album after touring in support of Badmotorfinger. Cornell said that while working on the album, the band allowed each other more freedom than on past records, and Thayil observed that the band spent a lot more time working on the 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"; 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, and it is often interpreted to be dealing with substance abuse, suicide, and depression. At the time, Sylvia Plath inspired Cornell's writing. 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 [Nirvana's final studio album] 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 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. The album 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 Oceania and Japan, areas where the record came out early and where the band had never toured before. This round of touring ended in February 1994. In March 1994 the band moved on to Europe. They began a theater tour of the United States, first with a stop on May 27, 1994 at the PNE Forum in Vancouver, 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, and Soundgarden canceled 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 made 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 breakup (1996–1997)
Following the worldwide tour in support of Superunknown, the band began working on what would become their last studio album for over 15 years, choosing to produce the record themselves. 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. It was notably less heavy than the group's earlier albums, and marked a further departure from the band's grunge roots. At the time, Soundgarden explained that they wanted to experiment with other sounds, including acoustic instrumentation. 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 is less dark than 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 and modest sales, the album did not match the sales or critical praise 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 world tour, and already-existing tensions increased during it. When asked whether the band hated touring, Cornell replied: "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 last stop in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 9, 1997, Shepherd threw his bass into the air in frustration after suffering equipment failure, and then stormed off the stage. The band retreated, with Cornell returning to end the show with a solo encore. On April 9, 1997, the band announced it was 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." Cameron later said that Soundgarden was "eaten up by the business". The band released a greatest hits collection entitled A-Sides on November 4, 1997, composed of 17 songs, including the previously-unreleased "Bleed Together," which had been recorded during the Down on the Upside recording sessions.
Post-breakup activities (1998–2009)
This section needs additional citations for verification
. (November 2017)
Cornell released a solo album in September 1999, entitled Euphoria Morning, which featured Matt Cameron on the track "Disappearing One". Later, in 2001, Cornell formed the platinum-selling supergroup Audioslave with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, then-former members of Rage Against the Machine, which recorded three albums: Audioslave (2002), Out of Exile (2005), and Revelations (2006). Cornell left Audioslave in early 2007, resulting in the band's break-up. His second solo album, Carry On, was released in June 2007, and his third solo album, Scream, produced by Timbaland, was released in March 2009, both to mixed commercial and critical success. In 2009 Cornell provided the vocals for "Promise" on Slash's debut solo album Slash.
Thayil joined forces with former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Gina Mainwal for one show, performing as The No WTO Combo during the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle on December 1, 1999. Thayil contributed guitar tracks to Steve Fisk's 2001 album, 999 Levels of Undo, as well as Dave Grohl's 2004 side-project album, Probot. In 2006, Thayil played guitar on the album Altar, the collaboration between the bands Sunn O))) and Boris.
Cameron initially turned his efforts to his side-project Wellwater Conspiracy, to which both Shepherd and Thayil have contributed. He then worked briefly with the Smashing Pumpkins on the band's 1998 album, Adore. In 1998, he played drums for Pearl Jam's Yield Tour following Jack Irons's health problems, and later joined Pearl Jam as an official member. He has recorded five albums as the band's drummer: Binaural (2000), Riot Act (2002), Pearl Jam (2006), Backspacer (2009) and Lightning Bolt (2013). Cameron also played percussion on Geddy Lee's album My Favourite Headache. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pearl Jam.
Shepherd was the singer on Wellwater Conspiracy's 1997 debut studio album, Declaration of Conformity, but left the band in 1998. He has toured with Mark Lanegan and played bass on two of Lanegan's albums, I'll Take Care of You (1999), and Field Songs (2001). Shepherd and Cameron lent a hand with recording Tony Iommi's album IOMMI (2000). While they were members of Soundgarden they were part of the side-project band Hater, and in 2005 Shepherd released the band's long-delayed second album, The 2nd.
In a July 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Cornell shot down rumors of a reunion, saying that conversations between the band members had been limited to discussion about the release of a box set or B-sides album of Soundgarden rarities, and that there had been no discussion of a reunion at all. The band's interest in new releases emerged from a 2008 meeting about their shared properties, both financial and legal, where they realized Soundgarden lacked online presence such as a website or a Facebook page. As Thayil summed up, "we kind of had neglected our merchandise over the last decade". Eventually the musicians decided to create an official site handled by Pearl Jam's Ten Club, relaunch their catalog, and according to Cameron, seek "a bunch of unreleased stuff we wanted to try to put out". On March 2009, Thayil, Shepherd and Cameron got onstage during a concert by Tad Doyle in Seattle and played some Soundgarden songs. Cornell stated that the moment "sort of sparked the idea: If Matt, Kim, and Ben can get in a room, rehearse a couple songs, and play, maybe we all could do that as Soundgarden."
On October 6, 2009, all the members of Soundgarden attended Night 3 of Pearl Jam's four-night stand at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, CA. During an encore, Temple of the Dog reunited for the first time since Pearl Jam's show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on October 28, 2003. Chris Cornell joined the band to sing "Hunger Strike". It was the first public appearance of Soundgarden since their breakup in April 1997. Consequently, rumors of an impending reunion were circulating on the Internet.
Reunion, Telephantasm and King Animal (2010–2013)
Soundgarden performed at Lollapalooza
in 2010. (L-R: Cornell, Cameron, and Shepherd. Not pictured: Thayil.)
On January 1, 2010, Cornell alluded to a Soundgarden reunion on his account 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 featured 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 unlocked a video for the song "Get on the Snake," from Soundgarden's debut studio album, 1989's Louder Than Love. On March 1, 2010, Soundgarden announced to their e-mail subscribers that they would be re-releasing an old single "Hunted Down" with the song "Nothing to Say" on a 7-inch vinyl record. It was released on April 17, Record Store Day. They released "Spoonman" live at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego, California from 1996. Soundgarden played their 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, one week before the CD's availability in stores on October 5, 2010. An expanded version of Telephantasm consisting of two CDs and one DVD is available for sale. A previously unreleased Soundgarden song—"Black Rain"—debuted on the Guitar Hero video game and appears on the compilation album, which achieved platinum certification status after its first day of retail availability. "Black Rain" hit rock radio stations on August 10, 2010, and was the band's first single since 1997. In November 2010, Soundgarden was the second musical guest on the show Conan, making their first television appearance in 13 years. The band 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 Soundgarden announced on their homepage that they had started recording a new album. On March 1, 2011, Chris Cornell confirmed that Adam Kasper would produce it. Four days later, the band stated it would consist of material that was "90 percent new" with 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. The band headlined for Voodoo Experience at City Park in New Orleans on the 2011 Halloween weekend. In March 2012 a post on the band's official Facebook page said a new song, "Live to Rise", would be included on the soundtrack of the upcoming movie The Avengers, based on the Marvel Comics franchise. It was the first newly recorded song the band had released since re-forming in 2010. "Live to Rise" was released as a free download on iTunes on April 17. Also in March it was announced that Soundgarden would headline the Friday night of the Hard Rock Calling Festival the following July in London, England. In April, 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, 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. That June, 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; the album was released on November 13, 2012. The band released a video for "By Crooked Steps", directed by Dave Grohl, in early 2013. "Halfway There" was the third single released from the album.
Echo of Miles... and Cornell's death (2013–2017)
On November 15, 2013, drummer Matt Cameron announced he would not be touring with Soundgarden in 2014, due to prior commitments promoting Pearl Jam's album Lightning Bolt. On March 16, 2014, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails announced they were going to tour North America together, along with opening act Death Grips. Former Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain replaced Cameron for live shows in South America and Europe on March 27, 2014.
Soundgarden announced on October 28, 2014, they would release the 3-CD compilation box set, Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path, on November 24. The set includes rarities, live tracks, and unreleased material spanning the group's history. It includes previously released songs, such as "Live to Rise," "Black Rain," "Birth Ritual," and others, as well as a newly recorded rendition of the song "The Storm" from the band's pre-Matt Cameron 1985 demo, now simply titled "Storm", which was, like the original, produced by Jack Endino. One day before its official announcement, on October 27, the band posted a copy of "Storm" on YouTube.
Thayil mentioned in several interviews it was likely the band would start working on material for a new album in 2015, and in August 2015, Cornell stated they were doing so. On January 19, 2016, The Pulse Of Radio announced that Soundgarden had returned to the studio to continue working on their new album. On July 14, 2016, bassist Ben Shepherd and Cameron stated that the band had written "six solid tunes" for the new album, with more writing to be done in August.
On May 18, 2017, Cornell was found dead, "with a band around his neck," according to his representative, Brian Bumbery. Cornell was in his room at the MGM Grand hotel and casino in Detroit, Michigan, after performing at the Fox Theatre with Soundgarden. From the outset, the investigation into the singer's death was described by a local police spokesperson as that of a "possible suicide," based on unspecified details in the room where his body was discovered. Subsequently, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the cause of death as suicide by hanging. However, Cornell's widow, Vicky, questioned whether he would deliberately end his own life, and said that the drug Ativan, which her husband was taking, might have led him to commit suicide. She said: "I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life."
Following Cornell's death, Soundgarden canceled the rest of their 2017 tour, including headlining performances at Rock on the Range and Rocklahoma later that month.
Aftermath and disbandment (2017–2019)
In September 2017, drummer Matt Cameron told Billboard that he and the other surviving members of Soundgarden had yet to make a decision about the future of the band following Cornell's death. He was quoted as saying, "I don't think we're ready to say anything other than ... Kim and Ben and I are certainly aware of how much our fans are hurting, and we're certainly hurting right there along with them. But we're extremely private people, and we're all still processing our grief in our own way and on our own time. But we definitely are thinking of our fans and love them very much."
In September 2018, guitarist Kim Thayil told Billboard that he and the other surviving members of Soundgarden were still unsure about the future of the band. He was quoted as saying, "We often reference rock history and we've often commented on what other bands in similar situations have done, not as a plan or anything but just commenting on how bands have handled situations like this and what bands seem to have been graceful and dignified in how they manage their future musical endeavors and how some maybe were clumsy and callous. We think about those things. We try not to go too deep into these conversations, but stuff comes up after a few beers." A month later, Cameron told Rolling Stone that the surviving members of Soundgarden "would certainly love to try to continue to do something, figure out something to do together." Bassist Ben Shepherd added, "We haven't even gotten a chance to hang out, just us three, yet. We're going through natural healing, then thinking about the natural next step."
In an October 2018 interview with Seattle Times, Thayil stated that the Soundgarden band name would be retired. He explained, "I don't know really what kind of thing is possible or what we would consider in the future. It's likely nothing. The four of us were that. There were four of us and now there's three of us, so it's just not likely that there's much to be pursued other than the catalog work at this point." Thayil also stated that while he does not rule out the possibility of working with Cameron and Shepherd in a different capacity, writing or touring under the Soundgarden banner again was unlikely. "No, I don’t think that’s anything we’d give reasonable consideration to at this point. When I say ‘at this point,’ I mean perhaps ever.”
In January 2019, the remaining members of the band reunited in a tribute concert and fundraiser in The Forum in Inglewood, California, organized by Cornell's widow, Vicky Cornell. Members of Soundgarden, Temple of The Dog, Audioslave, Melvins, Foo Fighters and Metallica together with other notable artists performed songs from Cornell's career. Taylor Momsen, Marcus Durant, Brandi Carlile and Taylor Hawkins contributed vocals to Soundgarden, who performed "Rusty Cage", "Flower", "Outshined", "Drawing Flies", "Loud Love", "I Awake", "The Day I Tried to Live" and "Black Hole Sun", making this their first and only performance after Cornell's death.
On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Soundgarden among hundreds of artists whose master tapes were reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.