The grunge veterans were among the 2023 nominees announced on Wednesday morning.
“It was not no my radar,” Thayil, who co-founded the group during 1984 in Seattle, tells Billboard. “I hadn’t been thinking about it, so it’s a very pleasant surprise. Very cool.”
The nod comes three years after Soundgarden’s first nomination, in 2020, and Thayil says that taught him — along with surviving bandmates drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd — about the regard and relevance the band enjoys nearly four years after it ended in the wake of frontman Chris Cornell‘s suicide following a concert in Detroit.
“What was cool about (2020) was just the recognition of the acknowledgement,” Thayil explains. “If you’re involved with your bandmates and fellow musicians in your peer group, you can sometimes get isolated from the general historical context of how the band has evolved and became part of the broader community of music and musicians. So I think that acknowledgement and that recognition was a reminder that, hey, they work that you did with your partners was part of a continuity and a history of music. That’s kind of cool.”
Thayil adds that it was Cornell who helped Soundgarden get some appreciation of the Rock Hall after he inducted Seattle rock precursors Heart in 2013. “He lived the experience and said the enthusiasm of the fans was eye-opening for him, and understanding how important that was… And Matt seconded it. And I think that’s always been a context in which Soundgarden would understand its work; we always wanted to be the kind of band for our fans that we looked up to and inspired us. We wanted to be that kind of band would make decisions with regard to that community that had supported us or that we had worked to build, and I think we did a great job of that.”
Soundgarden were named on Tuesday as part of a class of nominees that also includes Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Iron Maiden, JoyDivision/New Order, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, The Spinners, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes and Warren Zevon.
During its 34-year run, Soundgarden released seven studio albums, including the six-times platinum Superunknown in 1994, and won two Grammy Awards. The group was the first of the Northwest grunge bands to sign with a major label (A&M Records in 1989) and spearheaded a movement out of Seattle that also included Rock Hall inductees Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The late Cornell also released five solo studio albums and joined members of Rage Against the Machine in the band Audioslave during Soundgarden’s 1997-2010 hiatus.
A Soundgarden induction this fall could be tricky, though. Cornell’s widow, Vicky Cornell, has two pending lawsuits against the band. One is over seven unreleased recordings Cornell worked on before his death that she claims belonged to him and not the band and another charges that the surviving members have undervalued the estate’s share in the band in a buyout offer and was withholding money that was owed. Soundgarden has denied the allegations.
If voted in, can everyone put aside the differences?
“I think our interest and dedication is to that work and that legacy, and that would involve honoring our beloved partner and his legacy as well,” Thayil says. “I think this (nomination) is part of the recognition of our work, of our career and of the material we produced. And I think the band wants to continue and has always wanted to continue with attending to that legacy, and that’s the way we can honor Soundgarden and honor Chris.”
Thayil and Cameron (who’s part of Pearl Jam) did reunite to play a pair of songs at the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert last September in Los Angeles. “It was an unusual experience to feel that combination of sadness and reverence and enthusiasm. It’s really odd,” Thayil recalls. “It’s always great to play with Ben and Matt, and it’s great to play the material that we worked on and recorded and promote… and to address the legacy with our work and to honor the band and Chris.”
On his own, Thayil is continuing to work with 3rd Secret, a band that includes Cameron, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and others; he says the group was recently “in the studio doing a little bit of writing and recording. I think that’ll kid of continue as long as that’s fun for us and rewarding, and it has been. It’s the same sort of situation — someone has ideas, ‘Hey Kim, Matt, come here. I want to show you my song. What do you think of it? Do you want to play it? Do you have any ideas?’ — just the way Soundgarden was like, really.”
Inductees will be revealed in May, with the induction ceremony taking place this fall. The top five artists selected through fan voting will be tallied along with the ballots from the Rock Hall’s international voting body to determine the Class of 2023. Fans can vote online every day through April 28 at vote.rockhall.com or IRL at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.