“I threw being within the lines and within the borders out the window years before”: Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil on being called a “sloppy” guitar player

“To me, a guitar solo was improvisation.”

Kim Thayil

Image: Mauricio Santana / Getty Images

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Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil has opened up about his approach to the guitar and his thoughts on those who call him a “sloppy” player.

The guitarist was speaking in a new interview with Pete Thorn where he discusses some of the online comments he’s received for his work in Soundgarden.

“I’ve recently read this online review, and it’s like, ‘I don’t know, I’ve seen Kim live, he is just kind of sloppy,’” Thayil says [via Killer Guitar Rigs]. “I started thinking, ‘I played about eight different guitar tunings. At some point, 30 years ago or more, the idea of patterns and box patterns and scales, I just threw it out the window.”

“I now have to relearn the song on the neck visually, as well as orally,” he adds. “Everything I’d learned when I was younger, that I taught myself about scales or patterns, those are no longer factors because we’re coming up with our own tunings, or making shit up, or adjusting things.”

“I look at the song and look at the neck. There’s that chord, there’s this chord. I picture where the chords are, I picture where the notes are, and then the first thing you do at any tuning is you orient the octave, right?”

Thayil also explains how he navigates Soundgarden songs like Rusty Cage and Pretty Noose, which use unconventional tunings, saying: “You start learning the patterns, you just look at the neck and, ‘I go here, and as I ascend, here’s the notes I can play.’ I can throw in these half steps now and then, and it kind of twists it into a little different mode here and there.”

“I don’t know what the mode is. It’s by ear, it’s by eye, and you just kind of learn these patterns on the songs — that’s how I play.”

He continues: “Now, if you’re playing four or five songs in those same weird tunings, but the songs are in different keys [laughs] and you’ve gotta remember the different patterns, yeah, sometimes you miss them, especially after a few beers.”

For Thayil, who “threw being within the lines and within the borders out the window years before”, a lead is “not a melodic exploration of themes, as a lot of metal guys do it and maybe as some jazz guys do it. To me, a guitar solo was improvisation.”

“This is either where you’re being expressive — either expressive emotively or perhaps you’re being expressive aesthetically. So if you’re not dressing the emotions, you’re dressing me the ideas or the feeling of a song. And in that case, it’s going to be different from day to day.”

“So rather than having a distinct pattern, you have a general outline, and then you kind of move around in there. I liked what I did last time, and I want to do more of that, but then go here,” he says.

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