Soundgarden Respond To ‘Sloppy’ Performance Accusation


Kim Thayil of Soundgarden addressed criticisms of his playing being labeled “sloppy” during a recent interview with Pete Thorn. Thayil, known for kickstarting the Drop D tuning revival in the early ’90s, explained that accusations of sloppiness overlook his playing philosophy and the unique qualities that come with experimenting with different sounds.

Thayil acknowledged reading online reviews criticizing his playing as sloppy and highlighted his unconventional approach to the guitar. He emphasized that precision was never his primary goal and that he abandoned traditional patterns and scales more than 30 years ago. Thayil mentioned experimenting with various tunings, creating new ones, and adjusting things, which required relearning songs both visually and aurally.

“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.’ 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.”

“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’m gonna play in that, so now I have to play more by ear and visually. 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?”

The guitarist explained how he discarded conventional patterns and scales, relying on ear and visual memory to navigate the neck. Thayil described his process of playing within the context of different tunings, visualizing chords and notes, and orienting the octave.

Regarding his perceived sloppiness, Thayil humorously attributed occasional mistakes to playing songs in different keys and admitted that after a few beers, mistakes might happen.

Thayil shared insights into his lead guitar philosophy, emphasizing the freedom within structured songs and the importance of exploring and conveying emotions and ideas. He described his guitar solos as improvisation rather than melodic exploration of themes, distinguishing his approach from some metal and jazz players.

“You start learning the patterns, you just look at the neck and, ‘I go here, and as I ascend, here are 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.”

Circling back to his perceived sloppiness, Kim said:

“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.”

In conclusion, Thayil expressed love for Soundgarden as a band that allowed him to experiment with unconventional tunings and appreciated the freedom to explore and challenge established norms in his lead guitar work. The interview shed light on Thayil’s unconventional yet influential approach to the guitar, challenging conventional expectations and contributing to Soundgarden’s distinctive sound.