Kim A. Thayil (born September 4, 1960) is an American musician best known as the lead guitarist of the Seattle-based rock band Soundgarden, which he cofounded with singer Chris Cornell and bassist Hiro Yamamoto in 1984. Thayil was named the 100th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone.
Although he was born in Seattle in 1960, Thayil grew up in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest. His parents came from the state of Kerala in India to Seattle. His father Boniface Thayil earned a degree in chemical engineering, received employment in Chicago and moved there with his family.
Thayil's first band, Zippy and His Vast Army of Pinheads, did both original songs (written by Thayil and inspired by his punk music tastes) and cover tunes (mostly the Sex Pistols and the Ramones).
Thayil met Hiro Yamamoto at Rich East High School in Park Forest. He graduated, along with Hiro Yamamoto and Bruce Pavitt, from the alternative learning program at Rich East High School in 1981. He and Yamamoto decided to move to Olympia, Washington, to study at Evergreen State College, but they were unable to find jobs, and decided to move to Seattle. There, Thayil earned money as a DJ for KCMU and achieved a degree in philosophy at the University of Washington. In Seattle they also met Chris Cornell, a roommate, and the three formed Soundgarden in 1984.
Soundgarden became the first of Seattle's grunge bands to sign with a major label (A&M Records). They went on to release five albums, including three which went platinum at least once, and won two Grammys.
Thayil became acclaimed for his guitar work, which was typically characterized by heavy riffing, and was cited among other grunge guitarists as an influence and a pioneer of the "Seattle Sound." In 1994, Thayil commented, "I think Soundgarden is a pretty good band and I'm a fine guitarist. I'm not God, but I'm certainly not average. I feel very comfortable with the fact that not many other people can do what I do on guitar. I think my guitar is happy with the way I play it."
Originally one of Soundgarden's main songwriters, Thayil's contributions as a writer eventually dwindled to just one song on Down on the Upside, "Never the Machine Forever", although he contributed to details in every song, as did every band member. Thayil explained that "Collaboration was paramount in our early music, especially right at the beginning when it was me on guitar, Hiro on bass and Chris on drums," but eventually all four members became songwriters of their own, "all writing guitar parts that I had to learn." This led him to do "Never the Machine Forever" all on his own, as Thayil thought "Well, if I'm going to have a song on this fucking record, I'm going to have to write lyrics."
While a member of Soundgarden, he has written the following songs for the band:
After the 1997 breakup of Soundgarden, Thayil went on to contribute guitar to work by Pigeonhed and Presidents of the United States of America. More recently, he contributed guitar to the track "Blood Swamp" from the 2006 Sunn O)))/Boris album Altar, for which he also wrote liner notes. Thayil also plays lead guitar on a track called "V.O.G." by Ascend, which features Gentry Densley (Iceburn, Eagle Twin) and Greg Anderson (Sunn O))), Engine Kid, Goatsnake). Ascend's record, titled Ample Fire Within, was released in 2008 by Southern Lord Records.
In 1999, Thayil formed a punk band, the No WTO Combo, with Jello Biafra (formerly of Dead Kennedys), Krist Novoselic (formerly of Nirvana, at the time a member of Sweet 75), and Gina Mainwal (also of Sweet 75). The band was formed to celebrate and further the rampant protest activity against the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, which was held on November 30, 1999. Originally scheduled to play at The Showbox on that same evening, police prevented the band from doing so, forcing the show to be rescheduled for the following night. This was Thayil's first live concert since the breakup of Soundgarden. The show was recorded by Mark Cavener and mixed by Soundgarden producer Jack Endino; it was released as the album Live from the Battle in Seattle in May 2000.
Thayil was a recurring participant on the Almost Live! sketch comedy show, calling things "lame" during "The Lame List" segments.
In 2009, Thayil played with Soundgarden's Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd at a show in Seattle on March 24, 2009 at the Crocodile Cafe that was headlined by Tom Morello's The Nightwatchman. It was the first time the three had played together in public since the band's 1997 breakup. The three were joined by Tad Doyle of fellow 1990s Seattle band TAD, and performed three Soundgarden songs. For the last song (Spoonman) they were joined by Tom Morello (Morello had played the song before with Audioslave). Thayil has also played with Greg Gilmore of Mother Love Bone and Danny Kelly of Heliotroupe in the group Set & Setting. Their debut performance was October 31, 2009 above the famed K Records warehouse now known as the Cherry St. Loft in Olympia Washington.
On January 1, 2010 it was announced through Facebook and Twitter posts by Chris Cornell that the official Soundgarden fanclub had been restarted. On April 15, 2010, it was announced that Soundgarden would play its first show since 1997 the following day at the Showbox at the Market in its Seattle hometown. The band played under the name 'Nudedragons', an anagram for Soundgarden.
On August 5, 2010 the band played their first reunion show under the Soundgarden name at The Vic Theatre in Chicago. Three days later, on August 8, 2010, they headlined the final night of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.