“I thought, this is not me”: Kim Thayil explains why Chris Cornell played guitar during the verses of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun

“I told Chris, ‘You wrote the part – you track it!’ I thought he would do it better than me.”

Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell playing guitar together on stage in 2012.

Image: Jim Dyson / Getty

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Black Hole Sun is the introduction point to Soundgarden. The song, which landed as the third single from their 1994 album Superunknown, is still a beloved track today and is regarded a classic. But did you know, one of its key guitar parts was played by frontman Chris Cornell?

According to the band’s lead guitarist Kim Thayil, the arpeggios during the verses that Cornell wrote for the track felt “stylistically unusual” to him, and so he passed the duty of tracking those parts back over to Cornell.

Speaking in the new print issue of Guitar Player, Thayil says, “I love playing arpeggios when you have delay or chorus on them, maybe some sustain or distortion. We would double them with high stringing from a 12-string guitar. [Producer] Terry Date introduced us to that on Louder Than Love. But the Black Hole Sun arpeggios were stylistically unusual for me.

“I’ve described it as sounding like the right side of a piano, or little fairies dancing on the head of a pin like ballerinas. It was very delicate, and I thought, this is not me. Chris said, ‘You’re good at arpeggios. Go ahead and do it.’ I’d start to do it, but halfway through I’d fuck up. I was like, ‘All right, punch me in.’ But they said they couldn’t punch me in because I was going through a Leslie cabinet.”

He explains, “You can’t punch in if the speaker is rotating because it’s always going to be in a different position. So it was like, ‘Kim, you have to play the whole thing straight through or else the difference in the sweep will be noticeable.’ Every time I tried it, I would fuck up.”

Thayil remembers that the part began “psyching him out” so he “told Chris, ‘You wrote the part – you track it!’ I thought he would do it better than me,” he says. “He started tracking it, and I went out in the lobby and had some tea. After 20 minutes, I went back in and looked at Chris. He shook his head and said, ‘Let’s try it again.’ In the end, he was less likely to be psyched out than me. He did the part, and I was like, ‘Whew! I’ll play on the next part.’”

Thayil’s guitar work can however be heard across the chorus, the solos and other colour parts on the track.

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