The Meaning Behind the Band Name: Soundgarden

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When considering the seminal ’90s rock genre Grunge, many might consider its most formative bands to be Nirvana or even Pearl Jam.

But no, the one that came before those two giants (as well as before big names like Alice in Chains) was the Seattle-born rock band Soundgarden.

But how did that band come to prominence and where did its odd two-word-smushed-together name come from? That’s what we’ll dive into here.

Origins

The Seattle-born rock band Soundgarden first came to local prominence in the mid-1980s in the Pacific Northwest. While the group was known for its shrieking singer Chris Cornell, many might not know that the vocalist started out behind the drum kit with the group.

Also along for the ride in those early days were heavy and sludgy lead guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Hiro Yamamoto and precision perfect bassist Matt Cameron (who became the band’s full-time drummer in 1986). Later, in 1990, bassist Ben Shepherd took over for Yamamoto.

The Name: Soundgarden

The band, which formed in 1984, named itself after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture, which was called: A Sound Garden. The installation was featured on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property at 7600 Sand Point Way in Seattle, next to the popular Magnuson Park.

At first, the band thought the name was funny and might even give its fans or bookers the wrong impression of the group, thinking they were more of the “flower-power” vibe than their true grunge rock origins. Soon, the people knew what to expect, however. ROCK!

Sub Pop Records And SST

Soundgarden signed to Sub Pop Records in the company’s early days. In fact, the band was the first of a number of grunge groups to sign to the label—and work with producer Jack Endino, known today by many as “The Grunge Father.”

Soundgarden released an EP in 1987 and another the following year and California-based indie label SST Records released the band’s debut LP, Ultramega OK. That album was nominated for a Grammy in 1990.

Big Success, Dissolution, and Chris Cornell’s Death

The band achieved its biggest successes with its 1994 album, Superunknown, which featured hits like “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman.” But the band later dissolved in 1997.

Some 13 years later in 2010, Soundgarden reformed. But that was relatively short-lived given the death of frontman Chris Cornell by suicide in 2017. Since then, the band has been wrapped up in legal battles with Cornell’s widow.

In its lifetime, the band has sold some 14 million records in the United States and 30 million worldwide.

Brandi Carlile

The Pacific Northwest Grammy Award-winning songwriter and performer has stated publicly that she’d like to front the band as it moves forward.

Will this be popular if it ever happens? Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

Photo by Jen Cash

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