Currently comprised of founding members Chris Cornell (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Kim Thayil (lead guitar), along with Matt Cameron (drums), who joined in 1986 and Ben Shepherd (bass), who joined in 1990, the Seattle, WA-based grunge/alt-rock quartet Soundgarden can trace its origins back to the formation and eventual breakup of an early 80s Seattle-based band The Shemps, which featured Cornell on drums and vocals, along with original bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Strangely enough, over the years what seems to have been forgotten is that the members of Soundgarden had started their recording career with Sub Pop Records; in fact, the renowned alt rock/indie label released the band’s first two EPs 1987’s Screaming Life and 1988’s Fopp, two efforts, which the label re-issued a couple of years ago through both vinyl and digital formats, marking the first time in about 25 years that the EPs were pressed onto vinyl — and the first time they were released digitally. Interestingly enough, Sub Pop Records helped distributed Soundgarden’s 1988 full-length debut, Ultramega OK.
And although they had some creative differences with the album’s producer Drew Canulette and the band’s overall dissatisfaction with the final mixes, their full-length effort was a commercial success as it garnered both a 1990 Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance and attention from larger labels — including A&M Records, who quickly signed the band. At the time, the band had intended to spend some time remixing the album for subsequent pressings of the album; but those plans wound up falling by the wayside, as the band went on to write and record their sophomore effort, and major-label debut, Louder Than Love.
Last year, the members of the band acquired the original multi-track tapes from the Ultramega OK sessions and they enlisted the assistance of renowned producer, engineer, long-time friend and frequent, old-time collaborator Jack Endino, who has famously worked with Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, The Black Clouds and others to create a new mix of the album that would tie up what the band felt were persistent loose ends — while fixing the album’s overall sound. Interestingly, the band found six early version of album singles that eventually wound up on Ultramega OK and reportedly those early versions, which would eventually become staples of their live sets at the time, capture the band’s sound and songwriting in a much rawer, less polished form — and much closer to the sound on the Screaming Life EP.
Almost 30 years after Ultramega OK’s original release, Sub Pop Records will be releasing the remixed and expanded re-issue of the album, as a long-awaited “correction.” Naturally, for die-hard fans and completists, the re-mixed material will capture the band’s sound as they fully intended it, while the re-discovered early material will serve as a window into the development of the band’s songwriting approach and overall sound. Now, as you may remember, I wrote about the re-issue’s first single “Beyond The Wheel” and the re-mixed version possessed a crisper, cleaner sound, which helped to display Kim Thayill’s incredible guitar work and the interplay between Matt Cameron’s Bonham-like thundering drumming and Cornell’s Robert Plant-like wailing. The re-mixed and expanded Ultramega OK’s second single “Flower” much like its preceding single displays a cleaner, crisper sound, which gives the song the muscular insistence that the band became known for while interestingly enough, the song has moments that nod at Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.