Two landmark albums from the ’90s alternative-rock revolution — Seattle quartet Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” and “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails, the Trent Reznor-led industrial-rock collective — turn 20 this year.
Remarkably, both bands remain a going concern in 2014, and have teamed up for a tour that brings them to the Xfinity Center Tuesday. With Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron busy with his other job playing for Pearl Jam, gifted journeyman Matt Chamberlain — who has worked with everyone from Fiona Apple to, well, Pearl Jam — will be playing alongside guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and singer-guitarist Chris Cornell.
Although Soundgarden recently released a deluxe-edition box-set reissue of “Superunknown,” the gently genial Thayil, on the phone from the Red Rocks Amphitheatre stop in Colorado on the tour, assures that this is no nostalgia fest. Both bands are mixing up classic and current tracks as Nine Inch Nails tours behind last year’s “Hesitation Marks” and Soundgarden continues to promote its 2012 comeback album, “King Animal.” To both bands, and to the no doubt large overlap between their audiences, the tour makes sense.
“There’s a dark, psychedelic component to the tone of the music and lyrics,” says Thayil. “Even though we’re stylistically different kinds of bands and slightly different subgenres, I think the general genre is heavy dark music, so that’s probably why we were mutual admirers for such a long period of time.”
Q. Whose idea was it to team up?
A. I don’t specifically recall. But we tried to get this bill together in 1994 after “Superunknown” and “Downward Spiral” came out. We were scheduled to tour with Nine Inch Nails in the autumn of ’94. But there were a few things that occurred, including Chris losing his voice — he had to go to a doctor and a vocal coach — and that delay required that we skip that tour. So it’s kind of cool 20 years later we have the opportunity again.
Q. Sometimes it seems like all rock stars must know each other but, of course, that’s not always the case. Were you friends with Trent before this tour?
A. I actually just met him for the first time a couple of days ago. [Laughs.] It’s like baseball players. The New York team is playing in New York, and you’ve got a team in Arizona and another in Seattle, and they don’t all meet each other through the course of the year, and that happens in rock. We’ve been mutual admirers and fans of each other’s bands just crossing paths. [Pauses for a moment.] You know, we did play a few shows together in the ’90s. We played one in Ontario at a huge park. Maybe we met then? But we didn’t stay in touch. [Laughs.]
Q. There is a sense though that Trent is the auteur of Nine Inch Nails, while Soundgarden has been a more traditionally democratic band.
A. We’ve always tried to keep the band democratic. My favorite bands growing up always had that —
Q. Bands often break up under dramatic circumstances, but it appeared that you all split fairly amicably.
A. We probably should’ve put the brakes on and measured where we were at. But there was a definite negative burnout both collectively and individually, but not toward each other, just toward the whole machine which Soundgarden evolved into. But there’s no individual personality thing any more than you’d get with siblings, and that’s entirely manageable. Nobody’s committing suicide, there’s no substance abuse, nobody’s sleeping with anyone else’s wife.
Q. Did releasing “King Animal” make it easier to do the “Superunknown” reissue? To look back after you had produced something new?
A. Yeah, but we’re still looking forward. We’re looking at where we’re at and where we’re going. The “Superunknown” thing is a catalog issue and we’re tending to that, but we’re still looking forward. Being in the band, for us, is primarily a creative enterprise and if we’re not going to behave creatively then there’s no strong reason to just be jugglers or jesters for entertaining.
Q. You played a few shows where you did “Superunknown” in its entirety. Did you learn anything about the songs that surprised you?
A. There were songs that we hadn’t played as frequently as others, and in doing so there was some reinterpretation which was fun. It keeps it interesting for ourselves; that was great.
Q. Is it tough sharing Matt Cameron with Pearl Jam?
A. No, because it was under the auspices of Pearl Jam and Matt Cameron that really Soundgarden got going again. Everything from the rehearsal facilities to a lot of the crew guys we started working with — a lot of that came during Pearl Jam’s downtime and a lot of support from their management team. They’ve been very helpful, so without that camp, it might’ve been more difficult for us to facilitiate what we’re doing now.
Q. Maybe you could tour together, and just have Matt work all night long?
A. [Laughs.] And that’s the reason we probably won’t ever do it. I suppose we could do it and Matt Cameron and Matt Chamberlain could split duties because Matt Chamberlain has played with Pearl Jam too. We’ll look at that down the road. [Laughs.]