Soundgarden may have come out of Seattle in the early '90s, but it's never been part of the grunge movement –– then or now - bass player Ben Shepherd says.
"That's just a marketing ploy –– grunge was a word used in TV commercials about scum on your shower," says Shepherd, who performs with the band 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. "It's just rock 'n' roll or punk rock –– we were never grunge. We're just a band from Seattle."
Soundgarden, which took more than a decade-long hiatus before starting up again in 2010, is really more of post-punk metal outfit than anything associated with grunge, Shepherd says.
"Soundgarden didn't emulate anybody," he says. "We were the first heavy band opening at punk shows. This was a weird crossover time, when metalheads were listening to punk rock. Soundgarden was one of the first post-punk era to get heavy and powerful and not be a gratuitous punk rock band."
Having spent so much time apart, the band is focusing on the here and now, which includes extensive touring behind its late 2012 release "King Animal" (Universal Republic).
The current set revolves around the band's first new music in more than 15 years –– including first single "Been Away Too Long" –– along with catalog tracks, such as "Black Hole Sun," "Spoonman," "Pretty Noose" and "Burden in My Hand."
"Each night is a completely different set," Shepherd says. "The new album is predominantly what we're doing, then we go back to the catalog."
Shepherd says the new songs "fit like a hat in glove with the other songs."
For its return to the studio, Soundgarden similarly found the "same old chemistry."
"It's not old like it's tired," Shepherd says. "There's still the creative zap that goes on. That's the same as it ever was. There's an excitement to it."
Starting in the mid-'80s, Soundgarden worked its way up through the Seattle music scene, led by frontman and lead singer Chris Cornell and guitarist Kim Thayil. Drummer Matt Cameron and Shepherd joined up a little later.
Soundgarden released its major label debut, "Louder Than Love," on A&M in 1989, and reached its commercial peak in 1994, with the chart-topping "Superunknown." The latter yielded its biggest hit single, "Black Hole Sun," and won two Grammys.
By 1997, Soundgarden was done, the victim of growing differences among band members. Over the next decade, the personnel tried out various solo projects and collaborations with other musicians, before testing the reunion waters in 2010 with a series of live shows at Lollapalooza and other venues.
The following year, Soundgarden released a live album, "Live on I-5," as a precursor to heading back into the studio. Having found its way back together, Shepherd doesn't know what the future will bring.
"I'm not sagacious enough to know that answer," he says. "I can spout all my opinions I want. We'll see how it goes. We're all in the same boat. We want to keep making music. Now that we've established the craft, we'll take our time and do it as we please."
For Shepherd, it's all about the creative click that happens when he plays with the rest of the band.
"I think of songs every day I'd like to see Matt drum on and Chris sing on and Kim play guitar on. I think of weird stuff for Soundgarden all the time. I'm hoping sooner rather than later we'll get to record more. All three of those guys are so creative, there's no stopping them. There's the technicality of reality and life that happens –– you've just got to take it as it comes."
Same jam, different times
For "King Animal," Soundgarden's first studio outing in 15 years, the band pretty much picked up the creative process where it left off in 1997, when it last made a new album, bassist Ben Shepherd says.
The record has earned mixed reviews, with Time critic Matt Melis saying it "proves that Soundgarden still have their muscle but also hints that they are in the process of figuring out how to flex it again."
The all-important flexing starts in pre-production, where the players "get together and jam and work out ideas," Shepherd says. "Some of us bring songs in and we work on those. We do that for a while."
Next comes studio time "whenever we think we're ready. We go in and completely mal-form everything that we learned," Shepherd says.
One major difference this time around: Soundgarden wasn't signed to a label when it made the record, although the band eventually worked out a deal with Universal Republic.
"We didn't have a record label when we did it," he says. "We didn't have deadlines. We had a bunch of pesky, impatient fans going, 'No way, they're not doing that,' or 'I'd wish they'd hurry up,' which was fine and flattering –– at least someone cares."