Guitarist Kim A. Thayil was born in Seattle, Washington, on September 4, 1960, to East Indian parents. He lived there until age 5, when he moved to Park Forest, Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He spent the majority of his childhood there, though he did live in India for a while. Thayil grew up listening to the MC5, the Dolls, the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground, but it all began with Kiss. "Kiss Alive was the second album I ever bought, and the first record that made me realize things could be a lot louder and more violent than the Beatles. It emphasized volume and guitar over harmony, melody and lyrics; all the stuff I never listened to anyway," he told Mudhoney's Mark Arm. Thayil's first band, Zippy and His Vast Army of Pinheads, did both original songs (written by Thayil and inspired by his punk music tastes) and cover tunes (mostly the Sex Pistols and the Ramones).
He graduated, along with Hiro Yamamoto and Bruce Pavitt, from the alternative learning program at Rich East High School in 1981. He and Yamamoto decided to move to Olympia, Washington, to study at Evergreen State College, but they were unable to find jobs, and decided to move to Seattle. There Thayil enrolled in the University of Washington, where he subsequently earned a degree in philosophy, and earned money as a DJ for KCMU.
Thayil wound up in the Shemps, a band founded by his roommate Matt Dentino, replacing, oddly enough, Yamamoto as bassist after Chris Cornell joined the band. In 1984, after the demise of the Shemps, Thayil -- sans beard -- was invited to join Yamamoto and his new roommate Cornell in a band. They named themselves Soundgarden.
Since then, Thayil has lent his talents to other projects: he plays guitar for Pigeonhed; he appears on the Presidents' of the United States of America self-titled album; and he teamed up with big names like Johnny Cash and Krist Novoselic to record "Time of the Preacher" for the Twisted Willie non-tribute to Willie Nelson. In addition, he is involved in a project called Dark Load, with Seattle personality Jeff Gilbert.