Thayil became acclaimed for his guitar work, which was typically characterized by heavy riffing, and was cited among other grunge guitarists as an influence and a pioneer of the "Seattle Sound." In 1994, Thayil commented, "I think Soundgarden is a pretty good band and I'm a fine guitarist. I'm not God, but I'm certainly not average. I feel very comfortable with the fact that not many other people can do what I do on guitar. I think my guitar is happy with the way I play it."
During the recording sessions for Soundgarden's final album, Down on the Upside, Thayil clashed with Cornell over the vocalist's desire to shift away from Soundgarden's traditional heavy riffing. In the midst of these tensions, which increased on the subsequent tour and came to climax at a show in Hawaii (where Ben Shepherd flung his bass into the air in frustration after suffering from several technical failures), Soundgarden announced that it was disbanding in April 1997.

On January 1st, 2010 it was announced that Soundgarden have officially reunited from posts made by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell through Facebook and Twitter, although no other details regarding this reunion have been announced at this time.

Originally one of Soundgarden's main songwriters, Thayil's contributions as a writer eventually dwindled to just one song on Down on the Upside, "Never the Machine Forever." While a member of Soundgarden, he wrote the following songs for the band:

•"Hunted Down" (Screaming Life) ... music
•"Nothing to Say" (Screaming Life) ... music
•"Tears To Forget" (Screaming Life) ... music (co-written)
•"Little Joe" (Screaming Life) ... music
•"Hand of God" (Screaming Life) ... music
•"Kingdom of Come" (Fopp) ... credited to Soundgarden
•"Flower" (Ultramega OK) ... music
•"All Your Lies" (Ultramega OK) ... music (co-written)
•"Circle of Power" (Ultramega OK) ... music
•"Incessant Mace" (Ultramega OK) ... music
•"Hands All Over" (Louder Than Love) ... music
•"Get on the Snake" (Louder Than Love) ... music
•"Heretic" (Loudest Love) ... music
•"Jesus Christ Pose" (Badmotorfinger) ... music (co-written)
•"Room a Thousand Years Wide" (Badmotorfinger) ... lyrics
•"New Damage" (Badmotorfinger) ... music (co-written)
•"My Wave" (Superunknown) ... music (co-written)
•"Superunknown" (Superunknown) ... music (co-written)
•"Limo Wreck" (Superunknown) ... music (co-written)
•"Kickstand" (Superunknown) ... music
•"Never the Machine Forever" (Down on the Upside) ... music and lyrics

After the demise of Soundgarden, Thayil went on to contribute guitar to work by Pigeonhed and Presidents of the United States of America. More recently, he contributed guitar to the track "Blood Swamp" from the 2006 SunnO)))/Boris album Altar, for which he also wrote liner notes. Thayil also plays lead guitar on a track called "V.O.G." by Ascend, which features Gentry Densley (Iceburn, Eagle Twin) and Greg Anderson (Sunn O))), Engine Kid, Goatsnake). Ascend's record, titled Ample Fire Within, was released in 2008 by Southern Lord Records.

In 1999, Thayil formed a punk band, the No WTO Combo, with Jello Biafra (formerly of Dead Kennedys), Krist Novoselic (formerly of Nirvana, at the time a member of Sweet 75), and Gina Mainwal (also of Sweet 75). The band was formed to celebrate and further the rampant protest activity against the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, which was held on November 30, 1999. Originally scheduled to play at the Showbox on that same evening, police prevented the band from doing so, forcing the show to be rescheduled for the following night. This was Thayil's first live concert since the breakup of Soundgarden. The show was recorded by Mark Cavener and mixed by Soundgarden producer Jack Endino; it was released as the album Live from the Battle in Seattle in May 2000.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Thayil #100 on the list of the "100 greatest guitarists of all time".

In 2004, Thayil played guitar for Probot, Dave Grohl's heavy metal side-project; he was featured on the songs "Ice Cold Man" and "Sweet Dreams."

Thayil was a recurring participant on the Almost Live! sketch comedy show, calling things "lame" during "The Lame List" segments.

In 2009, Thayil played with Soundgarden's Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd at a show in Seattle on March 24, 2009 at the Crocodile Cafe that was headlined by Tom Morello's The Nightwatchman. It was the first time the three had played together in public since the band's 1997 breakup. The three were joined by Tad Doyle of fellow '90s Seattle band TAD, and performed three Soundgarden songs. For the last song (Spoonman) they were joined by Tom Morello. Thayil is currently playing with Greg Gilmore of Mother Love Bone and Danny Kelly of Heliotroupe in the group Set & Setting. Their debut performance was October 31, 2009 above the famed K Records warehouse now known as the Cherry St. Loft in Olympia Washington.

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Kim Thayil (born September 4, 1960 in Seattle, Washington) is an Indian-American guitarist best known as member of the Seattle-based grunge band Soundgarden, which he cofounded with singer Chris Cornell and bassist Hiro Yamamoto in 1984. Thayil was named 100th best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

Although he was born in Seattle in 1960, Thayil grew up in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest. Thayil's parents are from the Indian state of Kerala.

Thayil met Hiro Yamamoto at Rich East High School in Park Forest. After graduation, they moved to Washington, where Thayil studied philosophy at the University of Washington. There they met Chris Cornell, a roommate, and the three formed Soundgarden in 1984.

Soundgarden became the first of Seattle's grunge bands to sign with a major label (A&M Records). They went on to release five albums, including three which went platinum at least once, and win two Grammys.