Reprinted without permission from Access, June/July
A DEGREE OF INTENSITY
Like two imprisoned men, singer Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron are staring out the window of a small, cell-like room at the back of the surprisingly large offices of Susan Silver, Mr. Cornell's wife and the manager of several succesful recording acts including Alice in Chains, Sponge, and Cornell and Cameron's own band Soundgarden. (The band's other members are guitarist Kim Thayil and bass player Ben Shepherd.)
They appear to be watching the world go by, which on this April afternoon in drizzly downtown Seattle means hordes of people making their way through the streets to the nearby Kingdome for an early-season Mariners' baseball game. Cornell is dressed all in black while the affable Cameron has just pulled in on his BMW motorcycle. Besides the new album, Down on the Upside (the bands fourth and highly-anticipated follow-up to their commercial breakthrough, Superunknown), Soundgarden has recently signed on for Lollpalooza '96, joining Metallica and eclectic cast of performers for what is shaping up to be the most 'mainstream' alternative touring festival yet.
SW: Why'd you call the album, Down on the Upside?
CC: Well, it's a line in the song 'Dusty' and we were going through a bunch of different record titles and it's really sort of difficult for us, especially when the last couple of records, 'cause they're musically pretty divers. Overall, it represents the whole record in terms of the different feels. We were gonna go with 'Mr. Bunch Pants' for a while and 'Comin' at Ya' was a contender but...
SW: Tell me a bit about the recording. When was it done and where?
CC: Well, we started in July but had to take a break because we did some European festivals. And then after that we did some more songwriting for a month or so. We recorded most of it at Studio Litho, which is Stone Gossard's studio, which he just opened. I think we were the first band to make a whole album there, weren't we?
MC: I think Devilhead did one. We were the second band. But he built this studio out of an old engraving factory or something. It had old, solid cement wall and he put in a really nice wood floor and a control room, did it up really nice and had some old vintage gear. You know, a Studer 24-track, which is a really good-sounding machine. So we felt really comfortable there and the sounds were good. So yeah, it worked out real smooth.
SW: Are you guys studio types? Are you the kind of musicians who enjoy spending a lot of time in the studio?
MC: I think so, yeah. I think we're pretty good at it. We're able to capture the music as well as use a few studio tricks and wizardry to enhance the music. But we still keep in mind that we have to perform it one day. So we don't do, like, Queen backing vocals or anything like that.
SW: Is every time different, in terms ofthe recording experience and the way you approach it?
CC: Every song is different. I mean, we're not looking to repeat ourselves record to record. We're also not looking to repeat ourselves song to song.
SW: And you've worked with different people in the studio, too. This time it was a guy named Adam Kasper.
MC: We worked with him on Superunknown. He was the assistant engineer and we just felt natural working with him, really good chemistry.
SW: I think you've worked with different people producing the last three records.
CC: I think we probably haven't found anyone that, at the end of the record, we were totally, entirely happy with; where we wanted to go back. I mean, this record was pretty much self-produced because of that and I don't necessarily think we need anybody else. We never use producers in the sense where they're involved from the very beginning in terms of songwriting or song arranging or choices of songs and where to record and where to mix. We've co-produced everything, up to this record.
SW: Has this record taken you a little bit closer to what you really want to get?
MC: Yeah, it's probably getting closer. I don't know if we've reached it just yet, but the method this time was more comfortable. I think in the past we've been in situations in the satudio where it got a little tense. And I think a lot of that was because our working chemistry wasn't as good with, like, and outside person as it is with just the four of us. So we really wanted to utilize that as much as we could this time around. And it worked out great.
SW: This record seems to be a step towards a more raw sound than Superunknown was. Was that something you consciously wanted to do?
MC: Not necessarily. We wanted the instruments to sound a little more natural this time, instead of hyping all the frequencies out. But it wasn't intentional.
SW: You guys are unusual in that everybody in the band writes. How does that work? How much input do the other guys have, after one member brings a song to the band?
MC: I think we give each member full rein on their instrument, as far as what they're going to contribute to the tune and how it will be shaped. 'Cause I think we have a lot of trust within ourselves and as a band.
CC: A lot of it has to do with the song too. If you look at a song like 'Applebite', that's pretty free-form and it had a pretty loose structure. And so everybody just kinda did their own thing on it and it all kinda worked. The thing that we seem to concentrate on i trying to nail the original idea or the original feel of the song. Whoever wroote the song will usually be the guy that everybody asks the questions when we go to record. It's like 'ok, this is your song - what were you thinking about?'
SW: The word 'intensity' comes up a lot around Soundgarden.
CC: I think we're probably pretty mild-mannered on the outside in most situations. But I think we all have a pretty big degree of intensity. And we probably use music to deal with that, instead of drugs or, like, a tumultuous lifestyle, which makes for intense records. But we don't necessarily make good copy in our off-season. People aren't following us around to see if we're gonna crash our car into a building or OD or beat up out girlfriends.
SW: Are you saying you're just happy well-adjusted people?
CC: I think our lives outside of Soundgarden are pretty much our business and we don't go out of our way to draw attention to ourselves.
SW: Do you think the intensity comes from the four of you getting in a room together when you're making music and just having a certain chemistry?
MC: Probably yeah. We like music to be powerful and in that you have a certain degree of intensity that comes out in the style that we play; which is pretty loud, aggressive and powerful. Yet at times beautiful and melodic, and all of the above, so ...
SW: Why did you decide to do Lollapalooza this year?
CC: Well, for me the two main factors were that Metallica is playing, which will draw a completely different audience that last time we played Lollapalooza. And the other reason is that it's playing 'outside' markets, as opposed to major cities. In the US, anyway. I don't know if that's true in Canada. But places we haven't played or places we haven't played in a long time, which is great. We were also given the opportunity to put other bands we wanted on the bill.
SW: And you've chosen?
CC: The Ramones is so far the band we're responsible for getting on the bill.
SW: Were they a big influence on you?
CC: I think all of us, to some degree.