Reprinted without permission from The Buzz Word,
DOWN THE UPSIDE
Vocalist/guitarist Chris Cornell, guitarman Kim Thayil, bass player Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron take time out of their painfully hectic summer tour schedule to discuss Soundgarden's fifth album.
How was it different in the studio this time around for you guys? For instance, was the experience in direct contrast to the making of Superunknown?
Kim: "It was different in the fact that we didn't squeeze the performances out of ourselves this time, like doing a guitar riff overand over for two days until it becomes rote. That kills any kind of natural feel. This time, we kept it from moving into 'Overdub Central.' We did everything short of making it live."
That "live" approach almost gives Down On The Upside a rawer, more rougher sound. Was that intentional?
Chris: "The roughness wasn't a point of making a dirtier, more street version of what we usually do. It was about getting more accurate with recording. Something about this record seems more sonically direct, possibly less larger than life than previous. The kick drum sounds less like a gunshot in a gymnasium - more like a drum."
Sonics aside, for the few fans out there that haven't bought the album already, what should they expect when they pop it into their CD player?
Kim: "I sometimes perceive the record as having a dual nature. It keeps listeners on their toes, and lets them know you're not getting the same album over and over."
Okay, let's talk about a few of the songs on Down The Upside. Let's go with its first single, "Pretty Noose." Any feelings?
Kim: "Being in a small, isolated room with a guitar and turning it up really loud, trying to make it sound right. And then blowing my ears out after about an hour of playing it."
Matt: "That song for me was kind of interesting, because we were at the phase where we were just going to demo tunes. So I learned the tune and recorded it. and we ended up using that take. When we recorded that, I had walked to the studio (in Seattle) and my legs were really tired. But to make a long story short, I was trying to get a walking feel on the drum part. So it probably has a little weird shuffle to it probably from that walk that I took to the studio that day."
What about its rather cryptic lyrics?
Chris: "I'm not sure. I'd have to go back and check it out to explain what it means." (Grins)
What about "Dusty"?
Ben: "'Dusty' was very difficult in a lot of ways. But it's a very satisfying tune to listen to."
Kim: "That was a song that didn't know which clothes to wear. I was a little discouraged in the beginning, because I had just gotten this guilded guitar, and I was totally hoping to hear how it sounded. But it wouldn't stay in tune. After a while, I was like, 'Throw it away, these cowboy guitars suck.'"
Ben: "That's where the title of the record came out of."
How exactly did the band come up with Down The Upside?
Kim: "Chris threw that out awhile ago. We had tried to get other titles going, but none of them really worked. He brought it up again, and everyone said, 'Yeah!'"
Chris: "It kind of came around - almost full circle. We're always like, 'How do we come up with a title that covers all the music on the record without mis-representing anything?' You're always thinking, 'How is it going to look and sound?' So we went through all these different ideas and ended up coming back to that, because it seemed to be what we were trying to say. It seems to be able to accurately describe the whole thing as a record. I mean, if we had a really abrasive title or rocking title, it might represent two or three songs. If we had a really moody title, it might represent two or three other songs. So Down The Upside just seemed to work."
Matt: "And no one really liked my idea of Comin' At Ya!"
Ben: "And then there was Mr. Bunchy Pants."
Matt: "Oh yeah, Mr. Bunchy Pants - everyone kind of liked it but somehow it didn't end up flying."
Alright, let's get back to the songs. Matt, you wrote the song "Applebite." Can you explain where its dark and mystical mood comes from?
Matt: "Since I've been in the band, my songs have gotten a little darker sounding, probably an influence from listening to Kim and Chris. But developing the different elements, like on 'Applebite' say, is in keeping wih how the band always changes. When they started out as a trio, they did weird Bauhaus stuff. So it's not what our fans are used to hearing, but we wanted to stretch it as much as we could with this one, and 'Applebite' is a good example."
And Chris, what the hell are you singing in "Applebite"?
Chris: "You'll have to go out and buy the record and read it." (Grins devilishly)
Matt: "The vocals are great on that one, because it sounds like a guitar or different instrument other than vocals."
Ben: "It's amazing, because it's placed in such a way that you have to put your entire head inside the track. It's like you have to be inside to hear it. It sucks you in a lot."
Kim: "Instrumentally, the vocals work as one of the 'non-vocal' instruments, that's the best way to describe it. At the very end, it's like he's almost feeding back and hitting all these interesting overtones and harmonic things that fit with all the other instruments that are going on."
Ben: "That was the use of amplification with the microphones."
Chris: "It just seemed like it would be weird to have a song like that on the album. We were going to try and let the song cascade, so that it starts out with a simple guitar riff and then slowly builds, and then all of a sudden two-thirds of the way through the song, you have this singing part that's totally screwed-up. So I was trying to add vocals, while still trying to keep it instrumental at the same time."
What about "Rhinosaur"?
Matt: "Okay, I tried to do vocals on that one, but they were so awful. I was so glad that Chris saved it."
Did your short-lived vocal experience give you any insight to what a singer goes through?
Matt: "I've recorded a lot of stuff at home, but I've never played it for people because it is so bad. So yeah, it was great to hear a real singer nail it, and everyone played great on that tune. Ben does this great solo thing."
So what is Rhinosaur? Is it some kind of strange, alien-like creature?
Matt: "Yeah, it's a nose sore. (Laughs) Get it? 'Rhino' means nose, and 'saur', well it's just spelled differently."
Yeah, I do. Moving on, let's talk about "Exquisite Corpse."
Kim: "'Exquisite Corpse' is like a drawing where everyone contributes to the part of the drawing until you get a final picture. It's like someone will draw the tail of an animal, someone else will draw the middle of it and somebody else the head. And when it's done, you have this creature that is a composite of four people's vision. I think our albums are compiled that way."
Does everybody always know what kind of animal it is going to be?
Chris: "No, not at all. It just comes alive as we go along."
One more question before we go: There are a lot of different instruments, never before used by Soundgarden, on Down The Upside - like a mandolin on "Ty Cobb." What were some of the others?
Kim: "We used a Moog synthesizer. A piano. There's some little trinkets and what-nots of percussion things that we've never used before. We did a lot of varied trips with amplificationand a lot with vocals. I think there are maybe two or three songs where the vocals are sang straight into a normal microphone. We did a lot of strange stuff that way, that we've never done before."
What spurred on the experimentation?
Chris: "At some point in your career, you've got to start doing things that you've never done before. It's fun, and that's what we're trying to do - have fun."
Kim: "It's not like on this record we made a conscious decision to write things that were unusual. We've always written things that were different, I just think this time we decided to use a greater diversity of material."
Chris: "Everyone in this band writes music. So there's always a certain amount of music from each individual that we use and a certain amount that we don't, because it might be a direction we've never gone in before. This time, we've accepted those directions instead of avoiding them."
Ben: "We just let everything out. I don't see us as having any boundaries at all. That's what modern music is all about anyway. If you have boundaries, it's obviously some kind of personal complex - and f**k that."
Chris: "Year by year and record by record, we have gone through this process of trying to dial into what we want to hear ourselves sound like at that moment. People always say that they're surprised by the turns we take, that they didn't expect them. And I always pause and say, 'S**t, I never expected anything, why would you?' We never had a specific idea what our records would sound like when they were done, so why should someone else? It seems strange to me."
Ben: "What I say after every record is the same, 'You haven't heard anything yet!"