Reprinted without permission from Metal Hammer,
SOUNDGARDEN - SEATTLE'S SUPERWELLKNOWN
"We just do our own thing and make music. We're not game show hosts!" remarks Chris Cornell of Soundgarden's reclusive nature. Not a band to revel in the trappings of celebrity, they instead prefer to keep themselves to themselves. ROBYN DOREIAN catches up with the introspective vocalist in Los Angeles.
It's the second day of the Lollapalooza tour across the USA. Spanning 20-odd shows, with three stages in operation and Metallica headlining, Perry Farrell's once dream carnival is drawing to a close. As well as mainstage acts Soundgarden, Rancid, the Ramones and Screaming Trees, there has been a special guest slot, which on this leg has been occupied by '80s weirdos Devo. The second stage featured among others Sponge, Satchel, Melvins and Girls Against Boys. The third stage was a little less straightforward. Following on from Sponge at the Irvine Meadows gig, an 'artiste' leads with an oratory about serial killers and then proceeds to airbrush a portrait of OJ Simpson to the soundtrack of Korn's Blind. Weird shit indeed. But I guess that's what you pay for.
Meanwhile, backstage the compulsory number of celebreties are in attendance - Eddie Vedder, Matt Sorum and someone who used to be in Milli Vanilli. Where's Axl when you need him?
The members of Soundgarden are not in attendance, but then again they have more than enough celebrity in their quarters - tennis star Jimmy Connors is on their tour bus!
Chris Cornell resists the lure of shameless self-promotion, instead preferring to talk about things that vaguely interest him.
DID YOU HAVE BAGS OF FUN ON THE LOLLAPALOOZA FESTIVAL?
"I had a couple of small satchels of fun. We had some moments that were really great, but it took a while. There were too many days off. It was kind of a dumb tour in the way it was routed. The whole idea stemmed from the Metallica camp not wanting to play in any major markets because they wanted to come back and do their own tour.
"There were so many days off that it didn't kick in. We were out for two weeks and it didn't seem like we were on tour, because we would play a show and have two days off. It seemed like we were doing a bunch of one-offs, but about two weeks in it started to kick in and started to be really fun."
WAS THERE MUCH POLITICS BETWEEN THE BANDS?
There was a little bit going on. It was more or less between the Soundgarden and Metallica crew, really. I think their crew are used to Metallica headlining shows where they can do what they want and are used to calling the shots. I didn't have any ego problems about that."
"I would assume that there would be more Metallica fans than anyone else there because they sell way more records than anyone else on the bill, so I didn't care. But it wasn't a Metallica tour. They started eliminating our volume and little things headlining bands always do. It wasn't Metallica's fault at all, it was just the way the crews were used to working. They just hadn't done anything like that ever since they've been a big band. For years and years it's been Metallica headlining and it took their crew a while to figure it out."
YOU DEDICATED A SONG TO "THE PEOPLE WHO BUY TICKETS TO OUR SHOWS, WHO ARE OUR TRUE FANS." WHO WAS THAT AIMED AT?
There were a million people backstage who didn't pay to get in who were wandering around like idiots getting in everybody's way. There were so many people wandering around with glazed-over eyes, not even watching the bands, getting in the way of guys moving big cases and looking for somebody they recognise from a magazine or something. Los Angeles is always like that."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF METALLICA WEARING MAKEUP?
"They wear makeup? I don't care. Kirk Hammett can wear a clown suit if he wants! I'm not some rock purist. I like T. Rex and Killing Joke and they wore it. I guess it's how you wear it and who you think you are."
WERE THEY ACTING LIKE PRIMA DONNAS? "No, not at all. They seemed to go out of their way to be nice to everybody. They weren't there a lot as they didn't travel they way the other bands did. They flew, and the rest of the bands drove, so we didn't see them very much really. But that has happened to us before.
"We are not particularly outgoing. We toured with Neil Young for three weeks and I think I talked to him twice."
WAS THERE A BIG PISS UP ON THE LAST NIGHT OF THE FESTIVAL?
"Yeah. People seemed to have end-of-tour energy."
JIMMY CONNORS (RETIRED AMERICAN TENNIS STAR) WAS SPOTTED ON YOUR TOUR BUS. IS HE A SOUNDGARDEN FAN?
"I think so. I don't know. I didn't kind of talk to him much, he just kinda hangs out a lot."
WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH KIM THAYIL'S PENDING ASSAULT CHARGES?
"I don't know, I haven't heard anything about it since the day it happened. It's all just bullshit. I don't think it will stop him from doing anything. The problem is that he is so recognisable. Nobody looks like him. You would stare at him even if he wasn't a famous person, and he gets hassled a lot. He can't really go anywhere without getting recognised."
YOU MET TOM WAITS EARLIER. IS HE SOMEONE YOU RESPECT?
"Yeah, he's a big influence on me, but you wouldn't be able to tell. But there are other people who are influences too but you wouldn't be able to tell."
"It's pretty broad. I'm influenced by a lot of singers whose music I don't really like, which is strange. I think Smokey Robinson is an amazing singer but I don't really listen to his records. I like Sly & the Family Stone and I do like their records a lot. I have influences that you can hear, like the Beatles, who were the band that got me into music."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU TO RESPECT SOMEONE?
"As far as what they do artistically, I guess it just has to move me on some level. And that could mean that somehow musically it take sme to another place and really does the job, entertaining you in a way that only music can. It's not a visual thing, but you see pictures when you hear it, and it gives you a feeling. The next tine you hear it, you're right back at that feeling, but that is totally separate to the person.
"The personality or the way someone acts or the way someone is shouldn't have any part in judging what it is they do. There are a lot of people throughout rock history who are considered notorious arseholes or prima donnas, but still did something that everyone liked. There is always that strange tension, because you always resent liking them and then at some point it can be refreshing.
"Like when Terence Trent D'Arby came out and was really good, and then he got really cocky about it. It was really cool. I like the feeling of that, but it wears kind of thin, and after a year and a half it's like, who cares?
"Like with Oasis - it really is refreshing in a way, but it can only be refreshing once, and then you have to invent something else. When there is so much emphasis on something besides the songs you write and the records you make, that doesn't make it a good situation."
DO YOU GET DISILLUSIONED WITH ALL THE BULLSHIT THAT GOES WITH BEING A MUSICIAN?
"Not as much as I used to. I think when I first started out you think that music as an industry is filled with people who know something you don't. The more you get involved, you start realising that if you want to be completely music-driven, most of the people in this industry don't know what they're doing. Because it's not like selling computer software to people who like brand A or prefer brand B.
"The music industry always tries ot do that, and that is why there are a million Nirvana rip-offs and a million Pearl Jam rip-offs. And they never really work, and the music industry never seems to figure that out. It is disillusioning at first, but then at some point you just give up worrying and don't really care. You just have to get over that. We have always done what we wanted to do musically, and whatever goes on has nothing to do with us.
"We got a lot of criticism for touring with Guns 'N' Roses, because people give you that attitude. 'Oh, they're Guns 'N' Roses now.' We weren't playing Guns 'N' Roses songs, we were playing Soundgarden songs in front of people who came to see Guns 'N' Roses.
"Metallica got a lot of shit for the Lollapalooza for the same reason - they don't belong there. They never did anything they didn't want to do musically. Whether you like them or not is beside the point. There are a lot of bands on the Lollapalooza tour who have sold millions of records anyway. They are perceived somehow as the old guard, and that there are supposed to be rules, and having them tour on what was classically known as an alternative festival is like against the rules. I didn't think alternative music was supposed to have rules."
IS THERE STILL SUCH A THING AS 'ALTERNATIVE' MUSIC?
"Oh yeah, there always is. But what is known as the genre of alternative music is the antithesis. When we started as a band in 1984, there was alternative music as a scene, but it really wasn't a genre as it was so diverse. You had a band like Killing Joke, and then Bad Brains and St. Vitus, who didn't sound remotely similar, or didn't sound like you would want to see them on the same bill. But you would, which was amazing.
"In the US especially it was a really strong time for music, even though it was all underground. You would never hear it on the radio or see it on TV ever, and now it's looked at as a genre and it's what you see on TV and what you hear on the radio, and some of the bands that were in the late '70s/early '80s underground scene are selling records now. But it has to be looked at as a genre - it has to be exclusive of certain elements and has to be inclusive of certain elements. It's not alternative, but commercial.
"When you look at it now, alternative music is something you are not hearing or not seeing, then what is that necessarily? It would be Bon Jovi or Warrant in this country, because they don't play it here any more. Maybe that is alternative in this country."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN SEATTLE WHEN KURT COBAIN DIED?
"I don't know because I wasn't there, and I'm really glad I wasn't. I think at the time I was unhappy, but then I wasn't there. We were touring with Tad, and they were all friends of his as well, and we were friends, so we were around a lot of people that were from our neighbourhood, which was great."
"When I got home and heard about all the media that had happened the two or three days following, I was really glad not to be there to see it."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN STALKED BY FANS, OR DO PEOPLE HANG AROUND OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE?
"Not as far as I know. I'm sure there is, but nobody comes knocking. If I was a 15 year old kid and I lived in Seattle and knew where Ben Shepherd lived, I wouldn't fucking knock on his door, I'd be afraid. If I didn't know him, he seems like someone who would put a shotgun in my mouth if I was a stranger.
To some degree, personally or musically, we keep a bit of a guard up all the time. It's not on purpose, it's just natural. We do our own thing and make music. We're not game show hosts."
WHY DO YOU THINK KURT BECAME A JESUS-LIKE FIGURE TO ROCK FANS ALL OVER THE WORLD?
"I simply think it was the right mood at the right time. It's hard for me to speak about other countries outside the US, but in the US we were just getting bludgeoned with one cooky-haired commercial metal band after another after another, and they would present themselves as people you could never be: they had loads of expensive cars; hanging out with scantily clad supermodels with bolt-on breasts; wearing leather suits and huge gold watches...
"Sometimes kids like that. There are a lot of rap fans who like that - they like the bravado part. But still, they are people that are presenting themselves as someone they could never be. They have something over everyone else in the world. They have all the money and the riches, and they also don't have to wear a tie.
"With Nirvana it was similar to other bands in musical history who are very much like you in terms of the way they look, the way they present themselves. It gives them an instant identification. Rather than this huge separation, it becomes a very close connection. I think they were closer to making that connection with the music and with the way they looked than any other band."
YOU HAVE SUFFERED SOME HUGE PERSONAL LOSSES WITH THE DEATHS OF FRIENDS KURT COBAIN AND MOTHER LOVE BONE VOCALIST ANDREW WOOD. HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT DIFFICULT TIME?
"I'm not really sure. I just did. You just do. It's not like when something like that happens to you all of a sudden it's harder to breathe, it's just that everything doesn't seem worth it as much. But when you lose something like that, in a way it makes you want to find something else that is worth it. I've had that approach to it more than anything else.
It's really important for me to be around and involved with people who are inspiring and that inspire me. That should be may main goal and main focus, aside from anything else.
I don't think in anyone else's eyes Andy Wood was really a rock star, because he died before the record came out. And he didn't really release anything in Malfunkshun. But was always a rock star even when he wasn't on stage.
His mum would tell me stories of when he was twelve or thirteen, in the basement playing guitar on his tennis racket. He just had the full rock star aura where lots of people would follow him around. Whenever I would see him going into a club he would have nine or ten people around him. He reminded me of someone like Freddie mercury, as he was always 'on'."
WERE YOU SHOCKED BY THE NEWS OF PHIL ANSELMO'S DRUG OVERDOSE?
"I'm pretty numb to it at this point. I can't really be critical of those people, because everybody on this planet,no matter how they appear, are going to be teetering on the edge for sometimes long periods in their life. There is always a lot of cloaking going on.
"I've had close friends who were on the verge of having nervous breakdowns or having one, and would walk into a room and be together. I think everyone struggles. And it's hard to be critical. I'm not somebody else, I'm not in anyone else's skin; I don't know what they are thinking or what they are going through or why they do what they do.
"I know what it feels like to be suicidal, and I know what it feels like to be hopeless. There is some point where I learnt enough about myself to know that I don't have the tolerance to create other hurdles as well.
"If I would have ever started taking drugs when I was younger, I would never have lived. I would have gone out quick. I don't have the tolerance to live in that emotional and physical pain and not have anything positive or good around me. I think that as far as the life that I have, I couldn't imagine it being any better. And even with that I still get down-spirited a lot, so... (laughs). If I look at it that way, I wouldn't want to make it any worse.
"I think a lot of the emphasis gets put on it just because people that magazines want to write about do it, and there are a lot of people who do it that nobody cares about, and that bothers me.
"The people who get caught up in it in entertainment are almost fodder for selling magazines. It's always presented as a mystery and a tragedy and a bad thing, but at the same time it's a commercial ploy. There is no reason for that. There are a lot of people you could concentrate on and help, and it would be a lot more worthwhile than just putting famous people on covers and trying to dig the dirt. It's just like this big scandal."
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO HELP SOMEONE ON HEROIN?
"No I don't. Andrew Wood did grugs very intermittently, and I never considered him a heroin addict or a junkie.
"There would be times when he would be gone at odd hours. I would see him with people I knew that he didn't want me to see him with, but that was very occasional. It wasn't something he was stricken with, it was like some people who smoke pot periodically.
"The problem is that heroin is not that kind of drug, it is a very strong, very volatile drug. You are not going to the pharmacy to buy it, or the FDA is not policing what you are getting, and an anaesthetist isn't shooting you up. It's the kind of drug that can kill you even if it's the first time you did it or the third time you did it. That's the dumb part. It might feel really good, but is it worth that risk? Someone who is really down-spirited isn't really going to care if they live or not. Maybe that's the only way they are going to get through the next day.
"As long as there is a way out or as long as someone is going to be there to worry about you and support you and you are addicted, you are going to victimise them, and it's going to give you just enough reassurance to do it one more time. It's always a one more time thing: 'My friends will bail me out of jail; I have someone to pay for my rehab; I have someone who will dial 911...' Unless someone is really strong-willed, I think it takes almost abandonment for someone to finally not do it that one last time; for them to say there is nobody here for me, I'm all alone, I have nothing, I am either going to die now or make that decision."
BEING A HIGH PROFILE VOCALIST IN A SUCCESSFUL BAND, A LOT OF FANS LOOK UP TO YOU. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL?
"Not in any way. As a human being I don't think it's your responsibility to other people, but I think it's good for you if you live your life without victimising other people - taking advantage of them, whether it's emotionally, physically or financially abusing them."
WHAT ABOUT IN TERMS OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL HABITS OF ABUSE?
"I don't see that as my responsibility because a lot of people look up to me or see me. I would be like that anyway. And rather than thinking of three million fans, I'd be thinking of my nephew or my best friend's kids. I would look at it in a much smaller microcosm rather than thinking of it on a huge level.
"The bottom line is that just because I am in the public eye, it doesn't mean that I have a responsibility to the public. All I have responsibility to do for my own conscience is to create honest music and deliver it honestly, because then I'm not ripping anyone off.
"I've been buying records since I could afford to buy them. I still do now. I could sit around and get a bunch of them in the mail because I know people at record companies who could send them to me for free, but I always go to the store, pay my money and get stacks of CDs and listen to a lot of bands.
"In this country there has been on lot of bullshit played by TV, where they will take a band who really has no history and probably no future, and they have a song. And just because the videos are so popular, you can take a band without experience, and get a brilliant film maker and create soemthing that is not really there.
"They take a song that sounds like something that is selling, and then sell millions of it. I think that is hurting the rock scene in the US, because everyone in the last couple of years has been getting suckered into buying records that they took home and they didn't like. And now, if you look at sales in rock music they are kinda down.
"I think bands like us and Nirvana helped create a healthy attitude to checking out new music, but so many bands that are imitators, and that the labels are responsible for exploiting to sell a lot of records just by selling one song, is happening so often now. In a lot of situations that's not the band's fault.
"Take silverchair, for example: they are only 16 years old. I have a lot of respect for them. When I was their age I was playing everyone else's songs. Granted, they are really, really derivative, but they are just kids really. And the fact that a radio guy and a record company grabbed them at that age, knowing that they could do something with that, is now probably going to ruin their career as songwriters and musicians. They have talent. It's not their fault - it's too bad."
WOULD SOUNDGARDEN EVER DO TECHNO REMIXES OF THEIR SONGS?
"Yeah, we've done some before. The first one was on Fopp, which was a cover of an Ohio Players song. It wasn't called techno back then, but one side was a techno remix and the other side was the regular version of another song. I can't remember what else was on there, as I haven't listened to it for a long time. It's probably the rarest thing we've ever done.
"We have done that for B sides for a while - Big Dumb Sex had a dub mix on it, and I think Spoonman had one. Moby just did one for Dusty, and the ex-drummer for Ministry, Bill Rieflin, did one for Rhinosaur on this record."
DO YOU SURF THE NET?
"Not really. I don't think it's something that I will get into heavily until I don't really have a choice. Eventually everything will probably be done that way. Everything will be hooked up to your TV set and your computer will run your household. You could sit there and have your legs cut off and never have to leave the house. Until that point, I prefer to avoid it."
DO YOU THINK THE MONEY RAISED FROM THE ALBUM 'MUSIC FOR OUR MOTHER OCEAN' (SOUNDGARDEN CONTRIBUTED THE TRACK 'MY WAVE') WILL ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING OF REAL CONSEQUENCE TO HELP CLEAN UP THE BEACHES?
"I couldn't say for sure. But you can say that about any charity. I've met alot of the people involved in it , and that's all they do. Their whole life revolves around doing things to help clean up the oceans. These guys will go along the beach all day picking up cigarette butts. If they have the money, that's what they'll spend it on."
IS THE DECAY OF THE ENVIRONMENT A BIG ISSUE WITH YOU?
"It's an issue withe everyone, whether they know it or not. It becomes a path of somebody who wants to get involved in it like some kind of novelty. All the people who sit around and don't seem to care if there are trees or fresh water, all those people who are just as vulnerable to what it does to our bodies and how we live and whether our environment can survive or not.
"People need to approached from the angle of realising that it's their mortality that is in question now. It's not 150 years from now, it's right now. A lot of things are dying."
ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THIS PLANET?
"Not even slightly, and it's kind of a drag too. I think everything points away from any kind of optimism in terms of the future, and I try to be positive about it. Maybe it has something to do with being a songwriter, as when you are writing lyrics you are always watching things. Like if we are in the middle of a record project, I'll go out and listen to what people are saying. And if you are paying a lot of attention right now, you are going to notice that there is a lot of social unrest, a lot of political debauchery in this country that is slowly creating a worse situation. And everyone knows it, but doesn't want to worry about it.
"All they do is complain one minute, and then the next they'll be talking about going out to dinner. I think there could be a great future on this planet, but I get the feeling that there is more apathy about it than there is a large amount of organised people who can change the way things are going. All I can do is worry about what I can do about it."