Reprinted without permission from Hit Parader, January
SOUNDGARDEN: BUILDING THEIR LEGEND
Chris Cornell has been called the most charismatic performer to emerge from the much bally-hooed Seattle Scene of the early '90s. His dark good looks, his brooding image, his powerful voice and his energy-charged stage persona have combined to make Soundgarden's frontman one of the most recognizable -- and noteworthy -- faces of the decade. Yet for all his high-profile on-stage posturing and dramatic in-studio histrionics, Cornell remains a mysterious, aloof and often misunderstood presence. Rather than troubling him, Cornell enjoys the fact that he has been able to maintain an aura of mystery despite his band's multi-platinum presence. Recently we were able to sit down with the elusive Mr. Cornell for this in-depth discussion of Soundgarden's latest album, Down On The Upside, the band's recent Lollapalooza conquests and the state of rock and roll as-we-know-it.
Hit Parader: To many rock fans Soundgarden remains a quintessential hard rock group, yet on recent discs you've gone well beyond the "hard rock" label.
Chris Cornell: That's true, but it's not something we've intentionally set out to do. We never go into the studio with the idea of writing certain types of songs. But being the fans of music that we are, we tend to absorb a lot of the the things that are going on around us -- even if we're not necessarily aware of those influences. Maybe we were listening to different things while we were writing and recording the last few albums, I don't know. But basically we tend to write and record the kind of music we enjoy playing live. Sometimes that falls within what some fans may view as the "traditional" Soundgarden approach, sometimes it doesn't. That doesn't bother me. With four guys in the band who write music and play music, there's a lot of stuff going on at all times, and that keeps every- thing moving along at a real interesting pace.
HP: Does everyone in the group always agree on the band's musical direction?
CC: Not always, but that's healthy. It's good when everyone feels free to discuss what they like and don't like. This isn't a dictatorship of any sort. We depend on every- one writing and contributing in order to keep our diversity. I think that we all feel good about contributing, and speaking our minds has made us a band that gets along real well. When you consider how long we've been together, almost ten years now, we get along amazingly well. I think we get along better than just about any other band I can think of. It's amazing how a lot of other bands out there get along... or don't get along. I know people in bands that openly state that they hate the other guys in the group. If you like that band, you just don't want to know that. We've never had a situation like that, thankfully. And right now we're getting along better than at any other point in our lives.
HP: Does that sense of band camaraderie ever really get tested while you're all in the studio or on the road?
CC: We're just like anyone else. We have our moments. We have our squabbles, but they tend to disappear kind of quickly without leaving much residue behind. But if you really care about what you're doing, you can't always just accept what everyone else is doing. Sometimes you've got to stand up and disagree. That's the way it should be.
HP: You finished the Lollapalooza tour a few months ago, and now you're off touring on your own. How did this year's Lollapalooza experience compare to the one you had in 1992?
CC: It was totally different. Back in '92, it was still a very fresh, new phenomenon. That was only the second year of the festival, and it was widely viewed as strictly this alternative event. The media viewed every band in the festival as very different and fresh. This time, with Metallica headlining, there was an entirely different feeling going on. It kind of added a twist to the proceedings that I enjoyed. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do it again. The whole "alternative" concept had grown pretty stale, and I found it rather ironic that a band like Metallica, that may have been viewed as representing something stale back in '92, now is fresh and exciting.
HP: Does it bother you that the whole Seattle Scene has grown stale in people's minds?
CC: Not at all. The whole phenomenon that happened in the early '90s was kind of hard for all the bands from Seattle to accept. You've got to remember that we all came from this relatively small city that was as far away from being a media center as you could get. Then everything just exploded. It changed everything. None of the bands like Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains were hanging out in clubs anymore having fun. They were all on big labels touring the world. The media focus became incredible. It had to burn out eventually, and I'm glad it's happened. Maybe the Seattle music scene can begin to get back to normal. Bands from the area should have the same opportunity to grow and experiment as we had -- away from the media spotlight.
HP: Speaking of the media spotlight, Soundgarden has certainly lived in one over the last few years. Have you grown comfortable with that?
CC: It's part of the job. My wife manages the band, so she is certainly very aware of what it takes to promote a band. It's made my life a little easier. I enjoy the kind of attention we get now -- but at the same time I can look back at some of our early tours, the ones we did in vans, and appreciate those as well. The problem you have as a successful band on the road is that you tend to have so much free time on your hands. In the past, we each had to drive the van, move the gear and tear everything down after a show. Now that's all done for us. Now all we've got to do is stay out of trouble and make sure we show up on time for a show. It's an easy life.
HP: What do you do with your free time when you're on the road?
CC: A lot of that time is either spent on the bus or in the hotel. You have a lot of time to think. It was more difficult when the four of us had to pack into a small van or into a single hotel room, but it was probably also a lot more interesting. Now I sit on the bus watching movies or trying to write music, but I do it more to pass the time than anything else. There's a lot of "down" time when you're on the road. But that's a small price to pay for the benefits this lifestyle provides.