Reprinted without permission from Hit Parader, October
SOUNDGARDEN: THEIR SHINING HOUR
Chris Cornell isn't exactly your run-of-the-mill Rock God. Yeah, he's got a voice that can stop a charging rhino at 30 paces, and when he chooses to lop off his mane of black hair he even has "pin up boy" looks. But there's a lot more to Soundgarden's front man than that. This guy's a deep thinker, someone who obviously cares a great deal about the music medium and has given careful consideration to why certain things happen, and certain things don't, within the rock realm. Recently we sat down with Cornell to discuss not only the chart-topping status of Soundgarden's new album, Superunknown, but also his views on the current state of rock and roll.
Hit Parader: It seems as if bands are coming and going on the rock scene faster than ever before. Do you think that's healthy?
Chris Cornell: There's no question that a lot of bands suffer from bumout real fast these days. But it's not their fault. It's not like they've toured the world for a year, played their hearts out and then decided that they needed to rest. Because of the availability of rock in everyone's home, due to radio and especially MTV, the demand for new bands grows all the time. The fans get tired very quickly of seeing the same four minute videos over and over again. Sometimes it seems that the record labels market rock and roll bands the same way that they would market beer or cars.
HP: Is that kind of marketing something you find yourself fighting against?
CC: I don't know if we're big enough to really fight against it. If we decide not to do videos or talk to the press, we're really only hurting ourselves. When it gets to be a situation like Pearl Jam has found themselves in, then I understand their reluctance to jump in and kind of feed the frenzy. Some people have interpreted their actions as an attempt to be difficult, but that's not it. I think it's more where they're aware of how fast things can get out of control, especially if you're being called the biggest band in the world. Suddenly people who thought you were cool are turning their backs on you because you're so overexposed. It's becoming really hard to have a long, successful career in music anymore because of the overexposure and the incredible burnout rate.
HP: Is a long career the ultimate goal for Soundgarden?
CC: Yeah, that's very important to us -- and, I assume, to most bands. We're doing this for the music, not to make millions of dollars. If you care about your music, you want to leave behind a legacy that people can look at and appreciate. That's tough to do when there's so much pressure on you that a lot of very successful young bands can't handle it much beyond two or three albums. we've been lucky in that we've had a nice, slow build to where we are today. We've been togather since 1987, so I think we're ready for just about anything that's thrown our way.
HP: Ironically, your first video from Superunknown, "Spoonman," has been played continually on MTV. Are you concerned with your own overexposure?
CC: I think we were fairly smart with "Spoonman" in that you really don't see us that much in the video. You see various pictures of us, but it's not quite the same as having us in your living room all the time. We're trying to maintain some degree of mystique about Soundgarden, I guess. I remember back when I was a kid, long before MTV, and the only way to see my favorite bands was to go to their concerts. It was an incredible experience. MTV has helped a lot of bands, but they've also helped rob a lot of groups of that special mystique. It's tough when you can see a great rock band on TV one second, then hit the clicker and be watching a soap opera or a sit com the next. That's what rock and roll has become for some people.
HP: For years Soundgarden was labeled as the "ultimate Seattle band." Do you feel you may finally have outlived such a tag with this album?
CC: The whole thing that happened in Seattle, that what we viewed as just a good music scene became a national movement, caught us by surprise. We certainly were part of that scene, and the bands who were there have thankfully all stayed friendly and supportive. But I don't know if we represented anything more about Seattle than anyone else. I think we may have enough of a national following now to have outgrown that kind of classification a bit. We're still very proud to be from Seattle, but the music on Superunknown is so diverse that I doubt anyone can label it as "Seattle music," whatever that might be. We like to confound people a little bit. The people who called us metal or grunge can't really call us those things anymore. And those that labeled us alternative, they can't call us that either.
HP: There's been such an incredible demand for tickets to your shows on this tour. It must be very rewarding to know the fans want to see you so badly.
CC: It's great. To me, the stage is where the fans and bands should interact. That's where rock and roll comes alive. All the video stuff is fine in its way, but it's very far from the heart of what rock and roll is about -- especially the kind of rock and roll we play. I love it when I see kids pushing their way to the front just to be nearer to the stage. That's the way I was when I was a kid, and that's the kind of excitement we want to generate.
HP: Back in 1987, when you were starting out as the band's singing drummer, did you envision things getting as big and crazy as they have?
CC: It was a dream, but I don't know if any of us really could have imagined things to have happened this way. Who could have guessed that Seattle would become a music hot spot? Who could have imagined that it would be six or seven years after we started that things really started to take off for us. But I always had confidence that things would work out well. I don't say that in a cocky sense -- but I have always been very confident about Soundgarden.