SOUNDGARDEN
ARTICLES

Reprinted without permission from Hit Parader, September 1995

SOUNDGARDEN: TOUGH AS NAILS
by Steve Atkins

It's a little hard for Chris Cornell to accept the level of public acclaim that now surrounds his band, Soundgarden. No longer are these quintessential Seattle rockers the "underground" sensations they were when albums like "Louder Than Love" created an international uproar back in 1989. And no longer are they a force struggling to make their mark on the rock world. Today every sound they make, every word they speak, seems to set new precedents for rock and roll; every musical utterance issued by bandmates Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron is studied, analyzed, and dissected by their rabid horde of followers, all of whom are on a continual search for any hidden meanings behind the band's Holy Grail of fire-breathing tunes. even mainstream rock society, most of which didn't even know of Soundgarden's existence prior to the platinum, success of their most recent release, "Superunknown", have started casting votes of recognition the group's way--going so far as to bestow upon them a prestigious Grammy Award--for top heavy metal song. Even if Cornell finds such recognition a bit humorous, he's still more than happy to accept any awards that might come Soundgarden's way.

"I don't know if I really feel comfortable with being classified as a heavy metal band," the vocalist said. "But if that's what they wanted to do, we won't argue with them. We were proud to even be nominated, and we were glad to win. Hey, we got the chance to stand up on national television and say a few words. That was kind of interesting. Maybe in a couple of years we'll get the chance to be nominated for best 'rock' act. That would really be something special."

Whether or not Soundgarden's hard-edged rock attack is truly 'metal'--that is of course, if metal as we've long known and loved it, still even exists in these ever-shifting musical times--the fact is that they have solidified their position as one of the hard rock form's premier exponents. Lacking the moody selfishness of Pearl Jam or the quirky unreliability of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden has established itself as a "music first" juggernaut that seems designed for both immediate success and long-term stability. Having already spent nearly a decade slowly cementing a smoothly functioning internal chemistry, Cornell and company are something of an anachronism in present day rock society--a band whose members actually seem to like one another and who appear to enjoy what they're doing. In fact, guitarist Thayil can't help but note the irony when he contrasts the relatively sedate inner workings of Soundgarden with the turmoil that characterizes so many of his band's Emerald City rock brethren.

"Obviously a lot of guys are our friends," he said. " We know them, and we know what's up with their bands. One of the best things about being part of what happened in Seattle in the late 80's is that you share a real camaraderie with all the musicians you hung out with in those clubs. You all want everyone to do well and be happy. It's too bad that not everyone we grew up with in a musical sense has been able to stay happy, or even stay alive. Back in the early days I think we were all pretty happy. We just enjoyed playing music. We didn't know which of us--or if any of us--would make it. And we certainly didn't know how we'd react if we did."

While success proved to be too much for the likes of Nirvana's Kart Cabin to handle--and seems to be the continual bane of Pearl Jam's Eddied Vender and Alice In Chains' Lane Stale--Soundgarden has begun to almost relish their ever-expanding role as rock and roll superstars. If, in fact, Cornell's vocal problems hadn't forced the band prematurely off the road last summer, sales for "Superunknown" may have exceeded the double-platinum sales status the album has managed to attain. And now, with the band making plans to release their next album by year's end, it appears as if Soundgarden is perfectly poised to emerge as hard rock's Band Of The 90's--the group most responsible for providing shape, style, and sound to an entire era. What Nirvana may have started in 1991, and Pearl Jam expanded on a year later, Soundgarden now seems prepared to take to the next horizon--a lasting place in the rock history books. While Cornell acknowledges that it's usually only one band that emerges as the flag-bearer for their era (as Led Zeppelin was for the 's and Motley Clue for the 's), the singer's still not sure that his outfit is the group destined to hoist the 's banner to its greatest height.

"I'm not the one who's gonia guess how history might view Soundgarden," he said. "That would be kind of silly to me. When you start thinking like that, you're destined for a big fall. All we can do is make sure we make the best records we can, and then hope people like them. We've always made records to please ourselves, and that attitude isn't going to change. Just because more people may know who we are and what we're about doesn't mean we're going to start changing the way we work. To me that sounds like a very dangerous way of working."

It's still a bit early to let anyone in on the "secrets" contained on Soundgarden's upcoming album, but according to Thayil it seems safe to say that if you enjoyed "Superunknown" or its platinum predecessor "Badmotorfinger", you'll probably like the new one too. That's not to say, however, that the new disc won't be radically different in some ways from its illustrious forbearers--in fact, you can count on that. The success Soundgarden has enjoyed in recent years has spurred the band to strive for new creative heights, motivating them to reach deeper into their musical bag of tricks in the hopes of pulling out more radical and stimulating rock musings. Quite honestly, they couldn't care less about their future role in the rock history books; all they want is to keep making some of the best music the rock world has ever heard--and maybe pick another Grammy Award or two along the way.

"Being given credit for your work is fun," Cornell said. "I may not have felt particularly comfortable standing on stage thanking people for our award, but it was the right thing to do. My wife (the band's manager, Susan Silver) is always good at advising us about the right thing to do in those situations. You've got to go out there and let the people know you appreciate the fact that they like your music. It might seem cool to just stay at home and ignore them, but it's not smart, and as we get older we're trying to be cool and smart."