Reprinted without permission from KERRANG!, August 19,
YEAH! I'M A MOODY BASTARD!
So says Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, who hates touring and doing interviews. But he's revealing all to Morat, who's bribed him with a free packet of fags!
Chris Cornell bums a cigarette from me. In fact, Chris Cornell bums a whole packet of cigarettes, because you can't get JPS here in Seattle.
He smokes too much for a singer who's worried about his voice, but then Cornell is a mass of contradictions. He's a rock star who doesn't like the limelight. A moody bugger with a great sense of humour. A pretty boy who's built like he'd be useful in a fight. A Harley rider who rides for the love of it, not just so he can pose on the main strip and wear the t-shirt. A rock singer who gives the impression that he thinks rock music is stupid. But maybe the biggest contradiction is that Soundgarden are a rock band who don't enjoy touring!
Kerrang: Is this reputation justified?
Chris: "Yeah, it's probably justified. There's times when we're all enjoying ourselves and times when it's a bit of a stretch to go out on the road and assume the role of Rock Star. I don't think it's particularly natural for us.
"Part of it's not understanding the expectations. You want people to take you for what you are, but if you show up being moody or whatever, sometimes people get really disappointed. It's like meeting a fan on the street and halfway through your conversation he realises you're just a regular guy and seems disappointed. I don't wanna disappoint anybody, but I can't be what I'm not.
"We're pretty quiet at home, so being out on tour is probably a bit more of a stress for us than for other bands. Some bands love touring. That's what they'd rather be doing than anything else."
Kerrang: Surely you're equipped to tour in the style you want? Killing Joke employ someone to turn their dressing rooms into shrines, and Sepultura take their wives and girlfriends along.
Chris: "We could do that, but that's not really part of it. We just don't like the idea of being away from home for long periods of time. It's just a lot of press and photos and meeting people who work for your record company. In an idealist world you're thinking, 'Well, shit - all we wanna do is just make records and play shows!'. I've always sort of had it as a goal to enjoy touring! I try to - and there's times when I do."
Kerrang: Do you miss those early, sweaty club gigs?
Chris: "Yeah, that's the biggest part of it. When you start playing these bigger places it doesn't sound the same. the audience response is different and expectations are different too.
"When you're a younger band, not as many people care about you. It was an 'us against the world' kinda feeling that probably motivated us more. Headlining is a different thing. It's your responsibility to turn on this huge audience. I'm always up for that challenge, but it totally changes the whole trip.
"The biggest problem on our last American tour is we just did it the way you're expected to do it when you start selling more records. Hopefully, next time we'll do it more the way we want and figure out ways of making it more exciting for us and the audience."
Kerrang: What does that involve?
Chris: "I would say a much larger diversity of material, not worrying so much about playing particular songs because the fans wanna hear them, just shaking it up, changing it. I don't care what anybody says, if a band goes out for a year and a half playing the same songs night after night there's gonna end up being a lot of acting involved, y'know? 'Oh, I'm really into this song - it's the five millionth time I've played it!'
"There's a weird tightrope you walk. You don't wanna bum people out, but you wanna really dig what you're doing. Superunknown was by far our biggest record and we'd spent six years touring to lead up to it, so we'd reached the point where we were ready to take a break. The timing wasn't that good!"
Kerrang: Is there anything you'd go back and change on the last couple of albums?
Chris: "Not really. There's things about them that I didn't like at the time, but have grown to like. I'm pretty good at letting the thing be the thing, y'know? Like, that's what we were and that's what we did, so that's the way we should be remembered.
"We made mistakes, just like having a stupid tatto when you're 13. I think that's great. It marks a period of your life when maybe you were stupid. Everyone's stupid at 13 and you shouldn't be ashamed of it.
"But there's things about Louder Than Love and Ultramega OK that kinda bother me. I think we made a huge mistake with Ultramega OK, because we left our home surroundings and people we'd been involved with and used this producer that really did affect our album in a kind of negative way. The producer was suggested by SST (Soundgarden had a one album deal with the celebrated US indie label) because they could get a good deal. I regret it, because in terms of material, it should have been one of the best records we ever did. It actually slowed down our momentum a little bit because it didn't really sound like us."
Kerrang: Last time I say you play, Ben trashed all his gear because he got hit in the face with an ice cube. How do you feel about people chucking things?
Chris: "It's easy to get angry when you see shit like that, but you've gotta remember that it's one guy out of a whole audience. Sometimes you can walk away with a sweeping feeling like, 'These people suck!', just because one guy was fucking with you. It's a strange mental barrier that you have to get over, because the audience is larger than you can comprehend in terms of attitude.
"You've gotta remember that if there's a couple of jerks, it's just a couple of jerks and there's all these other people who probably like you. You shouldn't allow yourself to be distracted or pissed off. We've been known to fall victim to that."
Kerrang: Have you ever chucked things at bands?
Chris: "No, never, but I've had those feelings. I was hanging out with a record company guy who was trying to talk me into going to see this band and I didn't wanna go, so he got me drunk and I loosened up and said, 'Alright, we'll go'.
"So we go into this little club and this band comes out and it was such a Pearl Jam clone rip-off I couldn't believe it! Being a little drunk, I guess it made me a lot more angry than it should have. I think I might have hurt their chances of getting signed because I railed on at this guy about how evil this band was. I shouted shit at 'em, but I'd never throw anything."
Kerrang: Have you ever seen any Soundgarden clones?
Chris: "Not entirely. We used to get demo tapes on the road and you'd put it on and it kinda frightens you how close it is. Usually the singer doesn't really sound like me, but there's been a couple of times where certain inflections were almost identical and it would just be really freaky.
"There's so many bands out now with an individual that's exactly like some other guy from a band and you can tell, whether he was trying to or not, that his record label signed him because of that and they're just gonna push it as far as they can."
Kerrang: Like the all hunted for the next Nirvana!
Chris: "Sure, they crammed a whole shitload of Nirvanas down our throats - and they're not important bands, but they seem to get a hell of a lot of press based on the idea that they're similar to this other band. It's pretty sick."
Kerrang: So how would Chris Cornell feel about a Soundgarden tribute band?
Chris: "I'd be kinda flattered unless they were totally taking the piss! But if they were taking the piss it wouldn't bug me either, as long as they were doing a really good job of it and it was funny. If they could pick the right aspects of our band to make fun of it wouldn't bug me at all, but if they were just being snotty about it, it would seem like a waste of time."
Kerrang: So what would you take the piss out of if you were a Soundgarden tribute band?
Chris: "Probably the moodiness! That would be the funniest thing. And some of the stage antics. I don't know; it's hard turning it on yourself. I'm sure there's aspects about that would be easy to make fun of, but we don't even know because we're us and you don't even dare analyse it."