Reprinted without permission from Metal Edge, July
SOUNDGARDEN: SEATTLE'S SONIC BOOM
If you dug Superunknown and Badmotorfinger, get prepared to make Down on the Upside, the latest opus from Soundgarden, a permanent fixture in your CD player. It's 16 stellar songs from singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron. Chris' passionate almost agonized vocals tell personal tales "I'm just a baby who looks like a boy...And I look like a man/And I feel like an ant"), backed by the powerful, emotional and versatile playing of his longtime bandmates. It's a natural progression from Superunknown, but a creative departure as well.
And thanks to their presence on Lollapalooza '96 a legion of rock fans will get a killer double bill of top headliners Metallica and Soundgarden, both supporting groundbreaking new albums. Turns out the Seattle quartet was a personal choice of the Metallica boys.
"We have a lot to do with who's on the bills and who isn't, and it's gonna be us and Soundgarden," Kirk Hammett emphatically stated when the rumors first began flying about who was slated to be the top-billed acts on Lollapalooza '96.
"If you're gonna do something that's diverse, that's truly the meaning of Lollapalooza, do something with somebody that's f.ckin' huge!," added Jason Newsted. "I know us and Soundgarden doesn't sound too alternative, but I don't like to get into any labels. The whole idea behind this is try to make a change; a little bit something different." And they have.
We managed to catch up with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell during rehearsals for the Lollapalooza jaunt, and he enlightened us on the making of the new LP plus other interesting insights.
Katherine Turman: It seems Soundgarden has kept a low profile the last several years.
Chris Cornell: Actually, we took a lot of time off, because our tour wasn't that long, compared to [tours for] previous records. We only did one U.S. tour -- we did Japan and Australia before the record came out but we weren't playing new songs. Then we did one European tour, and we were going to go back on tour, but we didn't. We were planning on going right back into record-making mode, but we didn't (laughs). We had sort of burned ourselves out on previous records doing year-long tours. Come home, take a month off, and then we'd make a record, go out for a year, come home, take a month off. We were ready to NOT do that for awhile.
K: Is it easy for you to relax?
C: I have to make myself do that. This time I decided to not worry about it so much. That's probably why it took us a long time, cause I'm usually the one who starts calling everyone and saying, "Let's get together, I have tons of songs to play" and that kinda crap. I didn't and I wasn't calling anyone. (laughs) I don't think they were waiting by their phones. Most of the winter I did snowboarding and a little bit of songwriting and I didn't really take anything too seriously. That's the first time I've ever done that since I can remember, ever, taking a certain amount of time off.
K: You produced Down on the Upside by yourselves; was anyone in the band worried about not having a producer to mediate in the studio?
C: Kim didn't really have an apprehension about us doing it, and the rest of us sort of unanimously thought it would be a good idea. We thought about using Brendan O'Brien (STP, Black Crowes) for a minute, but he was doing a lot of other stuff. We co-produced every record we've done. Most of everything we do is our idea anyway, so I think we were at the point where we thought, Why waste our time? Why pay some guy amazing amounts of money to sit there to do what we tell him to do and then when they do something it's usually something we like less than what we would do? So everybody was totally on board about doing it that way.
K: Was anything written in the studio?
C: "Switch Opens" was pretty much in the studio and the very last thing we did was "Never the Machine Forever," which was actually recorded while we were mixing the next to the last song. As soon as that was done being recorded, we brought it in from the other room, mixed it and that was the end of the record. Totally last minute.
K: Did one song fuel the next in terms of writing?
C: We'd gone in pre-summer into a studio and recorded a bunch of rough ideas, and I think we got less out of that than I thought we were going to. Because when we went in to start in July we got about five songs into it and realized we probably needed more songs, so we took a tour break and when we came back we started writing more. I wrote another four songs, then when we went back into the studio it was just me and Matt demoing those songs, that was the same time Kim was recording, then we all went in to the studio. Then Ben and Matt brought in different stuff; things started to cascade at that point, and we ended up having more than we needed for a record. We usally have around 30 rough ideas for a record.
K: Do lyrics always come after music fore you?
C: Lyrical ideas happen a lot. Sometimes I'll try a lyrical idea on a song I wrote and it just doesn't work, and someone else will bring in a song and it works for that. Or I'll have a lyrical idea lying around and I'll just be waiting for the right feel, though on this I didn't do that as much.
K: Matt brought the song "Applebite" in, right?
C: The recording was finished before I even had lyrics. They titled it even before then, too. I basically just ignored the title! "Switch Opens" was finished without lyrics or vocals, and I actually wrote around that title as well as the finished song. "Rhinosaur" was finished without vocals and lyrics, and there was not a title for that, and I think that's it.
K: Where did the album title come from?
C: I brought it up at some point because the song that the title came from was "Dusty," but my title for it was "Down on the Upside," but Ben wrote the music and he called it "Dusty." So since we don't really like having song titles being the title of the record, 'cause it brings this weird, undue focus to the song, I thought it would be cool to call it Down on the Upside. We started thinking about all these other titles, and worrying about them describing the whole record without excluding anything. It's really difficult for us to do, espacially on the last two records, 'cause if you have some sort of aggressive rock title or angry title it might only work with four songs, or if you have a surreal title, it might only work with two songs, if you have a gloomy title it's going to work with five songs. So it was the last minute and we were at a photo shoot for SPIN and someone called and said, "We need your title now so we can start doing the record package," so Matt brought up the title again, and everyone went, "yeah, that's it."
K: It must be difficult as well to get four guys to agree on a concept for the album cover and artwork.
C: Every record we've ever made I agonized over the artwork. That's harder than the music. That's like making videos. Everyone has their own ideas, but we're not used to working with each other as far as visual ideas, we're used to working with each other musically. And it gets weird. I like to take the attitude, because I'm so involved in the recording side, of letting someone else do the artwork, but for some reason it never works. I end up being as involved as everyone else. I'm kinda the least critical about that. Ben and Matt and Kim are all really critical about the visual stuff. I'm into it looking good and representing us, but that's the one aspect we hae a bunch of different ideas about. If it's musically and we have a bunch of different ideas we just put them all on the record, but if you're talking about a package, you can't take six different ideas and stick them together and have it work right.