reprinted without permission from Rolling Stone, February 8, 1996

by Charles R. Cross

Chris Cornell cuts black duct tape with surgeonlike precision and pieces it together in the shape of a wallet. Soundgarden's lead singer makes a new one every time his band records an album. "The last one I made was during this point in the recording of Superunknown," he says, not bothering to look up from his handiwork. "I always want a new one to last until another album is in the works." At that, Matt Cameron pulls out his wallet, another duct-tape model crafted by Cornell during the last album. From the back of the recording studio, guitarist Kim Thayil complains, "I guess I don't rate. I had to go out and buy one for 10 bucks."

Soundgarden have been working on their new release since July, so Cornell has had plenty of time for wallet making. They've been working on some 17 songs and are preparing to mix and pare them down to the final batch. "Some of the songs are still without lyrics," says Cornell. "Pretty much all the basic stuff is done, and we're kind of 'there' now. There's stuff on this new one that's like nothing we've done before."

The new tracks are dirtier and more raw than those on 1994's Superunknown, and are more akin to the sound of the band live. The song tentatively titled "Ty Cobb" sounds like the Ramones meet the Stooges head-on in a train wreck. The lyrics ("I'm hardheaded/Fuck you all," repeated a couple hundred times) aren't going to endear Soundgarden to radio programmers, but the tune is one of the band's catchiest yet. "It's not really about Ty Cobb," Cornell says. "The original title was 'Hot Rod Death Toll,' but the lyrics reminded [bass player] Ben [Shepherd] of Ty Cobb, which is a cool name."

Other songs in the running include "Christi," "Blow Up the Outside World," "Boot Camp," "Apple Bite," "Zero Chance" and "Karaoke." Cornell describes the last number as a song that addresses the dearth of good original music today. "It's about how loads of bands are imitating something that already exists," he says. "Following a formula is what seems to be successful right now." Soundgarden's challenge, Cornell says, is to make music that's diverse and unique.

There's no title for the album at this point (it's due this spring), but the band jokes that it might call it Infamous Sports Biography because there's also a song called "Kyle Petty," about the legendarily white-trash racing family. "Maybe we should do a song about Tonya Harding," Cameron chimes in. "And then we could title the album Ode to Fucking Leg Smasher."

The band's approach to making this record -- as with everything the band does -- has been thorough; the result is a bookcase full of raw tape that for many bands might represent their entire catalog. They've been ensconced in Studio Litho, in Seattle, a new boutique facility owned by Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard. "It gives me a good feeling, knowing that Stone is sleeping in the next room," jokes Cornell. The album is also the band's first without an outside producer (although Superunknown production collaborator Adam Kasper is helping). "Too many producers are scared to take risks; they're fearful it will make them look sloppy," Thayil says. "They get the attitude of 'Why do I want to incorporate noise on this? I'm supposed to be a good producer.' But we want noise on this album."

After two hours of work, Cornell finally finishes up his wallet and gets ready to head back to the control room. He's used a cut-up drum head for the wallet's plastic sleeve compartment. Cameron razzes him: "You could mass-produce them and sell them at Lollapalooza: 'the Chris Cornell signature wallet.'"

"Yeah, I could make a mint," says Cornell, shuffling his credit cards from the old model to the new one. "The best part is that if your wallet rips, you can just put another piece of duct tape on it."