Reprinted without permission from Time Off, January
SELF EXPRESSION SOUNDGARDEN'S BENT
The surprise inclusion on Guns n' Roses' The Spaghetti Incident? album to me anyway was Soundgarden's Big Dumb Sex. That act did three things. It cannonised Soundgarden, made them somehow old before their time and thrust them at a mass audience.
Not a bad grid position really. Slash was eager to find out what the Seattle godheads thought of their treatment of the song. But he need not have concerned himself. "I thought that was cool," multi-octaved vocalist Chris Cornell enthused quietly. "I think we were definitely the youngest band on that record besides Guns n' Roses which is pretty great," he chuckled.
Soundgarden are also one of the few acts on the album unscarred by fatality and tragedy. Some had more pain in their history than others like the New York Dolls who over the years lost original drummer, Jerry Nolan. But for pain by association it's pretty hard to beat Charles Manson. Mr Chris Cornell, counsel for Guns n' Roses.
"I think he (Manson) wrote some cool songs regardless of who he is or whatever. What he did and what he was involved with - which I would never condone at all, it sucks - still doesn't mean that what he did as an artist should never be heard. I don't think there's any reason to edit out art."
"If it was snuff films that's a different story. If somebody was using other people against their will to make art that's definitely a different story. But what's ethical about burying art because of something the artist did? That's too close to censorship really. If his music was saying about or condoning or encouraging that type of behaviour and he was known to have done, that type of thing I could understand that more. But I guess my point is I'm against any type of censorship or disallowing individuals to make those kind of choices at all. I don't think if you go out and buy a Charles Manson record or if you listen to a Charles Manson song and you like it or even dislike it, I don't think that means that you're an accessory to his life. I think that's a big misconception that people have. People will go meet their favourite rock star and that person will maybe be rude to them or be drunk or be acting in a way that they don't agree with or dislike and they won't like that artist anymore. I don't think that's fair. I don't think art has anything to do with the individual that creates the art as far as you have to agree with the person to like the art that person creates."
Those sort of thoughts speak volumes for the processes behind a band like Soundgarden. And it probably explains at least in part why Chris mourned the recent passing of Frank Zappa, a man who indirectly had a serious impact on a band with Soundgarden's free wheeling sonic trajectory.
Right now that juggernaut is in the final stages of preparation for the world tour for the new album, Superunknown which is due out on the 21 February. To all intents and purposes the tour kicks off here in Australia and then in Chris' words continues "forever". It's not a thought he relishes though when I mentioned the horrors of doing the sort of two year plus run Metallica did for their last album he chuckled that maybe coming home with eight million in your account might tend to make such experiences worthwhile.
The 16 track soundtrack for Soundgarden's impending roadhaul thuds into life with the hell-heavy Let Me Drown but quickly becomes obvious that this is a totally different body of work in terms of mood and style to the organic rumble-fest of Sabbath and Captain Beefheart that was the Badmotorfinger album.
My Wave, Head Down and Black Hole Sun could be a trippy, pissed off Beatles and Fell On Black Days is closer to something like modern day Red Hot Chilli Peppers than subterranean garage powerage. The intensity levels are all well into the red of the VU meters but it's a different sort of intensity. On the first few listens only the hypnotic Mailman, the title cut, the single, Spoonman which should be out in the second week of February, Kickstart and the spine chilling Limo Wreck resemble the Soundgarden that most are familiar with. Chris reckons the album will expand most people's notions of Soundgarden and he's dead right.
"In spite of all the side projects (drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd with their band Hater, Chris writing for Alice Cooper's next album etc) which are all incredibly diverse I still think people don't expect too much more than what they have already heard from us. I think that happens with most bands. If they do anything different or change at all it kind of surprises people"
"We definitely do a lot of diverse material and approaches to songs we've never done before so it's quite different to anything we've done over the last three records."
The band's lyrical themes are also quite a departure. Up until now things have been abstract to the point of being almost mythical. That fog has lifted slightly.
"I guess maybe there's more music that you could kind of understand first time through as opposed to having to hear it three or four times. On our last album definitely people would suggest that it took about four or five listens to start understanding it and getting into it. I think this record is a little more immediate."
It's no secret that Soundgarden opened up the entire Seattle movement to the world generally whereas Mudhoney have somehow managed - possibly by design - to keep falling into the cracks. It must be damn difficult at this point to make a recording that is going to scorch as much fresh influential earth and give the copyists something to agonise over.
"No, it's actually really easy," Chris laughed quuietly. "That's something we actually laugh about a lot because the combination of the four members in our band all contributing music...it's pretty unpredictable. We sort of allow a lot of strange things to occur and there's no way anyone can consistently copy it. We're always going to be dragging people to some other point. We're never going to be hanging onto coat tails, that's for sure."
So when Pearl Jam outsold the Beatles in the first week of the release of Vs Chris wasn't nervous about the reception his band's new album would receive?
"No, it made me nervous for them," he laughed quietly again.
Things must have been a little nerve jarring during the Lollapalooza tour the year before last when Soundgarden, various members of Body Count, and on one occassion, members of Corrosion of Conformity, performed Body Count's controversial Cop Killer.
"One show, I can't remember which town it was in, we started playing it and the audience started to get riled and they (the police) just formed this huge line between us and the audience and just kind of stood there and stared at us. I think if anything bad would have happened they would have tried to arrest us or something. People got riled up but nobody did anything."
"I guess it goes back to the Manson thing you know. I guess I felt like rebelling against the idea that there should be something that a band shouldn't be allowed to play and an audience shouldn't be allowed to hear. I don't think oppressing thought even if it is really extreme really helps a situation. I think it hurts a situation and it makes people, instead of being able to express themselves or emote in the way of listening to a song or sharing an idea, create a situation that if they can't do that then they're just going to enact it instead."
Soundgarden headline The Big Day Out on January 21 and play the Roxy on January 20.