MAXTV: NEW ZEALAND, 17 JANUARY 1997
transcribed by Tessa Gyde
[Chris Cornell is sitting dressed totally in black, leather jacket, jeans etc, leaning against a huge trunk full of clothes and covered with stickers. He's talking to Zane Lowe.]
Zane: The Big Day Out is the 2nd festival which you guys have been a part of since releasing Down On The Upside... what is it about festivals that you like, what are the good things about playing festivals?
Chris: I don't know if we like 'em necessarily... they just kinda come up and it seemed like a good idea. We like the Big Day Out, but it's a lot different than Lollapalooza. I just thinking playing New Zealand and Australia is really different than playing in the US. We came, the first time, and Badmotorfinger was the record that had been out for like two years, and we played and all of a sudden it started to chart, and our next record entered at number one and it seemed like a direct result of coming here and playing and well that's interesting, that's what it's supposed to be like. You know, sort of when you tour and people realise you exist and they go buy your record and, so yeah, it's a good experience.
Z: Was Lollapalooza fun? You know, with the Ramones?
C: With the Ramones - the Ramones part was really cool. That was one of the conditions of us playing it, otherwise it wasn't like '92. '92 was a brand new thing, you know, it was the 2nd year they did it and everyone thought it was this new, great way to go see rock music, because they had never really had the festivals. In the US it's more like they have state fairs and up-and-coming bands don't really play that, and new music isn't usually involved in those kind of things it's not like a European festival, so it was really fresh in 92 and there was just sort of an air about it, the band and the audience and it was just this new, cool thing. 96 wasn't like that, it was kind of... it had become an institution and people were saying well, Lollapalooza's not what it was supposed to be and ahhh... of course not, it was supposed to be a new, fresh thing and after a number of years it can't be new anymore.
Z: It had kind of become a formula, you mean?
C: Yeah, yeah. So it was really just a rock show, so it wasn't - yeah it didn't have that same sort of magical feel to it.
Z: Tim from You Am I was saying that it was a bit of a Metallica fest. I mean, obviously it's a bit different for them, they were playing Stage Two, but did you experience that as well?
C: Mmm hmmm... yeah, I think so. I think that there was a lot of fans there to see a lot of the other bands but it seemed like... the Metallica fans were hardcore Metallica fans and they came there just to see them, and everyone else kind of was there to see everybody but them, so... we get stuff thrown at us you know, by their fans, and they would go on and they would get stuff thrown at them by our fans...
Z: And you think you would have progressed from that, after playing small clubs you get to a point you think 'God, I don't wanna have things thrown at me no more.'
C: Yeah... well yeah, we play our own shows and people throw stuff at us. You know, they love us "We love you!" throw a shoe at you. It's a weird time in music where fans that love your band actually throw a shoe at you.
Z: Down On The Upside, you guys self-produced that album.
C: Mmm hmmm.
Z: Was that a fun experience?
C: Yeah. It was the best recording experience we've ever had.
Z: Cause you did it at Studio Litho, right? So it must have been quite relaxed.
C: Mmmm hmmm. I think it was kind of a work-at-your-own-pace, because when you have a producer, they're doing other things and you gotta like schedule it and make sure that your songs are all written and ready to go... without a producer we didn't have to do that. So we just went in and started recording some songs and then we took a break, and then came back in and recorded some more songs and did it at our own pace and even when we were mixing, you know, we were recording, so we never really had a structure to it at all, it was just a real blast, do whatever you want.
Z: Do you think that lack of structure, you know and that sort of... whole on-again off-again do it when you feel like it process kind of encouraged the versatility because the album sounds really versatile.
C: I think that's... probably a big part of it, I think more of it is probably just the versatility in a way which could be experimentation more than... when you got another person like a 5th member, for us a producer, and you wanna try some idea it's another person you gotta explain it too. When that person's not there it's just the band it just seemed like it was a lot easier to just do whatever you wanted. And it worked, really, I mean, there wasn't a whole lot that we did in terms of trying weird things that didn't end up on the record.
Z: What was the biggest challenge about producing the album yourselves?
C: Ummm... having to always be there. Yeah... you kinda feel like when you got a producer that in a way you can let it go and go home for a couple of days and let him work with somebody else and not worry about it. In this situation I could never leave it, you know, I always had to be there, we always had to be there and communicate. But it was good that way, because everyone was involved, and I think when it was all done that everyone felt like... like it was more a Soundgarden record than any record we had ever made before.
Z: No one's bitching about aspects of the album because they had left and didn't realize that something was happening... and they come back and go 'Oh, I don't like that! Oh no...'
C: Yeah, which has happened before. So, you know, it's better that way. Everyone was more pleased with it, and it was easier, really.
Z: Do you guys like the studio?
C: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Z: You can tell, listening to the albums, you know. The albums have a really warm sound as well as being rocking...
C: Right, yeah.
Z:They're very personal albums. You can listen to them and not be scared, when you put them on, you know.
Z: They're really good to listen too, really enjoyable.
C: Yeah, when you think about it, that was kinda the whole idea. I mean we thought about touring sort of as a way to promote our records, because initially we didn't get any radio air play or video or anything, so touring was sort of bring the music to the people and then they know you're there, cause we're not gonna get radio, so... the main idea was we were songwriters and we make records, and... I think about it now, I still have the perception of Soundgarden being this band that is... most comfortable in the studio. And being a musician, and a songwriter the studio is kind of what I do it for. And yet, we don't do it hardly ever, you know, every couple of years we go in for a few months and that's it. So, that part of it is strange. I think that... in the next couple of years we're gonna be spending a lot more time in the studio.
[Jesus Christ Pose]
Z: Do you ever want to go into the studio and do some more solo stuff? I mean, to me, Seasons was the shining moment on the Singles soundtrack, it's one of my favourite songs of all time...
C: Thanks. But yeah, I don't know. What I'd really like to do is go in an make a record, and then... um, as soon as it's finished and we decide that's the record, go in and start another one. Even if we don't have any songs, just start writing and recording in the studio because it seems like everytime we finish a record, all of a sudden the wheels are spinning and we're just totally, you know, at the end of it and coming up with ideas all the time, and then what happens is you gotta cut that off, and you gotta think about the packaging, you gotta think about -
Z: You're locked in the formula of - of...
C: You gotta rehearse all this crap now, you know? And we gotta play it, like, as we recorded it and you gotta take photos and we gotta go on tour and... so, all those creative juices that are suddenly coming out of nowhere get cut. So I'd like to do that, make two in a row, because I think that would be the next way to do it, because it would be totally different to anything we've ever done. We're being more experimental than we've ever been.
Z: Most definitely. I mean, a song like Applebite to me was the shining moment on the album, which Matt wrote...
C: Mmm hmmm.
Z: It's almost got a real dubby feel to it. It's unusual but I love it, you know?
C: It's really good for him, really easy, you know, it's just fun. Yeah, I think that the ideas just start coming eventually, to the point where they're happening constantly after you've spent a couple of months in the studio, and it would be nice not to have to cut that off, to just keep going. So, maybe we'll do that, that'd be good.
Z: Mmm hmmm. Did you guys have any idea in mind about the direction of Down on the Upside? Or did it all just come out in the studio...
C: Not at all. We never do. I think that us producing it ourselves was as close as we came to having a theory. It's like, well OK, let's do this ourselves and it'll be very different. And it ended up working... it was closer to what we wanted it to sound like that any other record we made, really.
Z: So how did the recording process differ from say, Superunknown or Badmotorfinger, this time round how did you approach the laying of the tracks and stuff?
C: Well all those producers were really heavy on... getting good sounds or efficient sounds, kind of. And that could end up being at the expense of the performance, because if you're sitting there fora length of time trying to get the perfect guitar sound for a song, you've been playing that song and... well, by the time you're ready to record it's kind of... it sound like you're boring. You know it's kinda like, fuck this isn't... and you don't really want to play it anymore, so I usually go on and do another song. So on this record we didn't really do that. We got the sounds a lot faster, and so... when you create it, it's not as slick of a sound as Superunknown, it's not as comercially oriented sound or as radio-friendly really, but that... it was on purpose. Not because we didn't want to make a radio-friendly album, we just wanted to make an album that was a performance album, that leaned more towards a live and sounded more like us.
Z: It's funny you say that, because I think you're cutting yourselves short. I think the production on Super - ahhh, Down on the Upside is superb, songs like Dusty or Pretty Noose... it just sounds beautiful.
C: Yeah I think the sound is really good even on radio, when I hear it. It just isn't... it isn't one of those studio records. Like, Superunknown is one of those records where record producers put it on when they're making a record and eggbeat it with whatever it is they're working on. The production was sort of... pushed to the forefront. Whereas on Down on the Upside, it wasn't, really. The production took a backseat to the performances.
Z: It really sounds like... you know, a band playing live.
Z: Rather than a producer sitting there and... directing...
C: A lot of it is. We had a lot better time recording just because it was like that. It's a pretty daunting task when you're thinking, like... you've just done two songs for your new record and it's taken... a week. And you're kinda thinking God we have fifteen more songs. And that's what working with a producer was like for us.
Z: After awhile you end up thinking, you know, it's just a song. It's not like a rare masterpiece of art or anything.
C: We spent a lot of time on the previous couple of records in the studios and we didn't really want to do that on this one. We just wanted to make it with our band, you know, record our band.
Z: Do you think in hindsight that perhaps Michael Beinhorn went a little bit over the top on the production of Superunknown, he pushed it to an extreme?
C: It wan't what we had discussed before we went in. Before we went in we had discussed... basically what we're talking about, because that's what we wanted. We chose him, we chose all of our producers, and the idea was to capture a live sound. We really wanted to be agressive. And that's what started on Superunknown, we wanted an agressive sound. Once we got in there, he was really anal about performances rhythmically, he was really anal about sounds... and it made it tighter, it made it... not aesthetically more listenable, just it sounds more listener-friendly, in a way. But it sacrificed a lot on performances. I mean, there are some songs where it would take several hours to get a guitar sound and sometimes it would take a day.
Z: It's crazy too, it's almost like... a patronizing way of looking at it. You guys are a band who cut your teeth live, you can play your instruments, it's not like you're Kylie Minogue and you have to record a bass sample or anything.
C: And the funny thing is, we would start with a sound that he wouldn't like, and we'd spend six hours fucking around, trying to get a sound he did like and then eventually he'd... we'd go back to the original one and he'd say yeah, OK. I guess that's where... it would be like OK, now I don't wanna play it!
[Black Hole Sun]
Z: Last time we spoke you said that you thought Superunknown would expand your fan base, but surely, you know, it went beyond your expectations.
C: Yeah, I didn't really know. I usually don't have expectations. I usually figure that if we sell a million records it's like, more than we would ever have expected. And I think that the reason why it's changed is that the audience has changed. What they're used to hearing and what the record companies are realizing is that there's more people out there that liked music like ours. So that sort of happened without us really trying. We never really expected it, we just figured that we would be our own band and whatever happened happened. So it was kind of a surprise.
Z: You're a band that's a lot of great songwriters, everybody writes songs for the albums and they're all brilliant, you know, but Kim actually showed his wares for the first time really on the album, with Never the Machine Forever. Was he a bit nervous?
C: Well, he's written a lot over the history of the band, he used to write a lot more, he writes less now. He's written lyrics a couple of other times... I think someone who doesn't write lyrics ever... is gonna be a little nervous about it. Lyrics is a weird thing. It's one of those things... usually you either do it or you don't. And Kim is actually a good writer I think, he's a lot more self-concious than he needs to be. You know, but that's the big barrier when you're a writer is getting over being self-concious about it.
Z: Cool video for Pretty Noose. Working with Frank Kozik, how was that?
C: It was great. He was great, totally together. And he had never even done a rock video before. Totally great to work with. Yeah, great.
Z: So have many songs did you have, you know, going in to record Down on the Upside?
C: Twenty or so? Yeah, well, it's tough to say. When we started it, we didn't have that many, we had maybe eight. Then, we took a break and all of a sudden we had a ton. It got to be a lot. There were two songs finished that were actually gonna be on the record all the way up through mastering and... we cut them. There were too many songs and I wasn't happy with one of them and the rest of the band wasn't happy with one of them so we just cut them. There were a couple more besides that that were finished songs we just never got around to recording because we had so many songs.
Z: So you're back out on the road now, how do you keep the stresses down? Do you take the dogs out on the road or...
C: Oh no. That would be a bigger stress. Trying to chase a couple of dogs around would be tough.
Z: Do you enjoy being back on the road?
C: Yeah, it's not that stressful, really. I mean, it's more stressful being at home. On the road it's kinda like... if somebody calls you and tells you to be at the van - 'go to the van' - and you go to the van and they tell you you're gonna go on stage and play... and then you get off. It's like you don't really... it's as structured or as non-structured as you want it to be.
Z: You gotta go Chris.
Z: We'll wrap this up. Thank you so much it's been a real pleasure.
[Blow up the Outside World]