95bFM: NEW ZEALAND, 16 JANUARY 1997
transcribed by Tessa Gyde
Please note: This interview is ©1997 Simon Coffey and 95bFM New Zealand. Unauthorized duplication or publication is strictly prohibited.
Intro: Welcome to the Student Radio Network exclusive interview with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden. Chris Cornell was interviewed by Simon Coffey, host of the 95bFM Hard Fast and Heavy show, backstage before Soundgarden's Wellington concert on January 16, 1997. As far as we know, this was the only radio interview Chris Cornell did while he was in New Zealand, for the 1997 Big Day Out.
We begin with the Screaming Life album.
Simon Coffey: Well, the first one, of course, is Screaming Life and Fopp.
Chris Cornell: Right.
SC: What do you remember about the band and recording the albums -- and the EP as well, of course?
CC: I think it cost us... three thousand dollars maybe to make it, and we did it in maybe a week or something, y'know.
SC: Screaming Life, was that all?
CC: Screaming Life, yeah. Fopp was done in one day or something. I think we did most of it in one day and then Kim and I did overdubs later, and then we put the two together. But Screaming Life was... Jack Endino recorded that and Fopp... Steve Fisk recorded.
SC: How do you feel about those songs now? Because it's getting close... almost ten years ago.
CC: It still seems kind of fresh... we were a band for three years before we did Screaming Life and we had a couple of albums worth of material, but we did... everything we put on it was all brand new songs, just because -- y'know, when you're a band and you write new songs and it's kind of what you're most excited about. So that record actually, it was a little more current and a little bit more fresh than... the SST record for example, where we went back and did a bunch of the older songs because we had so many. And even that, even given all of the records that we've made up till now, there's probably twenty-five or so songs from that earlier period before we made any records that... of course we don't know how to play anymore. I don't even remember all of them. But yeah, there's dozens and dozens.
SC: A track that's really significant over here is of course the Ohio Players one, Fopp.
CC: Yeah, yeah.
SC: How did -- why did that song get chosen as the one you did? And also you did that really cool remix, as well.
CC: Yeah I think we kind of did the song because we were going to do a remix, just for fun, and that was, like the song that we could do a remix of. We just chose to do that cover for fun, we'd play live and most of the young kids at that time didn't know that it was Ohio Players, they thought it was a real cool song we wrote. So, that wasn't... we didn't take the Fopp part of it that seriously, it was... critics kind of wrote about it like it was our next big thing, we were trying to make some statement and it was a career move, which was ridiculous, we were just trying to have fun. That's the problem about -- a lot of the time just about press. Even from like, the fanzines on up. If they really like your band and you're important to them, I think that's cool, I think it's cool that music is important to you, but a lot of it is just really we wanna... make it for the fuck of it, and then, people take it really seriously. And people would also suggest that we were a really serious band that had no sense of humor, so if we'd do something that we thought was funny, they would think sometimes... they wouldn't get it, they would think we were serious and that we had somehow missed the boat, or somehow didn't quite pull it off.
SC: Or maybe they thought that it sounds like a bit of a sarcastic thing with a serious message underneath it.
CC: Maybe, or maybe they didn't get the sarcasticness at all. I don't know. We've never written Soundgarden joke songs except for maybe Big Dumb Sex, and even that wasn't really... no one got that joke either. All the guys thought that it was like a sex rock anthem and all the girls thought it was some sort of goofy come on, and then... the record company thought it was, like, worse than... gangster rap or something just because I said the word fuck, y'know. Which was all it was, the lyrics couldn't have been any more benign they were just... it was just this silly disco pop song where you replace the word with the real word, y'know.
The Ultramega OK album.
SC: This is the album that I first discovered you guys on -- I work up at bFM, the radio station and the album came in on import. Well basically Flower came out on a promo and... I discovered Soundgarden. And I'm sure that that's the case for quite a few people... SST had a bigger distribution overseas.
CC: Yeah, we actually sold more of these records, Ultramega OK, to this point, than we have of the first A&M record. I think a lot of that is to do with their catalogue sales, they've really... at the time when this was released they knew how to reach the audience that we would appeal too, and that was the whole reason why we did it. We could have signed with a major label before this record, before even Screaming Life, but at that point, at least in the US, they didn't -- major labels didn't really know how to get the records into the kind of forms that would sell our kind of music, and there's also the... I don't know how to put it... because it was fair, but people were kind of critical of major label groups if they were interested in indy music. It really made sense at the time, because there wasn't anything on major labels that was coming out that was worth it, so it wasn't until like, Husker Du, or us, or... yeah I guess you could even say Metallica's made that step where it sort of changes and that happened, y'know, with Jane's Addiction as well, so, it was kind of a weird time, and I think that's why this record sold more. The thing about this record that... it's kind of hard to deal with, it's like, every time you make a record, specifically when you're a young band and you've never... you don't need a lot of recording, you're never really sure if it's gonna be good or if it's gonna suck, and your worst fear is that somehow you're gonna miss it and there's some sort of magical thing that you got last time but you're not getting it now, and why not. That kind of happened with this record. Because we did demos for this record with Jack Endino, who did Screaming Life, and then we choose to record this record with Drew Canulette, because SST suggested it, and SST, they're... Greg and Chuck, they're kind of our heroes, in the label. All the bands they had were our favorite bands and we wanted to be on SST more than anything, more than being on a major label. We never thought we could ever do it, so when we had a chance we went, "let's do it." We didn't record it with Jack and we recorded it with a guy who really wasn't aware of the history of the band or what we should sound like and we got finished making the record and I came back and didn't feel that great about the sounds, even though I thought the material was the best material we had at the time, but I started playing the demos and then started playing the real thing and it was... pretty crushing. <laughs> Someday maybe... I think what we'll do is have Jack Endino remix this whole record and re-release it. Which is cool, I mean, they're really good with that catalogue, that's the reason why they did a record with us anyway, they knew that we were going to sign to a major and they just figured they would get us on the way up, and then have a piece of us. <laughs> Course, we own the rights to this now, so now we can do anything we want with it. We should probably just license it back to them, since they've done so damn well with it.
The Loud Love album.
CC: It was weird because we spent like, two and a half years telling major labels that we weren't gonna do anything that somebody wanted us to do unless we wanted to do it. So all of a sudden, we finally decided to sign with A&M, and they... and then, they give us a recording budget, and then they just go away! And that made us feel a little weird, it was like, OK, we weren't really sure what they expected of us. We had signed a pretty big contract at the time, it was a pretty big deal, it's nothing like what people get now, but for then, it was pretty unheard of.
SC: Yeah, there were all of these million dollar rumors going around all over the place.
CC: Yeah well, I can't remember, but it was a lot, y'know. It's not like they just give you a bunch of money, it's... you end up spending it on recording and touring and that kind of crap but it's, y'know, that's making a record. So, it ended up being kind of conservative, in my opinion, just because... for one thing, Hiro was starting to get ready to quit the band. He wasn't really that into it, he wasn't writing songs anymore and he was pretty critical of the band. And we were in this new situation so we kind of ended up doing a lot of the material we knew we could do, y'know. It's like, OK, this is -- it was our most straight-forward rock record because of that.
SC: Was it new material? As you said, on Ultramega you...
CC: A lot of it was new, yeah. Most of it was new. Some of it wasn't brand new, but a lot of it was new. I was writing a lot of the songs, and we just didn't really step out too much. I still think it's a -- I still like the record a lot, but it was just totally... a straight-forward rock record compared to other stuff we'd done, all the way back. I don't know if that's really a good thing or a bad thing. It's hard to say, it doesn't really matter because it didn't sell a lot anyway, but it was kind of an introduction to major label record-making. That was also period two where no one in major label land really knew what to do with us, because we didn't fit into any of the normal categories of music. So they made the assumption that it would work if they portrayed us kind of a new heavy metal band. So all of a sudden, rather than doing indy fanzines and college radio we're doing metal radio show, interviews and metal fanzines... which was fine, I'm mean a lot of our audience ended up being sort of... a metal fan that was sick of what heavy metal music was and wanted something else, so it was really good for us, but it wasn't entirely us.
The Badmotorfinger album.
SC: I'm interested to know... because it got re-issued here with the bonus CD, SOMMS. We heard -- through the rumors -- that you as a band were not happy that it got re-issued that way.
SC: Because you felt that all the people that had originally bought it --
CC: Yeah, it wasn't really... the idea when it was originally sold was that it would be a limited edition thing, and... I don't remember anybody coming and asking the band if it was OK to re-release it that way, they just did it. This record was sort of stretching, more. It was Ben's first record, which for the first record that he played on, he actually contributed musically to it, quite a bit, which was good. So it was kind of, finally we were a band again.
SC: And MTV refused to play the video for Jesus Christ Pose.
CC: Yeah they did. <laughs>
SC: Because of -- what is it? The religious entry...
CC: Well, actually, there's two reasons. One is the fact we had a woman on a cross, y'know... but I think that the bigger reason really was the fact that it was six minutes long.
CC: The way their programming works is like a commercial radio station, the shorter the video, the more videos they can play, and -- they figured I guess that in the normal hours people watch videos they're not going to want to watch something for six minutes.
SC: The material that appeared on the SOMMS re-issue, it's quite interesting. Stuff like Sabbath... re-worded, and stuff like that. When were they written? Where they recorded at the same time as Badmotorfinger or again...
CC: They were recorded later... for B-sides really, I think. I don't think we did them specifically for SOMMS... at the time, I think we just... everyone always wants B-sides from you and we didn't want to give away original songs because we make records with a lot of songs on them, and we get attached to songs as well, and you give things away as B-sides that are original songs and it's like a reason why you can't go on and re-release it your next record. So we don't really like doing that. I think these songs came -- the SOMMS extra songs came from us deciding well, we'll just go into the studio and record a bunch of cover songs so if someone needs a B-side we'll have one. She's a Politician was just a song that didn't make it onto the record... we have those every record as well... but usually we don't put them out as B-sides.
SC: Room a Thousand Years Wide, there was a version appeared as a Sub Pop single...
CC: Mmm hmm, yes.
SC: The question is, is that the same version or a different version?
CC: No, it's a different version.
SC: It is. Cleanly re-recorded?
CC: Pardon me?
SC: Completely re-recorded?
CC: Yeah. Yeah, entirely.
SC: I thought -- we thought that the relationship with Sub Pop was a bit difficult at that time, so it was strange when you released the single on Sub Pop.
CC: No, we never had a difficult relationship with them, ever. Actually, Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop is the one who told us that SST was interested in putting out one of our records, and he told us we should do it. You know, totally up-front, in a very friendly way. I think that main reason why was because Sub Pop at that time didn't have a lot of money to throw around and... he sort of looked at it like well, they can wait around for us to be able to afford it or pay for it themselves or here's SST that wants to put out a record, so... and they would only do one record deals anyway, so why not? It ended up being kind of good for us, in a way, it was another way of escaping being lumped in, because after we did the SST record, all of a sudden Sub Pop became this huge indie focus like, this is the new thing and there's a Sub Pop sound and... we were really included. Which at first kind of sucked, because everyone was saying, this is this new thing with Soundgarden, they're not part of it, and even though we were one of the two first records they released and we got Bruce and Jon together, introduced them, they were still suggesting that we were kinda Johnny-come-lately, like sort of try to emulate the Sub Pop sound, and it was like, well, what do you do, try to run around and tell everyone it's not true... nah, just like, whatever, let people think what they think. But then, all of a sudden, people started talking about how it was all hype and no substance and Nirvana was the only band that was any good and... so when Sub Pop started getting these backlashes, they didn't really include us in that, either. So, it was like, oh, OK, good. Fine. We're not part of the hype but we're not part of like, the destroying the hype either, which is what happens, whenever there's hype, y'know, eventually somebody wants to kill it.
SC: The artwork on the Badmotorfinger seems to be more related than the next couple of albums that came out. It seems to be very different to the stuff you used on... ahh... the other one. Louder Than Love.
CC: Ummm, yeah, I think we were trying to get away from, ahh, me on the cover without my shirt! <laughs>
SC: Yeah, because it always seemed to be an emphasis on you, semi-naked with your hair throwing all over the place...
CC: Yeah, yeah... well, that's really Sub Pop, actually. Because the first record, the picture on Screaming Life, was Bruce Pavitt's choice for the cover of the record.
CC: And ahh, I think his idea was -- at the time was that most indie records had like, these guys with bald heads and their eyes bugging out screaming on the covers of these records, and it was really aggressive, and he thought that this picture of me was -- I looked really angelic and kind of pure and young and it was just a total contrast, no one had seen anything like that in that type of indie environment, so that kind of made sense. When we did Louder Than Love, we actually had Bruce consult on the packaging because we weren't that happy with the SST record packaging. And... he choose that photo as well. So, when you think that major labels kind of like to exploit images, it was actually an indie that was... ahh, really into doing that, y'know. He was into packaging, and y'know, it's obvious that that works, because he turned Sub Pop into kind of like this international scene, because he knew how to market it. So when we got to Badmotorfinger, we were definitely sick of it. Sick of... that kind of focus on me and all that Sex God crap. The original colors on this were pink, and a kind of a lime green... or was it purple and lime green?
SC: Yeah, I've got the vinyl version, which has got... yeah, it's quite strange. It's completely different coloring.
CC: Yeah, yeah it's very collectable. They printed like, seventy-five thousand of them, and we had to go to the president of the record company and say, don't do this, and he looked at it and said, no, of course not, this doesn't look like Soundgarden at all, and raised a fucking hell... and fortunately he did, because we didn't release it with the lime green/pink jacket cover.
The Superunknown album.
SC: This is the album you released when you came to New Zealand for the Big Day Out.
CC: Yeah. Actually, it hadn't come out yet --
SC: No, it hadn't come out. But a few songs on it were being played on the radio...
CC: Yeah, and we played a few songs. We had finished the record, but it was... I came with a test pressing, on that tour, that's all I had, the outlook wasn't even done yet.
SC: And again, the sounds... you recorded a different album, to the other one.
CC: Mmm hmm.
SC: With songs like... Fell On Black Days and The Day I Tried To Live... more of a softer, tuneful -- well, not tuneful, but mellower feel. The music...
CC: Yeah, those were pretty much different to anything we've ever done, really. Which is... probably why we did it. The first couple of years of us being a band, we didn't really write heavy songs, they were kind of quirky, a little bit melodic but very riff oriented and really strange time signatures and kind of quirky... like, very post-punk, a little bit more noisy... and we started getting into bigger riff rock from really... a song that was on Ultramega OK, Incessant Mace, that became like, a big club hit in Seattle, people just loved that because it was dangerous at the time, cause it had this retro kind of Seventies throw back feeling to it, but it was at a time when anything that was Seventies throw back was totally unhip. You know, everybody hated anything that had anything to do with that, and we were doing it anyway, and a lot of people got guilty pleasure out of it or something. <laughs> And we started having a lot of fun doing that, we were listening to other bands from Seattle like Malfunkshun or the Melvins... who weren't from Seattle but they place there a lot... and they kind of -- even Green River as well, they would all sort of venture into that thing, of like the Seventies influence that was supposed to be unhip... and that kind of started getting us going in that riff rock direction, and by the time Badmotorfinger was finished, personally I was pretty well tired of it. I wasn't sure if we had done that kind of music as good as we could of, but I didn't care any more. I was like, we gotta do something else. And we've all written a lot of songs that were never recorded because the didn't appear to be, or seem to be, what we would call a Soundgarden song. So we kind of threw that rule out, for Superunknown, it was like, whatever anyone brings in is gonna be a Soundgarden song because we gotta do something different or we're just wasting our time.
SC: Question... She Likes Surprises, why give it only to the outside America releases?
CC: Ah, it was never intended to be on the record at all. The story they give you basically is that... for certain situations, in certain countries, it's cheaper for them to buy an import than it is for them to buy the domestic release unless you put something on the domestic release that's different. So... that whole subject still pisses me off, because there's so many fans in the US that don't get these privileges just because they're in a big commercial market. Y'know, it's like, because they spend money readily they get less. I guess that's the way commerce works, though.
The Down On The Upside album.
SC: And of course the new one. Well, newish one. The latest one, I should say.
CC: Yeah. Newish.
SC: Down On the Upside.
CC: Yeah, we didn't go with the artwork on that. This artwork is kind of thematic. This is our first thematic artwork... how come there's two here?
SC: Oh, have you not seen it, it's the Australasian...
CC: Oh, cool.
SC: With some B-sides and stuff.
CC: Right... boy, like you need more songs. <laughs> There's supposed to be 18 songs.
SC: It's a long album.
CC: There was supposed to be 18, but we cut two at the last minute. And now like, everybody's saying how good those were. <laughs> Shit, we should have put them on the record. It was so hard. It's hard to imagine somebody like... it's too bad that vinyl isn't sort of the... what people buy anymore because --
SC: The dominant format.
CC: Yeah, because what happens is... when I was a kid, I would sometimes listen to one side of the album for a couple of weeks, and then I would start listening to the other side of the album, and slowly get introduced to it. I was worried that our records are so long, that people would get put off by trying to listen to the whole thing because it's a CD and there isn't the division, y'know, where you can sort of listen to half and then put it away. So, y'know... maybe people should buy cassettes! <laughs> This is a long record, though. First record we produced ourselves.
SC: Yeah. Again.
CC: It's sounds to me... the way we should sound like. As compared to other records. I think it's more raw, but it's also... it's a lot more fluid, it's more relaxed, it seems like we're -- it sounds like we're more into the songs, which is because we didn't spend as much time on the sounds, we just went in an recorded them.
SC: So comparing that to Superunknown, Superunknown there may have been a lot more of a commercial audience, may have taped onto some of that. This seems to be like... well, we're not particularly like that. This is Soundgarden.
CC: Yeah, I mean, I was disappointed in parts of that, for similar reasons. Firstly it's about Loud Love, Badmotorfinger, it seems about all of those records that I guess I've always being trying to get to a point where I've felt like we were a little more loose. It wasn't so much experimental in terms of song writing, it was experimental in terms of like, either recording it, or just being able to go in and do things in a less structured, more relaxed way and this is the first time we've done it and the funny thing, to me, is that this is the first time we've ever produced it ourselves in total.
SC: And is it something that you think you'll keep on doing?
CC: Yeah, after this, after that experience I can't imagine anyone's gonna want to bring in a producer, because it really makes it a hell of a lot easier. You don't have to wait for somebody to be available, you can just go into the studio on a weekend and record two songs, then go home and just keep doing it, as long as you want.
[Dusty - Moby remix]
CC: Well, it's a long history, a lot longer than... nearly any of the other famous, world famous Seattle bands. As far as... considering that we've been the same band. That was the funny part about the explosion of the scene, sort of... it was always another band. When it was an indie scene, Mudhoney was like blowing out in an indie world, bigger than anybody, y'know, bigger than us, and yet they were a brand new band and we had been around for a long time and then, when it was commercial it was like Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam and Nirvana all, kind of at the same time. We kinda did that a little bit, but it was still... we were the band that had been around the longest and yet we were still kind of underneath this other huge explosion thing that was happening. But it ended up being great, it ended up being kind of... we never really got the overwhelming hype, but were never really got the overwhelming tearing down of the hype, the fall out. So, it's been pretty realistic.
SC: And you're still here, you see.
CC: Yeah. Still.
SC: Still at a good level... and you're still making records.
CC: Yeah. But now you honestly... you don't have to complain about that much shit when you don't have to listen to a gazillion people be critical of you and follow you around and take pictures of you when you're at your... less attractive moments.
SC: You've been listening to the Student Radio Network exclusive interview with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden. Thanks for listening and I hope you enjoyed it.