3RRR: MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, 30 JANUARY 1997
transcribed by Fiona Thiessen
Interviewer: Karen Leng
Karen: Chris, big welcome back to Triple R. Great to have you back in Melbourne again for another round of Big Day Outs. Some, was it two years since you were last here?
Chris: Errr, three I think.
C: At least three, yeah.
K: How about that! Three years goes fast doesn't it?
C: Sure does!
K: What have the shows been like for you so far? Do you find the experience of performing, you know, these sort of stadium kind of shows, I mean, you've done quite alot of them in America.
K: And in Europe. I imagine they are quite different from the club show.
C: Yeah, they are. Alot of it just has to do with the fact that when you play a club show it's your audience - period. You know, everyone comes to see you, and they have all your records. And when you play these types of tours, like the BDO, you get a huge different fan. You know, it's like every fan is there for a different band , or some fans like alot of the bands, some fans just like one, and so it's not the same thing, you know, but in a way it's cool. It's like a cheap date. You play for an hour in front of alot of people and alot of people get to see you who might not have otherwise seen you.
K: And hopefully you have a good time as well.
K: Does that factor into the equation, as well, these days?
C: It can, that's for sure, yeah.
K: So it's been a year I guess since Down On The Upside came out, probably even longer, I guess, since you wrote the material for that record. How's the album held up for you?
C: Ummm, I don't remember that record. (Laughter by both)
K: But it's so recent!
C: I know, it seems recent when you're a listener, but when you make the records, by the time you've finished, you've already gone through all these different periods of writing and you've actually chosen the songs, taught them to the band, or the band has taught them to you, you've done demos for them. Then you've actually recorded them. Then all the over-dubs and then you've mixed it, then you've mastered it, then you've sequenced it together into a record. So by the time the record is done... in my ears, I heard every tiny little sound that is on it, dozens of times, and generally I don't really get a feel for what the record is really like until a couple of years later. When I go back and listen to it and I've forgotten everything, you know, and it's just all fresh.
C: When I hear songs on the radio, that's one thing I've noticed, is that it's... They always, all the songs sound really good on the radio to me. They sound really agressive and raw, as opposed to, sort of, thick and lush, like our last record, Superunknown, sounded like. It's (DOTU) a little more like the way we see ourselves or hear ourselves, I think.
K: That was a deliberate thing then...
C: Mmm-humm. (Chris taking a sip of drink)
K: To get that sort of sound on the new album? Because you produced it yourselves.
C: We were trying to get those sounds on Superunknown, we've always chosen all of our own producers and we've always been trying to get a sort of loose, kind of raw version of our band on tape, and the producers we've chosen, except with, you know, the exception of Jack Endino maybe, have always been not into that. They're thinking about either their careers and what other producers are going to think, or "Is someone going to hire me next time". Or maybe, they just don't like that. We've had people who have tried to mix our records, come into the room screaming, throwing fits. You know "How am I going to make a record of this"? And I don't know, we're not the greatest musicians in the world but there is definetly something about us that we understand, that's just kind of a loosness. I guess it was really impossible to get someone else to do it, so we just did it ourselves.
K: It's all got to do with the ears that you have, isn't it? The aesthetic that you bring to whatever music you're playing or listening to.
K: I mean, perhaps some of these producers, what their bottom line of what makes a good song sounds pretty radically different from yours for example.
C: Yeah. I also think it depends too, on the band you are. I think some bands, they could shine with alot of really good production, and they could also shine with a really rough approach to it. For us, I think, I don't think we do as well, I don't think we sound as good, when we have alot of really slick production. You know, it's like putting a bum in a tuxedo. He's not going to... he's still going to look like a bum even though he's wearing a tuxedo. It doesn't fit, he's not comfortable in it. And I think that's what happened with Superunknown is that, even though we really liked the record and the material alot, it didn't really sound like us. It sounded like we were in, going into a direction that was fun to try, but we weren't really that comfortable there. (Burden in my hand played)
K: So did producing DOTU afford you greater freedom, to continue this experiment, this experimentation which appears to be...
K: Becoming, sort of, part of your approach when it comes to making records? A fairly loose, kind of approach to the musical boundaries that the band are working within.
C: Yeah well, we just rolled the dice really. We just figured we'll try and produce it ourselves and if we can't we'll figure it out at some point. Maybe we'll be 5 or 6 songs into it, or something and think "This is crap!" (Laughter by both) "This isn't working, we better go get somebody to help us". But 6 or 7 songs into it we thought it was a pretty damn good idea, so we kept going.
K: Because with this album you did seem to be playing with a few diferent types of instrumentation and arrangements, on some of the songs weren't you? Was that a deliberate thing you set down to do, or sort of a by-product of the way you were working?
C: Yeah, pretty much spur of the moment. It was a situation were it was so loose that if somebody thought they wanted to try something, we'd just do it. And I think without a producer there, we never really had producers that wouldn't let us do anything because, you know, we'd do whatever we wanted, but it's just another person to have to tell the idea to, and if you don't have a producer, there's nobody really there, it's just the band and you think "well I'm going to try this". You don't have to explain this to somebody. You don't have to say, "I want it to sound like this" or "I'm doing it for this reason". You just do it, and then you hear what it sounds like, and if it sounds good, you keep it. And if it doesn't you say "Screw it!!" and don't use it. Thinking back on the record there, I don't think there was a whole lot, I don't think there was anything really, in terms of experiment, that we didn't end up using. It all kind of worked out.
K: That's pretty good.
K: Umm, I read somewhere that Matt's been doing a bit of work with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, is that correct?
C: He did a performance with them that was the Seattle Symphony playing songs, popular songs that Seattle artists had written and I'm not sure what it was, if it was, sort of like the Seattle Symphony giving the nod to, you know, their own home, because it had such a big influence in popular music. I guess that's what they were trying to do.
K: Are any Soundgarden songs performed?
C: Yeah, he did, they did Black Hole Sun, and that's what he played on.
K: Oh really. That's interesting you should say that because I don't know whether you heard that Moog Cookbook record, that came out last year, as well with that. I think it was a Jellyfish side project.
K: And they did a kind of Moog rendition of Black Hole Sun.
C: I never heard that. There's alot of different versions though. Moby did a version also, I haven't heard that one either. Then the band Cibo Matto did a version, I heard that.
K: Oh, really.
C: I heard a live version of that. The best way to put it, was that it was cute and then..
K: That's a testimony to the melody really.
K: That all these people are taking on the song. How do you feel about having your stuff...
C: Steve Laurence and Eddy Gormay (?) did a version of it too. That's just come out. I think that's probably my favorite, it's pretty funny!
C: Yeah, I think it is, it's just like a hummable melody and you can kinda recognise it right away, and it's kinda sad. (laughter) It's too bad that that's going to have to happen for the rest of the career of Soundgarden. You're going to have to, the melody is going to keep coming back from different people. Bob Denver will do a version or something. (laughter)
K: You don't care?
C: It's no big deal, I mean it's ok. Its just kind of strange, the only thing I think of is that in the year 2010, when they have "Remember the 90's" commercials, that song will be the only one that represents Soundgarden. Or like that, twelve years of my life being in Soundgarden will kind of all come down to that one song, over and over and over again.
K: You'll be walking in a supermarket doing your shopping and it wil come tinkling over the music.
C: Yeah. God Damn! I'll be throwing beets at people, trying to hit the speakers. (Moog version and original version of BHS played)
C: So many bands are hit orientated, in that they try and get hits and I have never really understood that. That's the only hit we've ever really had where it was a full-on smash hit. It's good in a way, but you can have a long career without having hits. I think it's the better way to go.
K: Well this idea of Soundgarden being a band with potential hits at least in you, is a fairly new sort of thing I suppose. It's been building for a while.
K: Superunknown really was the album that blasted you forth isn't it?
K: Into a wider audience in America. Is that something that you had in mind when writing DOTU? Is that kind of a baggage you take with you?
C: No, we don't work that way. It's to difficult because everyone writes music and we don't ever really agree a whole lot, so we couldn't really have a direction and say "Let's do this this time. Let's take this record and do this specific thing with it". We would never agree on that, it's alot more haphazard. It's like we just bring in one song at a time and sort of sheepishly play it for the other three members of the band and (in a intimidated/dorky voice) "Here's my song", and they either don't like it or the do. And then we start rehearsing them and recording them, and then whatever it ends up being, you don't really know what it's going to be. You just start listening and you'll hear 3 or 4, 5 songs in a row then after a while you start realising there's a feel there and then you don't really know what the record's going to sound like until it's finished.
C: And then they always end up with their own personality, but it's just really haphazard, just kinda by chance.
K: I can see the advantages and how fortunate you are as a band, to be able to take that approach and not, say for example, have you be the one with the weight of the band on your shoulders, in terms of penning the tunes, but is there a downside as well to that, in terms of retaining the essence of what Soundgarden actually is?
C: The downside is that you can't make a specific sweeping change. I'd look at that as a downside but it could possibly be an upside. It depends on if you made a really stupid decision or not. (laughter by both)
K: Yeah, how do you know if you're making a stupid decision.
C: Yeah, I don't know! You see it saved us from doing things like, all of a sudden everyone unanimously cuts their hair and starts wearing different clothes, you know. Where you just sort of completley shift. Some bands can do that and some bands can't. Like U2, they really successfully pulled that off, they became this different band because peole were tired of the down-to-earth hero, sort of folk hero U2. So they turned into this party band and did it really well. But we could never do that and I guess that's the downside is that, we couldn't all of a sudden make a really super drastic change, but the in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking "Well that's probably a good thing". Because you know, alot of times bands get self-conscious and they don't believe in themselves anymore, and they make really huge sweeping changes and it's the wrong idea, and you can tell that they're not really writing music for music anymore. They're trying to fit somewhere, and we've never really worried about trying to fit. We've always figured we'll just do what we do, and if we like it, there's probably other people out there that are like us, that will like it. But we don't try to find these people or do like commercial research to figure out where those people shop. (laughter) You know, and what programs those people watch, so we can put commercials and appeal to them. We don't really do that.
K: I wonder whether your label does it for you though?
C: I don't think they can. That's been pretty evident ever since we first signed, that they had no real place to put us. They went initally into heavy metal because there was no such thing as Seattle, or grunge or anything, there was just, heavy metal was the closest thing that they could liken us to. So all of a sudden we went from being this indie band, that was on college radio, to being this band that was in all the metal fanzines and on metal radio and on the metal video programs and that lasted until the Sub Pop scene really. And then it was like "The Sub Pop Sound" and that became grunge and then grunge sort of became synonymous with Seattle and that created a whole new genre. And so know we're floating around somewhere in there.
K: Yeah, that's interesting how all those boundaries seem to have dissolved, really in the last few years so much. I mean I remember when alternative music was really starting the cross over in the late 80's.
K: Those sort of boundaries almost ceased to be relevant, didn't they?
C: Yeah, mainly because that usually it's not the bands that start what can be classified as a genre, it's the bands that are influenced by it or try to copy it that end up being in that genre. Like for instance - grunge. I don't, I never think of Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or Mudhoney or The Melvins as grunge bands. I think of these as individual bands. To me a grunge band is Stone Temple Pilots (STP) or Silverchair or arghh... Bush. Bands that are obviously influenced by a combination of all these bands together, which suddenly creates a genre. It sounds like if you took little pieces out of all these Seattle bands, and put them together you'd have STP, and that, that's grunge to me. That's like this genre they created by borrowing.
K: Yeah, the second wave of original groups, coming up from the Seattle scene.
K: You guys were featured in the Hype! documentary recently.
K: Was there a sense of, in Seattle with the release of that, that there was a closure of that whole period of music? That people could kind of just get on with things now?
C: I think that happened before the movie. I think that might have been happening while they were filming the movie. And in the way that things work in the film industry, it just takes so long for everything to happen. I felt that when we were working on this last record, that it was just, there's no more expectations. Because the first thing that happened was that all these bands come out of nowhere, from the same city, which really was nowhere to the rest of the country, or the world and they have these big successful records. And then the next thing is, is this just a passing phase or can these bands do it again? Can they do it twice? Then all of these bands came out and did it twice and had another big record and all of a sudden there's alot of off-shoot bands from different parts of the world, that are obiviously influenced by this and you realise - ok, this really is something you're going to have to write about 25 years later, so you can't just dismiss it. And then our last record came up really where like there was nothing left to prove really. Everybody had just sort of proved that these different bands were as force in music. We had proved that we weren't a flash in a pan or anything, you know, we've been around forever. So we were just left alone to be our own band, which was great. It feels more comfortable now than it has in a long time. (Room A Thousand Years Wide played)
[talking about the Sub Pop/grunge "scene"]
C: Well they very much wanted to have their own image to begin with, and they packaged those bands in a way that sort created a scene. They really did create it in alot of ways. They took bands and put them under one roof and kind of gave them similar packaging and projected a similar attitude and that's what really took off.
K: Quite a relief that it's over, I imagine, for you.
C: Well it was good...
K: Must have been quite a ride at the time though was it?
K: A buzz.
C: I think everyone will look back on it and think how amazing it was. While it was happening to you, I don't know whether you really have time to absorb it all and think about it. But the best way to imagine it is to think of sitting in your garage with your band, and going to play a club show in front of a couple a-hundred people, and then seeing your friends' bands play, and you're all working in the same restaurant or in the same factorys or whatever, barely managing to survive. An then all of a sudden , you have this great success with your music, and you're touring around the world having like platinum records and your faces on magazines, but so's your friend, and so's his friend and so's his friend!! And all these other people that you've known for years, they're all doing it too and it's wild! And you sit down and have these discussions about the good parts of it and the really crappy parts of it, and things that upset you and things that you like and then you're talking to somebody who's your friend who can actually identify with what it's like to come out of nowhere and then play in front of 50,000 people or something. So it's not so much that just our band had the success, but all these other bands, thay were our friends of ours, all at the same time. It's pretty wild to think back on.
K: It is. You seem like a pretty normal person, and obviously the band has been able to keep things in perspective over the last couple of years of living in the spotlight.
C: Does this look like a normal person to you? Describe that to the listeners. (laughter from both)
K: It's photograph. What is that dog you've got down your pants?? (laughter continues) Up until I saw this photgraph you looked pretty normal.
K: Obviously you have a few quirks of personality!
C: I like a dog in my pants occasionally, other than that I'm pretty normal.
K: I guess I'm asking you that because over the last few years there seems to be increasing amounts of rock lifestyle casualties happening in America. Drugs seemed to have a big resurgence lately of abuse.
C: Yeah sure. I think that's true, but I also think that's true in all walks of life. Obviously at least in our country, which is all I know about, there's a pretty huge drug problem. But it affects musicians, just like it's going to affect anyone else. I know more people who aren't musicians than who are, and it's not really missing any particular walk of life. You could be doing anything. The only difference is that people like to write about musicians, you know, musicians get on TV and in magazines and they make records, so the fact that the drug problem is getting worse in the US is sort of being focused on a few people in entertainment that have problems, whether it's an actor or some singer in some band. But really, across the board, it's gotten worse.
K: I guess my point is that having a certain amount of success, it's a bit like being in a pressure cooker, I suppose, at times.
C: Yeah, my point was, I guess was that I don't really see that. I don't think that I would be more prone to be, susceptible to doing drugs in this industry than I would be if I was an intern at a hospital or I worked in a grocery store, you know. I don't think it makes it harder. I think alot of people invision being in a rock band, they see these people go into a venue to play a show, and as soon as they walk through the doors, there's these drug dealers that work at the venue or something that come out of holes and start handing you drugs. And that does happen, if you get a reputation for doing alot of drugs, people will show up. We don't, we never have, and so it's not really like that. And people always wondered, well how did you avoid beoming a drug addict when there's all these other musicians that are. It's nothing that I would have ever done, and those other musicians that are drug addicts, if they were selling cars, they probably would be too. It's either something you're going to fall into, at a certain point in your life, or you're not.
K: I guess what I'm interested in is the coping mechanism for constant media attention. Where's the outlet for it? There's got to be some sort of manner that you can ataully turn your back on it, shake it off, forget about it.
K: Or is it that just not even an issue at all?
C: It is sometimes. I mean, for the most part, when you're on tour, you're going out there to do that, and that's fine. You know, that's what you're doing and you're not in your home town. You know you're travelling around the world and you're kinda a guest in other peoples cities, and to me that's all fair. The only time when it's strange or bothersome is when you're at home, when I'm at home, and you kind of forget after a couple of days and you've been off tour and you start to have a noraml life. Because I grew up in Seattle and I still live there, and I've only been on magazine covers for the last couple of years, it's real easy to forget that people recognize you. And then you'll go out and start relaxing and having a good time, then all of a sudden remember, when four or five people will come up to your table, when you're trying to eat and start taking pictures of you. And then you go "Oh yeah, that's right". (laughter by both)
K: Better take the dog out of my pants!
C: I forgot I better take the dog out of my pants! (laughter continues) And that's the only time that it's disconcerting. Otherwise it's just something you get used to, just like anything else.
K: Yeah. (Blow Up The Outside World played)
K: Umm, listening to your body of work over the last few weeks, the over all impression of the band, I guess i've always been aware of it, is the sort of, darkness about the kind of music that Soundgarden have. This dark underbelly of the group.
C: Mmm, hum.
K: Yet you have increasing success in America. In some way it just seems to be a contradiction, a quite interesting one.
C: Mmm, hum.
K: That people are actually attracted to that. It's not a conventional notion of what is sucessful pop music.
C: Yeah, that's kind of like the back-handed victory of Black Hole Sun, for example, being such a big hit. If you think about the lyrics, I can't imagine somebody singing those and knowing what they mean, because I don't even know what they mean and I wrote the lyrics. And it's so funny that we had this sucess with this song, and listening to Steve Laurence and Eddy Gormay sing the lyrics, that are in no way popular because they're very dark and impressionistic, and we actually had a hit with it, which I think is really wild. It doesn't really make sense, it never did. But I think in the end that's kind of our victory. Is that we never really had to get out of our own mood, that we've always had, to get people to listen to us. People came to us and went into that mood and said "Ok, well we'll try this."
C: Granted, it's kept us from being these mega multi-platinum superstars. But there's no time in the history of Soundgarden, that we have ever wanted that anyway, so it's all pretty good.
K: And it's sort of a perversity that seems to have embodied into the name of the latest album - Down On The Upside. I really love that, the kind of contradictory nature of that title as well. Did you have an idea of that embracing the songs as a whole on that record?
C: Yeah. That's the problem of trying to title a Soundgarden record. It's like the first thing that you would probably want to do, is come up with a really cool, aggressive title. Which would work for a few of the songs, but it wouldn't fit with a lot of the songs. And a really depressing, moody title isn't going to work either, with all of the songs, and we don't really like titles that don't mean anything, that are just throwaways. Superunknown, the only reason why that was the title was because it really fit with the broad scale, of the diversity of the music, and it just happen to be the title of a song as well. Down On The Upside did the same thing, we had trouble trying to name it because of that. All the different ideas we had, were either too aggressive and didn't include alot of the record or just didn't represent it in anyway.
K: Something that's also evident in the songs, and just on a basic level, even the interplay of accoustic and electric guitars and other instruments...
C: Mmm, hum.
K: ...that flow in and out of the record, and are really effective on the song Dusty, which is one of my favorites on the record.
K: A very, sort of, sensual isn't it?
C: Mmm, hum.
K: Did you have that sort of idea behind that tune?
C: It was just the writing of the song was based on Ben' s rhythm of it, and the feel. That was a pretty different song, mood wise, for Soundgarden, which made me like it alot. I think that's where those lyrics came from. Because it's kind of a positive song, kind of the opposite of Fell On Black Days. Where Fell On Black Days, you're waking up realising that you're really unhappy, and that things are really bad. But you can't pick out one thing that made it happen that way. You can't remember how it happened, it just happened. And Dusty is kind of the opposite, where you're realising that things are actaully pretty good, even though there's no specific thing that made it that way. (Dusty played)
K: Just quickly before I let you go, some of the side projects that the band has been involved in of late. The new Pigeonhed record's out and Kim's done some work with that, a fantastic record.
C: I haven't heard it.
K: Haven't you? Yeah, it's really good. Matt and Ben did Hater a little while ago and I understand that there's a new record coming out there, is that right?
C: Yeah, yeah, I don't know. It's been done for a long time.
K: Has it?
C: Yeah, I think they were just kind of waiting to see what we were going to do with this record, and after a little bit of time, they're going to probably put it out.
K: And what about you? You did a bit of acting a while ago, didn't you?
C: Umm, I'm designing heat panels for the space shuttle. That's my side project right now.
K: (laughing) Excellent!
C: Ones that don't come off, you know, when they go out into the outer atmosphere.
C: Yeah, it's taking up alot of my time.
K: So are you finding any time to write songs around that?
C: A little bit yeah.
K: Argh, good. So a sort of space theme perhaps with the next record.
C: Yeah, some sort of 1990's Space Odyssey thing.
K: So you can invent yourself as a kind of 90's Seattle based Bowie.
C: Yeah, right before I go into my cross-dressing phase. That's going to be a good phase, I promise you. I'm going to wait till I'm older before I do it, because I want to be really over the top. Wrinkles, fuzzy face, unshaven, kind of drag queen look. Just really pitiful, always stumbling drunk, it's going to be great!
K: Got a pseudonym for that yet?
C: I'm going to sell loads of records too, doing that.
K: People will think you're Bono.
C: Yeah, you're right! 'Cept for he has a much bigger head than me.
K: That's right. (laughter)
C: I'm alot taller than him, but I have a smaller head. He's short and has an enormous head, we'd look really funny in an elevator together, I bet.
K: Make sure there's a photographer, to document it, should it ever happen.
K: Chris, thanks very much for coming in. It's been good to have a chat with you.
K: Hope you enjoy the rest of your Australian visit and...
K: When are you goiong to have a new record out? Any sort of idea of that at this stage?
C: No, it's really impossible to tell. 1997, that would be great, it's always a good thing to shoot for. Unfortunately it's so unpredictable with us.
K: Yeah. I hope it's a good year for you.
C: Thank you.