JJJ: AUSTRALIA, JANUARY 1997: CHRIS CORNELL
transcribed by Justin Nicholls
Interviewer: Richard Kingsmill
Richard: Chris from Soundgarden, welcome back to Australia. Does it feel good being back here and how goes the tour so far with the Big Day Out?
Chris: It's been great, just fantastic. I mean we never really expected the kind of response we got. You never realise anyway when you go so far away from home that people really know who you are. It's one of those strange things, it seems like we've just gotten so much more popular over here since the last time we were here. Y'know, we never came over again so it's kinda strange but it's great.
Richard: The last time we saw you was a couple of years ago and that was just after, no, I think Superunknown was just about to come out when you came out here last time. Now things are even bigger with the latest record, where can you see the next five years for Soundgarden? Can you possibly envisage where you are going to end up?
Chris: Not even remotely. I have trouble imagining the next month so the next five years, no, I couldn't tell you. I have no idea.
Richard: Do you reckon the band will still be around in five years? Do you think about that?
Chris: Not really, no. I mean, we just kind of do what we do. It's kinda like anything else, as long as we're having a good time and as long as we're interested in doing it we're going to do it. But we've never been big on making a lot of plans, even touring we've always only kept it a couple of months ahead and that's it. We'll commit for tours up to a few months ahead but we don't like to make long commitments where you could show me a calendar a year from now and tell me where I would be. I don't like thinking about that or thinking that far ahead or living like that. Previously we used to tour a lot, take ten or twelve week tours, have a week off and then do another twelve weeks. And we'd do that for a year and that kinda got to be hard.
Richard: Do you ever miss the crowd being in a small situation, like playing a small club again?
Chris: We still do that every once in a while. It depends on where we are. In different parts of the world we're not as popular as we are here or in the U.S. For example when we go to Europe, we can play five thousand seaters but sometimes it might be two thousand or smaller even. It depends.
Richard: Have England ever latched onto Soundgarden?
Chris: Not the way England likes to latch onto things. I mean, it seems like we've been able to maintain a sort of cult success over there, like we always have a certain amount of fans and they're really into Soundgarden, they know all the songs, they have all the records, but we've never been like a pop act where all of a sudden the British culture kind of grabs onto you and for a moment you become really big and then they don't like you any more. Which is usually what sort of happens, but that's all right with me. We've never really been a fad band anyway, so dealing with a market that is based mostly on fads doesn't bother me that we're not a part of it.
Richard: Do they have a different perspective of what Soundgarden are like compared to how we perceive you or America perceives you?
Chris: Well, it depends. I don't know... if you're talking about a Soundgarden fan then I would say no. I think their perspective is probably the same. But if you're talking about someone that just listens to BBC radio and follows trends, then they're just going to think of Soundgarden as one of those Seattle bands that came out of the Seattle trend, which came and went. They're not going to think of us as an individual band.
Richard: Has that been a weight around Soundgarden's neck a little bit, the whole, given that you came from Seattle and you came through at the same time when everything else was exploding there, have you felt that it's been hard to shake that a little bit and show people that you're a band, you're going to be around for awhile making good records and it's five years on?
Chris: A couple of years ago it was like that, it was just a matter of us continuing to make records, and that whole scene as news for people to talk about kind of went away and as it went away some of the bands were still around making records and now we are just a band and we don't get a lot comparisons to other Seattle bands and we don't really talk about it that much. It just sort of went away kind of all by itself, which was fine. But that was a couple of years ago.
Richard: It was just interesting because I was watching Hype for the first time this morning. Have you seen it?
Chris: Uh, what?
Richard: Hype, the film.
Chris: No, I haven't seen it.
Richard: Really, you haven't seen it? I thought everybody in Seattle would have seen it by now.
Chris: No, I haven't seen it. I've seen parts of it. I was in a theatre watching another movie and an ad for that movie came on and there's this one scene where they're showing the Spin magazine cover where I'm on the cover and it's just like me there on this huge movie screen, and I was like "I don't want to see that."
Richard: You've been in a band for so long now, is it still weird to see maybe your film clip on T.V. or even to the point of hearing your record on the radio. Do you ever think back to the beginnings of the band and where you've ended up now and think jesus, you're done pretty well.
Chris: Yeah, every once in awhile you do that. We always kind of thought ahead, and...
Richard: You never thought you'd be this big, though.
Chris: I don't think so. I'm not really sure what it is, that's the funny part. The point where you're the most popular your life get kind of hectic and it's as though you don't even have the time to realise what it is or what it means. It's almost something that you'll reflect on later and think back and think "Wow, that was pretty amazing."
Richard: And who would have thought that Johnny Cash would have covered one of your songs too?
Chris: Yeah, I never would have thought, especially that song. That was great.
Richard: Did you even know along the way that he was trying to record it?
Chris: A couple of years ago they had asked, his producer asked if I wanted to do an arrangement of that song that he could do...
Richard: This is Rick Rubin.
Chris: Yeah, and I tried, I sat down and tried a little bit, but I just couldn't hear it really. Lyrically I could hear it, but his style of playing and song writing is really kinda a different genre and as much as I was a fan of his I just couldn't naturally do it. And I'm glad that I didn't because what they did with it is so much him, it sounds like a song he could have written. Which is great, which is the way it has to be.
Richard: Who changed it around for him then?
Chris: I have no idea. I just heard a few months ago that they had done it and I was like, "Okay, fine."
Richard: And in your opinion they did a good job?
Chris: Yeah, much better than I would have done.
Richard: The other thing that was interesting I saw was Moby's remix of Dusty. That was on a bonus disc that came out with Down on the Upside, a tour edition. That was interesting, is that the first time you've given your material to someone else to remix?
Chris: No, that's like the fifth or sixth time.
Richard: Oh really?
Chris: Yeah, ever since we put out Fopp which is our second EP we ever put out on Sub Pop, we've been experimenting with that. Steve Fisk did a remix of that and he's also done other songs... there's been several, I can't even remember all of them, but Dusty's one of the more recent ones.
Richard: I ask the question because sometimes bands get to the point where they want to screw the formula up, are you at a period in the history of Soundgarden now where you feel like throwing things against the wall and seeing what bounces back?
Chris: Not in that way, I don't think. Not in the way where we would do like... to us it's kind of a novelty to have somebody do mixes of our songs and it generally ends up being used for b-sides because we don't like to give away a lot of new material away for b-sides, and I think we make big records, long records and we don't like to give away songs that we'd want to put on our next record. So that's why we were doing that. I couldn't see us letting someone else come in and mess with a lot of what it is that we do and I think we can do that on our own.
Richard: What do you reckon you'll do for the next record?
Chris: It's hard to say. It's totally unpredictable, it always is. You just start realising when people start bringing in songs in the band and we start playing them, after awhile it comes close to making a record we start realising what that record's going to be. Until then we don't really make plans on it.
Richard: Do you like Down on the Upside?
Chris: Yeah I do, definitely. And that was a big difference there 'cause we produced it and we had no idea how that was going to turn out, so we were in the middle of doing it and it was a really great experience.
Richard: Something I could hear you guys doing in the future is something like what Mark Lanegan did, I know he hasn't done a solo record for awhile, but he stripped it right back, I'm not talking about an unplugged MTV type of thing by Soundgarden but I could hear that darkness in your music really suiting something that was more low key.
Chris: Yeah, I don't know, I couldn't... I don't think we could go in a direction like that entirely. I mean, I could see certain songs happening that way, but everybody in the band has different ideas about what they like about music so it's, our records are always going to be kind of a collage of different feels and I think that keeps us from ever having a concept for a whole album, for ever making a decision like "Let's make this type of an album, let's make an acoustic album, let's make a techno album or this or that," it'll never happen that way.
Richard: And I imagine with four people in the band and all writing it's very hard to get...
Chris: Yeah it is, and that's the way we've always done it, it's pretty haphazard. Sort of trying to involve what everybody's into at the time and there's no real guessing what that's going to sound like when you finally stick it all together.
Richard: Just one last question. We're obviously sitting backstage at the Big Day Out in Sydney, it's a couple of hours before you guys go on stage, do you still get very nervous these days?
Chris: It all depends really, it all depends on the situation. Sometimes I don't at all. The times that I would if we haven't played in a long time, it's really strange to go from just sitting at home having a normal life to walking out in front of forty thousand people, it's like "Wow, do I really do this? Can I do this? Is this something I can... " and it's hard to just step right into those shoes and have it make sense. But once you do it it all kinda comes back to you and feels normal.
Richard: Like literally within the first five seconds?
Chris: Yeah or sometimes even a few hours before you go on or even a day before you go on. If we haven't toured in a year or something it's, like, a couple of weeks before the tour and I'm like more nervous than, because it just seems unfathomable to me to do that and then as it gets closer and closer that tension kind of builds up into an energy and that energy kinda ends up turning into performance energy, that nervousness translates into... at some point you want to go face that fear and kick it's ass and I guess that's where you get that energy from. After doing it for awhile though it starts to get more relaxed and I like that better. I like feeling comfortable when I go out on stage.
Richard: I imagine the rush of adrenalin is a great feeling but Jesus, it's like once every year.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, that's true.
Richard: I think I remember reading an interview with Black Francis from the Pixies who said he used to warm up by standing two inches away from a wall and screaming into it to get himself geed up. Do you have any tricks like that?
Chris: Um, sometimes I'll sing to one of our records before we go out. I'll go, if we have like a tour bus I'll go in the back of the tour bus and turn on one of our songs really loud and sing to it as loud as I can, just like I would on stage. That's like the only thing I can think of.
Richard: Which song do you usually pick?
Chris: It depends...
Richard: Well which one lately, if you've been doing it lately?
Chris: Let's see, lately, lately things like My Wave or Let Me Drown, songs that are kinda earlier in the set that are sort of aggressive. Whatever the first song in the set is going to be I like to sing that sometimes. I think in these situations I don't usually do anything. We've never really been a band that was big on preparation, we just kind of like mope up to the stage and then all of a sudden something just clicks when we walk out there and start playing.