Q&A with Chris Cornell
Sheila Rene': Hello Chris. Top of the afternoon. How are you?
Chris Cornell: Hello to you. I'm pretty good.
SR: One mighty swell album you've come up with here.
CC: Thank you.
SR: What was the favorite part of the recording for you?
CC: I don't know. It's such a long process these days. Not really easier. We wrote a lot in the studio this time. We've never done this much in the studio. Someone could bring something in half way through and we could deal with it but I figure half was done in the studio. We spent more time in the studio in a way, but at the same time a lot of time was writing. Had we had all the songs finished it would have been considerably less time in the studio.
SR: You guys have always done a large portion of the albums yourself.
CC: That's true. I've gotten a lot of feedback suggesting that over the history of Soundgarden we've had these different producers forced on us; and that we were finally at a level where we could insist on producing ourselves. That's not the case at all. Whatever criticism I have on the production of previous albums, those producers were our choice and we thought they would help us with certain aspects of the project. It's true we got what we wanted, but there's always something else left to be desired. This time we just hired ourselves. We're just the best ones for the job.
SR: Adam Kasper, your engineer even plays a little. I love your experimentation
with different instruments. Moog and piano on "Applebite." The mandolin and
mandela. (I stumbled over the pronunciation here)
CC: (laughing) He played a few things. I don't know what's it's called, the mandela? I barely know how to play one.
SR: You know how to play a lot of instruments. Didn't you start out playing
drums. Do you ever miss it?
CC: Yeah, I did. I still play drums every once in awhile, but it's a hard instrument especially when it comes to making a record. The drummer has to be the guide. If the guitar screws up you can go back in and if the singer messes up or changes his mind about the vocals, he can go back in. The drummer has to play the song really well from beginning to end. His playing will last forever and once it's done, it's done.That's pretty hard. I played in bands for years and did a lot of live performing but have never made any records on drums.
SR: Any left over songs on this album?
CC: We had two finished that didn't end up on the album. They were supposed to be on it, but we were mastering and trying to sequence. It was really hard to sequence anyway and with the other two songs that would have made 18 songs. It's almost impossible to do that because when it comes to sequencing you try to tell a story from beginning to end. It should sound like a performance while the moods change. It's like programming a radio station in a way, where all the transitions make sense and you're taking the listener through the different moods. You can't go back because that mood has already happened.
SR: This is the most songs I've seen on a CD this year. The trend has been 13
CC: Really, our last record was 15 songs with longer running times on it. We maybe have some shorter record times on this record. Otherwise, in my opinion, as far as what we ended up with, is just a lot of different aspects of the band.
SR: Some exciting aspects I might add.
CC: The whole idea is when people tend to be surprised by our last couple of records. You experiment and you have fun. You're supposed to be inspired, I think. When people act surprised at something new we've done then I'm surprised since they don't know the band that well. The question is still asked 'Why didn't you go make a record like the last one?'
SR: If there's one thing I can depend upon with Soundgarden is some new
tweaking and turning. You named the album after recording this time.
CC: That was the last thing we did was to title it. We had everything else done including artwork. Normally, at some time in the recording process somebody comes up with a title and we bite on it; and before it's finished we've set a title. This time it just didn't happen. It was a difficult album to title because there are so many feels going on. It's hard to find a title that would allow all those feelings to be represented. We had the song "Superunknown" on the last album and it just made it so easy. It just made sense because superunknown could be anything. Down On The Upside was an idea that was thrown out a long time ago. We were waiting around to see if something else would happen and we tried some of them, but this title works. It describes the trip of the record.
SR: Are you getting nervous about your first live TV show?
CC: I started getting nervous about that a long time ago. I'm less nervous now than a was two months ago. It was that when I agreed to do it, I question why I had said yes. Then, a period of thinking about and now that I know it's really happening. No point in being nervous now.
SR: You never know what Jim Carrey will do. He may even come out and
perform.(Carrey didn't perform with the band; however, they got two songs and
Carrey introduced them. He was very happy they were there for him).
CC: That's true. He's the real reason why we ended up doing "Saturday Night Live". He had expressed serious interest in us. Apparently to the point of saying that it was 'part of the deal.' If we didn't play, he might not host. The first time I heard that I though it was just the SNL organization giving our record label a blow-job or something trying to get us to play. We'd been offered the show several times and we turned it down. He's supposedly really into our band. You never know when that happens to people. We know it'll be a great show because he's so damn funny. If we are going to do it ever in our career, now is the time.
SR: Is this CD coming out as an enhanced? Are they having to drag you into this
CC: Susan, our manager was really into trying the technology out when we did that CD-plus. It was something starting to happen and now rather than get into it five years from now, she thought it would really cool for us to check it out now while we had the resources. Right now the situation is where a lot of programmers and software companies are donating a lot of free time because they're exploring the medium. They all want to be the first one to do it or to cash in on it. That was a really a great time to try it out, on the CD-plus. It was pretty much a great experience through the whole thing. It was really cool. We weren't as concerned about it when we're making a record because it's not something we really do. I have this fear which I expressed in a lot of those interviews when our CD-plus came out. It's something you should be able to do if you want to. I'm sure a lot of fans will like it and people into computers. I'd hate for it to be a requirement of a band who's putting out a record and they have to have all this visual information as well. Generally, bands aren't computer programmers or animators so it would mean that half of the release has to be influenced by someone else and should have nothing to with the music. We've already seen it happen in the last 15 years of videos where that's sometimes a requirement. Every time a band puts out a record they have to worry about this whole other thing which has little or nothing to do with the band and what they were really trying to do with the music or what they want to be in a band for.
SR: I heard you weren't going to release a particular single?
CC: I don't think we've ever done one. We've done things in Europe because that's the way they sell albums.
SR: I was wondering around your website today and checked out the contest to
name the site.
CC: I don't keep up with that. We have an official and an unofficial site. Matt pays attention to the websites. He was on recently thanking some people for something and right after that some fake Matt Cameron's got on and started spreading a lot of bullshit.
SR: I'm still impressed with your policy to release the vinyl first. I still miss the
CC: It's strange, simply because when the format changed, it wasn't really an organic change. It was a forced change. If you go into Tower Records, Sam Goody or Musicland, the places where 80% of people buy their music, there's no option to buy vinyl. It's not there and it's too bad. The funny part is, I remember when I was younger the only shops that would sell CD players were the audiophile shops where everything was really expensive. Now the only place you can buy a new turntable is you go back to those same places that were responsible for switching the format. A lot of the audiophiles like the vinyl so much more.
SR: I've keep my vinyl up and accessible with a good needle. I even have my old
78 rpm changer.
CC: Good for you. I haven't actually heard our record on vinyl yet but we went to great pains this time. We actually mastered specifically for vinyl because the CD is obviously like a digital master. On our last album the vinyl was actually pressed from a digital master so it didn't really sound like vinyl. This time we remastered for analog so it'll be direct from analog.
SR: I can't help thinking that it was nice for a change for you guys to stay at
home and work in Stone's studio and at Bad Animals.
CC: I don't know why people leave. A lot of the time I guess it has to do with focus and there's a certain amount of that with us as well. We're all at home and people wander off and maybe not here when they should be or when they said they'd be. Then at the same time everybody is more relaxed and I'm not sure I'd want to be somewhere else where everybody had nothing to do except to always be there on the record. For us it just seemed the best way to go.
SR: I'm really looking forward to this show. Metallica, you and Screaming Trees
is a win, win, win not to mention the special activities. June 21st you kickoff.
Nothing in Austin yet, and I hear it's Aggieland (Bryan, Texas) for the only show
in Texas on July 25 at the Texas World Speedway.
CC: The list I have doesn't have any dates on it. They're trying to play bigger venues, less sites and bigger venues. Everything is happening out of major markets. It looks like the Seattle area may not get a show at all.
SR: Were you terribly uncomfortable at the recent Grammy Award Show?
CC: I don't know. It's just a strange subject. It's almost as if the music industry is patting itself on the back in a way. This was the seventh Grammy nomination for us and had we won one for our first nomination I would have had a really cool attitude about it because it would have meant that the people who were actually voting were paying attention to music for music's sake as opposed to some other reason. I was happy that we were nominated because it was an independent record company and it was a low-profile record. Then we didn't win a Grammy until we'd sold several millions and it seems that what sells a lot, that the record may or may not be any good, but that seems to be a requirement. I'm not critical of the people who work in the music industry and appreciate the Grammy. To me it's their party and it's not really mine. It's not for the musicians. It has more to do with the industry. You can tell after a Grammy period all the record labels and artists who won a bunch take out full-page ads in the trades gloating.That's fine.That's what they do, they sell records and they work really hard to develop careers. If they're into it I'm not going to be disrespectful, but I'd hate for anyone to think that it's something that was a necessity for me or the rest of the band, or that it was a benchmark to us of legitimacy for us because it's not. It doesn't really matter that much to us. It seems like it's for someone else. I'd never get up and say that. If I was totally not into it the best thing to do is to not show up. Maybe ten years from now I'll reflect and say 'wow, that happened and it was pretty unusual. Not every kid on the block gets to go up and pick up a Grammy Award.' It's just one more thing to take the focus away from what we like to do which is to write music and make records and try not to think about anything whether it's how may records we sell or what people think of us. For us, I think the key to success for being a band and always making good records is always going to be forgetting about everything else outside our own little band.
SR: I think your success has always come from you always doing what pleases
you. What music you like.
CC: Sure and I'm a big fan of music. I buy hundreds of CDs. I'm not the kind of guy who calls his record label to request some comps. I spend a lot of money on discs and I don't think I would ever want a band or songwriter to think about me. It's what he liked last time or this is what I think he'll like this time. I want somebody who knows where they're coming from to be doing something they like.
SR: Two of my favorite songs on this album, "Blow Up The Outside World" and
"Tighter And Tighter." I notice we still have black and sun sticking around.
CC: "Tighter And Tighter" was actually written around the same time as "Black Hole Sun." In fact, I did a demo with four songs on it to play for the band. "Black Hole Sun", "Sounds Like Days" ,"Tighter And Tighter" and a song called "Anxious." We blew off "Anxious" entirely and recorded "Tighter And Tighter" for the last record. It was the last song we did. It was number 16 and we ran out of studio time. We had the rhythm tracks done and it was just needing vocals and my guitar solos. We just ran out of time. It was falling flat anyway. I changed the arrangement a little bit.
SR: Is that you talking on the intro of "Boot Camp?'
CC: I had some old, cheap pedal effect going into the amplifier and it picked up the radio and it was really loud. So I just lifted the thing off and found a spot in the room where it picked it up the best and we just ran a tape on it.
SR: I love the industrial-tinges on "Overfloater."
CC: That is kinda that, isn't it?
SR: On "Applebite" are you using a special mic there?
CC: I'm singing through a guitar pedal. This whole record is very low-tech.
SR: I've only listened about 15 times so far and I know that every time I go
straight through the album I notice something else that I like.
CC: Now that's the secret to us producing ourselves. It's something we've overlooked for years but when you take a rock band and they know how to write good songs and knows how to play, the production and recording part is really easy. You take an amp and you put it in a room and put a mic in front of it and you record. Generally with producers things get a lot more complicated than that, and sometimes in that complicated process a really amazing thing will happen that you wouldn't have otherwise done. For the most part it's digressive and more confusing and if there's a lot going on with an instrument you don't really know where to go to figure out the problem because there's so much going on. It seems that it's been so easy for us to just go out in a room and get a sound we like and put a mic in front of it and it just sounds that way. We weren't positive that that was going to work but once we started recording it. Granted we could have gotten better sounds on this record technically speaking but you trade the vitality and energy that you have when you play a song a couple of times and record it. When you play a song for two days trying to get a special sound, clean and perfect. You might get a better sound but you're not in any kind of mood to play that song anymore. You get numb to it. I don't care who you are, unless you're a really good actor, it's hard.
SR: Do you listen to the whole album as soon as you finish?
CC: After we're done with a record I usually don't listen to it for three weeks or so because I'm numb to the subtleties of it and what made me really like a song. By that time I remember why I liked it. There've been times when I've really enjoyed working with producers. I'm always open to learn and over the years I've learned a lot. It's not necessary for us to have one. I don't know where that'll put us next time or what will happen in the future. It's such a dice roll especially if you don't know them. You'll get a producer you've never met before and you like the records they've made and you talk to them and you think you're on the same page but they don't know you as an individual in a band that's been together for 12 years. I'm thinking if you want to use a producer you should have him sitting around on the first one so he'll know who you are. That's why we used Terry Date twice. We can go find a new guy or we can use Terry again, who at this point knows very well what we're all about. It really works. Recording Badmotorfinger was a hellava lot easier.
SR: I read the story in Billboard about you sitting around making wallets out of
duct tape. I realize everyone needs something to fall back on.
CC: If we could figure out a way to do it, we'd probably sell them on Lollapalooza. It's labor intensive. You have to figure out a system where you measure the strips and count how many strips it's supposed to be. One guy could cut the tape and another guy assembling. Right now it takes me about two hours to make one. You don't find this quality on the street. If I could make a duct tape juicer or go to hand luggage maybe.
SR: Thank you for another great interview Chris. Give my regards to the band and Susan.