BEAT , April 1996
''We would very much like to stand as an example for young musicians, that they can play whatever kind of music that they like, and still achieve success. I think that most of the younger bands and musicians are led to believe that the rock 'n' roll life style is all about , gettin' hard cash, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. That you are your own boss, that you can just drink, party and have fun without any responsibility at all. People like that are more into the lifestyle, than creating music. We would like to give hope to those who love music and who play music they like. They can use Soundgarden as an example of a band which have done just that, and kept the control and achieved success.''
Chris Cornell is sitting in a hotel room in London, and he's giving interviews in reference to the release of soundgarden's fifth album ''Down On The Upside''. Their fourth album was the famous Superunknown, which placed the band in row with rockbands with over 5 million sold records, and standing ovations from the critics.
-Now can they live up to that?
''Well, the bottom line is that…..we're really geniuses, y'know. We just run around and record one good album after the other.'' Says Cornell with a grin.
He's very laid-back and cool, speaks with a low, but secure voice. He only makes eye-contact with you when he gets an interesting question.
CHRIS: ''You don't live up to something like that. You just do what you do.''
BEAT: But it does help to sell. I mean, what if you recorded one good album after the other, and didn't sell at all?
CHRIS: I know lots of bands who do that, but I don't look down on them because of that. I don't think that you should focus too much on how much something sells. To sell much is just a sign that say that you're approved, but the most important thing is that you like what you do, regardless of how much you sell. The only problem with expectations, is when you've signed this big ass record contract and received a whole lot of money. From that moment you're the record company's investment, and of course they are gonna want profits from it.
When you sell good and gets good reviews, you also get more freedom to make the music you wanna. It eases the pressure.
As a young band you know you don't know everything. But you also learn that neither does your producer. Soundgarden play electric guitars, bass and acoustic drums, a simple thing. And you don't need expensive gear or an expensive studio to record in to make it work. A used guitar or amp is often all you need. But the producers often give you the impression of that they add something to the process of the recording, that gives you more sterile surroundings under the recording.
BEAT: The song ''Switch Opens'' is an example of how soundgarden uses several musical styles, and in their own way forms it into their own unique sound. The record company describes the song this way: As if Pink Floyd and Motorhead sang something from REM's murmur .
According to the bassist Ben Shepherd ''Switch Opens'' is the most representative song soundgarden have ever recorded.
CHRIS: I don't think it exists any song that are 'typical soundgarden'. That song reminded me of the early soundgarden, from the first year. At that time Ben wasn't in the band, he was a fan. The song is rock, but you can't label it.
BEAT: After some time, Seattle has gotten know for its musicians. The north-west city is the cradle of Grunge music.
When did the things that put Seattle on the map start to happen?
CHRIS: In 1985 Seattle was very distant to the entertainment business. There were few bands there, and nobody wrote anything about Seattle except for the local musicpaper. And there were a little group of musicians who were interested in postpunk music and independent music. Since there weren't any media interested people in this obscure music, the musicians played to entertain themselves. And that's why I think the music scene were so vital. Now it's totally different! Because of the success of so many Seattle-bands, there's a carrot hangin' in front of all the young, new bands. The bands are often more interested in gettin' a good record deal than making good music. They think that if they're gonna make it, they gotta sound like this or this band. That's why now it's much less experimenting in music.
BEAT: Soundgarden is a very intense band, a distinction they share with Jane's Addiction.
Any connections here?
In a rare moment I have eye-contact with Chris.
CHRIS: There's no direct connections. But when the big record labels started to fight over soundgarden, we were by several considered a consolation prize for those who didn't get a contract with Jane's Addiction.
They said we were an interesting mix of underground music and commercial acceptable music. So we were launched as the next Jane's Addiction. Then after that, Mother Love Bone were launched as the next sondgarden, and the next band were launched as the next Mother Love Bone, etc. Suddenly there were a total focus on Seattle.
Soundgarden is a band that lives, eats, drink and breaths music. For Chris Cornell this isn't just a hobby, it's his life. He rattles off a bunch of albums that has influenced him a lot :
The latest of the Beatles, first Pink Floyd, 154 by Wire, the second Meat Puppets album, several Elvis Costello - and Captain Beefheart albums.
But when I ask him what other hobbies he got, he's stuck.
CHRIS: Music is my biggest hobby. Even when I'm not on the studio or on tour with the band, we jam a lot with other people. And most of my friends are into music, whether they play or not. My other interests is more likely to be considered as distractions. I like hiking in the mountains, or driving my motorcycle.
And one of my biggest hobbies is to hide. I'm very good at that!
I'm obsessed with music. When I were at work I could have a song spinning around in my head, and I couldn't wait to get home and experiment with it. Music has been my passion and hobby for as long as I can remember.
BEAT: When did music become a full-time job for you?
CHRIS: I think around….Louder Than Love, our second release. At that time I had an open job which I could return to whenever we weren't touring. By the time we had finished the UltraMegaOK tour, we had saved up enough money from sold records, ticket sale and T-shirts, so now we could really concentrate on the music. After that we didn't have any financial worries. But we were so used to live on a short budget….. Until Badmotorfinger we had been paying ourselves 600$ a month. We didn't need more, cuz we were on tour all the time, we lived cheap and didn't have any financial burdens.
I remember the first time we decided to pay ourselves 800$ a month, we couldn't believe the luxury…We had no idea what to use all the extra dollars on. It was nearly comical. 'Wow, we make so much money!! What the fuck are we gonna spend it all on?' Till this day we don't have any extra luxury. We all have invested in good homes. But except for that we've almost run out of ideas. We're not extravagant by nature.
BEAT: Well, you could find yourself a more extravagant hiding-place?
CHRIS: I have done that! Ha ha. That was one of the first things I wanned to spend my money on.
However, he didn't want to reveal where his hiding-place is, of obvious reasons. In stead we get the story of Chris Cornell's first guitar:
CHRIS: I couldn't afford the guitar I wanned, it costed 500$, so I went and lied to my boss. I told him that my car broke down, and that I needed 500$ to fix it. He lent me the 500$, and I bought the guitar, and paid him back later. This was 10 years ago, I was 21. I remember walkin' inn to the music store, and I said I had finally gotten the money for the guitar I had been drooling over. ''Where did you get the money?'' the store owner asked me, so I told him that I had lied to my boss, and he went ''That's rock 'n' roll!''
Chris Cornell grew up in a irish-katholic neighbourhood in Seattle. He had a strict father, so he had no problem with making revolts against his father. Chris says that there isn't any less things to make revolts about for today's youth, even though several has parents that grew up in the rock 'n' roll generation.
CHRIS: If you got hippie-parents, you oughta become a fireman or a software-designer or a cop. Or you could join the special force, and learn to shoot and kill people with your little finger. Now that's an hones revolt.
Unfortunately , many young people have an instant need to do what their parents have tried to keep them away from. That's the experimental phase. When you're young you look at your parents as gods. But when you become a teenager, you're starting to see the cracks in the armour, and the contradiction, and you realise that they don't know everything anymore. The only way to find out which philosophical theory to follow for the rest of your life, is to go the exact opposite direction of where your parents is leading you. Often this is the 'sink or swim' moment in your life. Many people never get out of it, cuz they can never find their own path without ending up in a self-destructive environment.
To like the kind of music that your parents hate, is something that kinda shows that you've created your own identity. That's why I think that rockmusic is of such a cultural importance for young people. It's a very important thing for a young person to be a part of something that makes the older generation turn their nose up at. The so called grunge music is a perfect example for that, even the musicians from the 60's who once were so radical frowned and said: ''why do they have to be so depressed and anxious''
BEAT: Recently, Kim Thayil played together with Johnny Cash on an album dedicated to Willy Nelson. An unlikely combination?
CHRIS: No. The older musicians from that music group, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan are singers/songwriters that writes from the heart, and make simple music that has never actually been modern. I think these guys consider New Country as a very sterile, top 40 commercial distortion of an art-form that they really appreciate. I think it has a lot to do with them bringing people like us in I think that they would take more pleasure in listening to soundgarden than new country.
BEAT: Grunge, rap and new country are three American music forms that sell the most. What does that say about America?
CHRIS: I guess, it is at some point the American folk music. The other day somebody suggested that Simply Red were English folk music, that is music from ''the heartland''. In the US that means the country, rednex. But over here it means urban music, cuz here, most of the population live in the city. Folk music isn't necessarily the music if the country, it's music that represents a large part of the population. In a county like England, Simple Red can be called folk music. And in the US, rap is a kind of folk music, it's made in the us, just as the rock music. We're talkin about a down-to-earth grassroots music, a cultural phenomenon.
BEAT: So do you use this source as well?
CHRIS: Absolutely. There's nothing about us that isn't a natural music expression from the start. We were inspired and influenced by our surroundings.
Cornell finishes: We're definitely a grassroots-band!
By Tone Sutterud
Translated from Norwegian to English by Tove Opsahl. Picture scanned by Tove Opsahl.