Chris Cornell: Quest for Higher Truth

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“I could say that maybe in some levels, Soundgarden is underrated. If I could say all the arrogant things about my band, I think that out of all the rock bands that probably came out in the same era, we’re one of the most experimental. I could say that we were the most varied in our songwriting. I think we were way more adventurous from one album to the next,” claims Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. And as part of a band frontlining the Seattle scene in the then emerging grunge movement, he would know.

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It’s been almost 21 years since Seattle-based rock band Soundgarden released the iconic album Superunknown, which carried some of their hits including the Grammy award-winning song “Black Hole Sun.” When asked whether they anticipated the path that it would lead to as they were making the album, Chris begs to differ. “At the time that we were writing Superunknown, it was just the same as how we’d write any album. I think that it was an album that kind of defined what we were up to at home,” he relays. “I don’t think that we’d be able to make another album in that style that’s going to be better, so it just felt like a natural progression to start to just kind of entertain new ideas, approach song-writing and the recording process in a different way. I tried really hard to keep every song as close to whoever’s conception it was, and that contributed a lot to the record that came out.”

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“I think it’s a responsibility to be honest to your craft, to be dedicated to it, not be lazy in terms of being a songwriter or in terms of performing, and giving it all you have because it’s the best job a person can have.”

Since the end of their 12-year break, they’ve been on the road, headlining festivals and concerts. With all the live shows that he’s done, both with Soundgarden and as a solo artist, there’s been an obvious change with their audience. “I think the world is different. Obviously, we have fans that are way younger than us. Some just got to listen to our music for the first time, so they kind of reached into the past to see what’s back there. I guess the biggest difference for me is how people see us, especially our fans,” Chris relays. “Twenty years ago, we were sort of everyone’s contemporaries. There’s a certain amount of feeling that we’re special and that we’ve achieved this level of success that can make us feel like we’re ‘rockstars.’ But it’s very different now. In their minds, these 15-year old kids would think that we’re legends on stage, in a way that I would look at Neil Young, because he would sing to a form that I would never have thought about, songs that I would never expect.” As part of a pivotal role in the conception of the grunge era, Chris looks back at the healthy competition that they had during those years. “We’re kind of trying to one-up each other without really talking about it, and that was good, that really elevated each other. We were all just busy touring, making records, and just living in a world of our own.”

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The last time he released a solo studio album, 2009’s Scream was somewhat distinctive from his releases before it, Euphoria Morning and Carry On. With Higher Truth, Chris admits that the album is brighter as compared to the rest of his solo endeavors. “In a sense, its hopefulness and levity come out of it kind of naturally. I’ve never had that in an album before; It wasn’t something that I did on purpose. It’s just probably the state that I’m in, and it’s also the kind of musical work that I’m interested in,” says Chris. “I kind of have the ability to write these dreary songs without even realizing how dreary they really are. Sometimes, I think the songs that I’ve written are hopeful and happy, but once I’d start to record them, I’d realize that, ‘Wow! That’s really boring’ or ‘That’s really slow and dreary.’ Higher Truth has a little bit of that. It’s brighter in a level that’s new for me, and I didn’t expect it without being so self- critical of it. I didn’t worry about what it was going to be, I just let the songs become the best version that I could create. I think that’s good; I think that’s really healthy, creating an album that’s really natural and honest.” His first single from the album, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” was released a little more than two months ago, and it sparked everyone’s curiosity on how the new album would sound like. He worked with Pearl Jam producer Brendan O’ Brien in this album, who also happened to mix Soundgarden’s Superunknown. “I think he really understood what I would want the album to sound like,” adds Chris.

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Open about his being sober, it brought back his focus and him being an effective songwriter, a state, which according to him, was absent during the time that he was working on Euphoria Morning. “There are certain days with ups and downs and some bad moods, and you could integrate that to influence your music,” says Chris. Amidst the accolades that he’s been getting as one of the most prolific rock icons around, Chris is grateful just to be lucky enough that he’s able to do what he’s doing for a living. “I’ve been lucky in my life to be able to make music, write songs, and record, and people want to listen to them. I think it’s a responsibility to be honest to your craft, to be dedicated to it, not be lazy in terms of being a songwriter or in terms of performing, and giving it all you have because it’s the best job a person can have. And I am that, I’m responsible for my craft.”

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“I just let the songs become the best version that I could create. I think that’s good; I think that’s really healthy, creating an album that’s really natural and honest.”

Currently touring, something that’s strategically planned since he’s both doing his acoustic solo shows and performing with Soundgarden, it just kind of worked out the way it is for him. “Touring the new album is sort of a solo acoustic performance, kind of different from anything that I’ve ever done. Playing a show with Soundgarden is so different from each other, that if I’m beginning to get sick of one, it’s not that long before I’m doing the other. It placed me in a good balance.” A state in which he obviously deserves.

chriscornell.com

@chriscornell

By Denise Mallabo
Photographed by Carlos Ramos and Jeff Lipsky
Published in STATUS Magazine, October 2015

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