Chris Cornell has a very practical approach to Soundgarden these days. He does what he does because he and his band like it, not because a record company says they have to. The singer, fresh off a solo tour, says he is looking forward to the release that playing aggressive music with his old band will give him.
You’ve been doing a lot of solo touring. How different is the mindset for doing that from the mindset you have to have for these Soundgarden shows?
Lately I’ve been doing what I call the Songbook tour, which is pretty much just me and an acoustic guitar, so it’s about as opposite as you can get. … The only way to get any further away is if it was just me and a puppet. Then it would completely a different genre of entertainment. And in that way, you don’t really have to strive for balance, one kind of takes care of the other. After touring around for a month and a half, doing that [acoustic tour], I was really looking forward to getting in the studio with Soundgarden and playing loud, aggressive rock music and then after doing that for a while it will feel great to just sit alone and play an acoustic guitar, so in that way I think I’m pretty fortunate to be able to have such dramatic extremes happening.
On these new dates are you guys doing any of the new stuff you’ve been recording?
I’m not sure if we will do that now mainly because we haven’t toured in 12 years or whatever it’s been. It’s hard to actually come up with a set list that’s inclusive of all the stuff that we would play even if we weren’t working on new material. We felt like we haven’t played in so long, haven’t toured and haven’t played in front of these different people in so long. How are we going to really make everyone happy? We don’t want people to show up and be like “It was great, but they didn’t play this or that.” So to throw in new material, we don’t know if it’s something we want to do right now.
It’s almost as if there are two types of fans, the people who come to see the hits and the other ones with the cell phone cameras waiting to load the brand new Soundgarden song onto Youtube.
Exactly, load the new song.
And of course it would be horrible quality.
Exactly and they’d go, “You know, it wasn’t that great. The new material isn’t that great.”
From the new songs, is there anything you’re really psyched about that’s almost ready to go, that you would love to play?
The whole album is close enough that I kind of get a sense of the overall feeling of it and I’m pretty happy with that. It’s pretty great. It’s very different. But then again, they all were, so it’s not like we completely changed. Musically, at some point, I think we were always kind of doing that. And there’s always familiar elements going on but it’s also new.
I think it was guitarist Kim Thayill who was saying it sounds like you’re picking up were you left off almost.
Yeah, it clearly sounds like us. We’re just as adventurous as we’ve always been, so there are song arrangements and styles that are different than anything we’ve ever done, but no matter what, we would be doing that. So the fact that we took 12 years off doesn’t matter, it doesn’t seem to be factoring in much other than it feels really fresh and relaxed and it feels like we had a break and it feels like a good thing.
I’m sure you’ve been doing this a lot but can I read you a quote from when you and I last spoke?
This is about Soundgarden, you said, “To me, making a record makes more sense than doing a live show. And even that would be something that I don’t think would make sense. It doesn’t seem like anything like that would ever happen, so the idea to reform just to play live seems even more ludicrous to me.” When did you depart from that mindset?
I guess once we were actually in a room, talking about doing different things to sort of service the legacy of Soundgarden and the material and once we were in the room hanging out, it started to seem like something that would be possible. It wouldn’t be a big undertaking. But my attitude has more to do with the questions that are always asked, and I still have that same attitude. It’s always been based on, more or less, what people are used to, and they’re used to it because that’s what bands do, and bands tend to, after they’ve been broken apart for a while, they get back to together because someone calls them up and says, “We’ve got a big check for you if you do this.” And Soundgarden is just not that band and we still aren’t that band. And it was a year after we announced we were doing stuff again that everyone was wondering, “When’s the world tour and the new album?” And I think, on some level, some fans have been frustrated, and the answer really is that’s not how we do it. That never was how we did it. We didn’t get back together to immediately get an album out because we have fans and want to go on tour and get paid. We’ve done it in a time that was comfortable and in a way that makes sense to us, where everyone’s inspired and having fun. And writing and recording new material at a pace that feels good and with the concern that it’s a great record that we want to put out. … Nothing else, no other concern at all. When it comes out doesn’t matter as long as we’re happy with it.
Hear the clip in question at the 2:37 mark in this excerpt from the January 2010 edition of the Metro Monthly Music Podcast.
Is there any feeling of proceeding with caution as far as hoping you don’t get involved in any of the pitfalls that caused the tension that led to the breakup?
Well, I think the main one is avoiding concerns about scheduling. I suppose there was always a factor of record companies worrying about competition, other record labels and what they’re releasing by what bands that would be in direct competition with our band. And that’s concerned with a lot of different things — with touring, with radio airplay, with TV airplay and all the things that go along with it. And we’re not really in that position anymore. We’re just Soundgarden and we’re just in that stage of being a band that there isn’t really competition. There isn’t really another band that can rush in and take our place if we’re not ready. And that’s made everything pretty relaxed. You don’t have to have a scheduled release time and worry about filling up that time with promotions and whatever else we need to do in order to put it out. And if things start getting behind, we’d start feeling the stress of it. It’s just that none of this is a factor now. … It’ll be ready when it’s ready and when it’s ready, we will do what we need to do and that’s been the main thing to avoid.
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Nikon at Jones Beach
Theater, 1000 Ocean
Parkway, Wantagh, NY