Posts Tagged ‘Eurphoria Morning’
The early 90s were the defining period for my musical tastes, the bands I grew up with then still shape and influence my life today. It seemed to be a never ending adventure of discovery as I was introduced, overwhelmingly at times, to the grunge era and rock music in general.
Now whilst the press of the day would argue that Pearl Jam were mere sell outs, Stone Temple Pilots just cheap grunge wannabes and any rock band on a major label had somehow lost their edge, to me it was just a never ending deluge of exciting new bands producing the kind of music that would impact on me more than I could ever have known.
Even in my naïve state however, there were certain bands that even I could recognise were a different breed. Nirvana goes without saying, one of the singularly most vital parts of my being and then there was Soundgarden, or more accurately, Chris Cornell.
Soundgarden were always a fringe band with my friends, too rock for some, not grunge enough for others but despite this, ‘that’ voice was uniformly hailed as something spectacular. The soaring anguished cries displayed on pre-Superunknown global domination never disguised that Chris Cornell was a genuinely unique voice in rock and once ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Fell On black Days’ were released, well that just confirmed it. Few will argue that he is one of the greatest rock vocalists of a generation.
Seemingly at the height of it all, 9th April 1997 to be precise, Soundgarden split and all eyes turned to Cornell to see what he would do next. An eclectic solo career followed, two solo albums, one ‘supergroup’, a James Bond theme and then ‘that’ third album with Timbaland. No one can accuse Chris Cornell of playing it safe.
Then, the impossible happened, a Cornell ‘Tweet’ announced the news that Soundgarden were reforming and a new ‘Best Of’ and Live album are currently paving the way for a potential new studio set…. Eventually.
So here we are in 2011 and I find myself with the opportunity to help Pete Makowski write an interview piece with Cornell that will grace the pages of Mojo. 14 year old me would not believe it.
Having mutually agreed to let Pete go on his own to LA (or I was never invited, I forget which) some 3 hour interview was whittled down to a Mojo friendly spread….. but the story doesn’t end there. Here you can read the bits that never made the magazine; here is the full transcript from that sunny afternoon in LA!
Pete Makowski (PM) meets Chris Cornell (CC) Part One:
PM: You were quite a rebellious teenager, did Soundgarden help you express your aggression
CC: Absolutely. And also it was a source of discovery because the band started immediately doing things that I’d never heard on a record. It was music that made me feel something that I had never experienced listening to another band. It was something very special and I recognised that right away.
PM: You started off as a drummer what persuaded you to pick up a guitar?
CC: I learnt to play guitar simply to write songs and parts for Soundgarden and I was immediately encouraged by everyone else in the band, when I would come up with something they liked it. I never learned anyone else’s songs on guitar, I simply came up with somewhat unorthodox ideas, which I feel now was a good thing.
PM: In the early days some parts of the media labelled you as a heavy metal band
CC: The heavy metal part was always a curse of timing because when we signed up with a major record label it was almost to early for them to understand what to do with a band like Soundgarden. There was a period of crisis where we were presented alongside commercial metal bands of the time and it felt very self-conscious and it also felt that, to some degree, we owed homage to the principles behind punk rock. To then be in magazines alongside Poison was challenging.
What does that mean? It can’t make us sell-outs just by the fact that we end up there, because we certainly didn’t change our music to achieve it, ever. If anything Soundgarden were probably the most individual, we never let any of our producers have any idea about anything. We allowed them to be in the studio because it stopped the record company people coming. We were extremely focussed on making records we wanted to make because we liked them. Now looking back on it, it’s all nonsense. You are who you are and unless you wind up onstage playing somebody else’s songs there’s nothing to worry about.
Our big moment of truth was when we were offered a slot opening up for Skid Row and we didn’t know what to do with that. Was that good or bad? And what happened was we toured with them and their audience all bought Soundgarden records. You can’t decide who you want your audience to be it’s not fair to judge an audience if they’ve never heard your music, you can’t say they’re not smart enough or cool enough, they’ve just never heard it. With Skid Row it was a great example, we went on stage and were who we were and all the fears of association with a band might put us in a light we maybe uncomfortable with was silly. The important thing was that thousands of rock fans from city to city saw that there was an alternative to the music that they’d heard and they responded.
PM: What did Soundgarden set out to achieve?
CC: Our attitude was, of course that we know who we are, we like who we are and we want to reach as big of an audience as we can reach. And we had been encouraged from the very beginning that we could be the new face of rock music, regardless of what you wanted to call it. The record companies attitude was more ‘we don’t really know what this is’. At that time (89/90) metal was most successful musical genre there was so we were put in those magazines and video shows and also on the Indie music slots. We were one of the only bands that got that.
They would put ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ on Headbangers Ball, probably one of the most aggressive things on an already aggressive show and then on 120 minutes alongside Sonic Youth and The Cure. To me that was a sign that we had something special and different. Now as I’ve done other things in my career it can be confusing for a fan of any one specific thing that I’ve done. And I get it to some degree I’m sympathetic but I’ve got to point out that as a little kid listening to The Beatles I loved ‘Helter Skelter’ but I loved ‘Eleanor Rigby’ just as much.
PM: How come you were such a huge fan of the Beatles?
CC: There was no cultural reason for me to listen to that band because they had already broken up by the time I discovered them; I was too young about nine years old. They were where I learned what a rock band was supposed to be; sing any way you want, sing about anything you want and write a diverse selection of songs from super whispery and personal like ‘Julia’ to something like ‘Helter Skelter’ which is over the top aggressive and screamy.
That’s what being a rock musician is and the closest thing to a genre that The Beatles could fit into in terms of their entire career is pop because they had so many hits.
PM: So why is harder to have the freedom to move today?
CC: I don’t know if there’s a support for the attitude of creative freedom. I think there was a time in the late sixties and very early seventies that the more you pushed the envelope, the more you experimented that was the norm, which was what you had to do. If you didn’t do that then you had no credibility. If you read reviews of the bands of that time, some of them were brutal. Even The Beatles when they first came out, the idea that they just played guitar, bass and drums was considered passé and they hadn’t even started yet.
PM: Why did Soundgarden split up?
CC: I think with the benefit of hindsight it feels now like it all happened perfectly. The biggest obstacle for us has been the cyclical nature of the music business. We never did well with schedules and projectives. We started out as a garage band just playing shows whose concern after three years of doing that was are we ever going to release anything. Once that happened we just kept bringing out records and having new release dates and having trying to meet them…. And most of the time we didn’t.
Rather than going into a room and saying ‘let’s write a song because we enjoy each other’s company and the creative process’ it was ‘we have a tour in February so we better finish the album’ (laughs). And that’s just not why we started and I also don’t think it’s a particularly a good way to make music. So consequently we never betrayed that goal in writing songs and making albums. Ultimately we were always late, we missed tours, we missed release dates and there was always pressure hanging over us. I know we’re grown up human beings and it’s the real world where there are schedules but I think it’s the artist’s responsibility to themselves to say ‘fuck you!’ to that and we did that. But at some point I think it was too much for it and us was time to not be Soundgarden anymore and have a break from that.
The music business being the necessary evil, necessary component to what we did…we just didn’t deal with it very well. Now that we’ve reformed and we’re being creative and writing new music, seeing how that feels I can see how much we just needed a break.
We never had a personal falling out. I think that when a band breaks up because one guy hit another with a vase and put him hospital then there’s always that need to get together soon because it’s nothing to do with the existential crisis of what are we doing and why are we doing it. It’s always something else, because the people are arseholes or something. With us there was never that need for personal reparation y’know ‘I love you guys let’s get back together so we can repair this and not feel bad about our legacy.’ We didn’t have any negative feelings towards each other.
Getting back together felt as natural as us forming the band in the first place. It wasn’t based on a tour offer or anything like that. We decided at some point as time was moving on and you could go into a store and see baby clothes with a Ramones logo that we do have a responsibility to our legacy. We had to pay attention to the fact that we had fans that are still fans that might want to go on a website and read about what the individual members are doing, order a t-shirt or buy a record.
Essentially our discography and everything attached to it was being completely ignored by everyone. There was no catalogue promotion, there was no Soundgarden website. So we got back to have discussions about serving the fan base and as soon as we started doing that after the first meeting it just felt really great. That led to the discussion of ‘maybe we should get in a room and play songs’. There was an idea of us going out and playing a couple of songs at the Sub Pop anniversary, which we didn’t get to do. But it all happened in a much faster and comprehensive way than I would have imagined, because I never really thought about it. But once we were in a room things kind of happened fast…probably not by other people’s standards.
PM: Were you wary of people thinking that this reunion is just cash in?
CC: Well it wasn’t because we can control what we do. We didn’t reform and then do a world tour followed by a rushed studio album, it was obvious that we wouldn’t send that message out. I mean that there were a number of opinions when it was first announced that we were going to reform, those are murky waters anyway.
PM: Would you be happy if you didn’t have to talk about making music again
CC: Yes, right now I feel talked out about it in a way. I think when there’s a new album coming out and you talk about it, you can’t do much more than demystify it. And if I talk about music in general, some of it is my perception at that moment, there’s a million different angles and music is kind of subjective anyway.
Music for me is a lot more immediate than anything else; other stuff seems to be hidden behind a wall of fog. With Soundgarden we’ve been working on some songs that we’ve never played live and that would rekindle memories of writing and arranging them in the first place, what room that we were in, what I was thinking. And it’s not always good, sometimes it’s shitty and I don’t want to go back. Memories for me aren’t always good; I don’t always like looking back.
PM: Do you feel that Audioslave lived up to the sum of its parts?
CC: I some ways it transcended that. I think the general expectations was that it would be some kind of simplified Led Zeppelin; basic Rage riffs with me screeching over the top of them. And ‘Cochise’ is kind of like that, but the rest was not what any of the fans or even the band expected.
There were a couple of times where I think it was bogged down by a lot of discussions about a lot of things and it wasn’t as fluid as I wanted it to be about things business wise. But a lot of that wasn’t about the band. Making the music was easy, getting the business side together to put it out that was difficult.
I look at my time with Audioslave as being as important as anything else I did. To me, in a sense, it was like another Temple of the Dog that’s why I even entertained the idea of getting into a room with them. TOTD was the first time I did something like that outside of Soundgarden and I didn’t even know I could have a relationship like that with some other guys. And it made me realise that later on in any point of my career I shouldn’t just immediately say no to any opportunities like that.
PM: Did you feel a weight of expectation when you released Euphoria Morning?
CC: I guess there was anxiety because it was the first time I released an album where it was going to be my fault no matter what. I just wanted to write songs that I liked as long as it didn’t remind of the process of writing songs for Soundgarden. I just wanted to do something completely different because I had been doing that for so long. And that’s what I did. After that I didn’t worry so much about what I would do as a solo artist.
By the time I did this album I had got a lot of phone calls from a lot of the obvious guitar players, European DJ’s, just a huge cross section of musicians all with ideas with what they wanted me to do and I said no to all of them. At that time it was kind of important to make my album and not do anything outside of that.
PM: How did you feel about the mixed reaction to Scream?
CC: I think time will help because it will help take it out of the context of my career. I still put it on in my car and listen to it beginning to the end; I love it. It’s a fantastic record. I can understand why people have a hard time with it in relation to the rest of my career and what I do. But what confuses me is that how can anybody who has been acquainted with my whole career say this is what I do? If you even just take a look at Soundgardens’ major label releases there’s much going on musically and stylistically. Having said that ‘Scream’ is still a dramatic departure from anything else I ever did (laughs).
(C) 2011 Peter Makowski.
Part Two follows shortly….. come back to find out more about Temple Of The Dog and the future of Soundgarden.