He was the voice of Soundgarden, the voice of Audioslave and, in 2006, was even the voice of James Bond. Well, sorta – he did the theme song for Casino Royale. But these days Chris Cornell is strictly a solo artist, having two albums under his belt – 1999’s Euphoria Morning and 2007’s Carry On. This month he releases Scream, an album he’s collaborated on with rapper and producer Timbaland (who’s previously worked with Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake and Madonna). Embracing beats and atmospheric production, the first single sounds more like Gnarls Barkley than Soundgarden. Ulp.
Q&A: Chris Cornell
The ex-Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman has graduated from his grunge roots - to embrace the Eastern-inflected hip hop of producer/collaborator Timbaland. So who is his audience these days?
With Scream, are you leaving your comfort zone or are you re-inventing Chris Cornell?
I don’t think it’s either, to be honest. I suppose to the outside world it’s kind of a reinvention. I’ve done so many different things musically and experimentally, and a lot of things people have heard and a lot of things people haven’t heard. It reminds me of when Temple Of The Dog was released and – this really irritated me for some reason [chuckles] – people would come up to me and say: “Wow, I had no idea that you could sing like that or write melodies like that or write lyrics like that.” At first I thought: “Why not?” And it took me a while to realise that I had done a lot of different types of songwriting that just didn’t end up on Soundgarden albums, because it didn’t fit. Some people had heard it, my friends had heard it, the local college station in Seattle would sometimes play some of my solo songs on the radio that were completely different. But in the big picture, yeah, nobody had really known that, so it was a fair thing to say. This is a little bit like that...
When I first heard the album it reminded me very much of the approach you had with Audioslave’s Revelations, with the R&B and soul thing in there. There are some tracks where you come across as a modern-day soul singer.
Yeah, it’s weird, because I’m not that familiar with modern soul and R&B, because I don’t listen to it. But I have a lot of old-school soul and R&B influences, and that’s music that I’ve listened to for years. And even funk rock, you know, like Soundgarden doing the FOPP EP, which was a Ohio Players song. We did a few different cover versions of songs that were more in the funk-rock category. But as a singer I had a lot of soul singer influences, even if they weren’t necessarily albums that were my favourite albums or songs that were my favourite songs. A lot of the best singers I felt were old-school R&B or soul singers.
**One of Timbaland’s signature things is using Far Eastern influences in his songs. Is he aware that happens in so many classic rock tunes? Like in Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd... **
I don’t know. I was actually telling him that while we were making the album, I was telling him how he has a very psychedelic approach to his songs and to his beats. And it was so easy for me to get inside those worlds, to write lyrics and to sing, because I love that kind of music that creates an environment.
And, you know, he is not ignorant to bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but I don’t think that that’s where he gets those influences from. One day I saw him walk in with this big, enormous duffle bag filled with eastern CDs that he would just sit and listen to. You know, music from India and other parts of Asia.
In every interview there is always the question: “Are you alienating your audience?” But you’ve done everything – so who is your audience?
It’s been presented to me that way most of the time in interviews, as if I have kind of one audience. I tour a lot, and there are clearly different members of the audience that like me for different parts of my career. There’s always a big reaction to older Soundgarden songs and then as you get into obscure Soundgarden songs, you’ll see even less people who will react even more aggressively, you know, because that’s the one they wanted to hear. That tends to be an older audience. But sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s really young guys who discovered Soundgarden recently and really got into it.
There is also what I think of as the Euphoria Morning audience, but it’s an audience that really just seems to like what I do solo versus anything else. They prefer that to the heavier rock that I’ve done – there’s more females in that group definitely [laughs].
And then there’s an audience of rock fans, but who are younger and they really focus on Audioslave songs a lot. You put all of those people together in a room and they all seem to enjoy the whole show, they just emote more during different particular songs.
When will you tour this album? Will you play it in full?
After it comes out, yeah. I would love to be able to perform it that way on an entire world tour. It’s an hour long, I have a lot of back-catalogue, but I’m used to playing for two-and-a-half hours anyway. So I could easily go and do this entire album, and then do an hour of catalogue music and have that be the show.
What about a Soundgarden reunion? We saw the spoof article in The Onion where all four of you met at the mall. Did you see the picture [laughs]?
It was pretty well done, because it was actual current pictures of everyone. I’m standing at the mall with no shirt on. That was kind of... That should give it away that it’s fake. I don’t usually go to the mall anyway, but if I did I’d wear a shirt! But, yeah, there are no plans for a Soundgarden reunion either.
What about that boxset you’ve been talking about for ages?
I would love to be able to release a B-sides album. We’ve been talking about it for years. But lately we’ve talked about it more, about finally getting something like that out, because we have a lot of stuff. We have some unreleased stuff actually, which I’ve sort of forgotten. It’s just in the world of Soundgarden things move at a slow pace. But we’ve talked about it ever since we’ve broken up – about different re-packagings and a B-sides album and boxsets, those kinds of things. Who knows when it will happen. Some day.