Chris Cornell of Soundgarden Talks "Live to Rise", New Music, and More
Mon, 07 May 2012 12:05:28
After all of these years, Soundgarden continue to surprise.
"Live to Rise", the group's contribution to Avengers Assemble, the soundtrack for The Avengers, constructs a veritable roller coaster on par with any of the most thrilling fare from Superunknown or Badmotorfinger.
A quintessential Kim Thayil storm of distortion mounts alongside Matt Cameron's pummeling beats and Ben Shepherd's earth-quaking bass. Soon, the song descends into a pensive acoustic verse punctuated by Chris Cornell's ruminations upon loneliness and duty before swelling back into a massive refrain. "Live to Rise" examines darkness, power, and triumph—just like all classic Soundgarden. This is just another example of why they're one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time.
The track also heralds their return, and it's a fitting precursor to their long-awaited new studio album due out later this year. Heartfelt, hypnotic, and heavy, get ready for another trip from the legendary quartet. Rock 'n' roll is set to rise with them.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden talks "Live to Rise", new music, his process, finding heavy music, and so much more.
"Live to Rise" tells a story of alienation and perseverance that fits the vibe of The Avengers. There are a lot of intriguing juxtapositions within the song.
Yeah, I couldn't really figure out how to do it any other way [Laughs]. To me, it felt like the riff was the most important thing, first and foremost. It's in the song when it needs to be. The essence of this unimaginable horror is kind of easy for me. It has to be cerebral. It has to come—not from a literal standpoint—but a paranoid standpoint of sitting in a room for too long thinking about things. That's obviously the version I can relate to, but it easily lives in that world of the literal, actual unimaginable horror. It seems to work. More so than most songs, there was a long process for it to come together and be right. I think that has to do with the fact that the song does have to coexist with a very strong and specific entity which everybody already has ideas about, namely the movie. It has to fit in there. That's not something which comes up much for me or Soundgarden. If you're writing a song with your band or you're writing a solo song, anything you come up with is valid. It's you representing you, and that's what people expect. They're your fans, and they want to hear what you think. It's easy. Writing for Soundgarden, I consider Matt, Ben, and Kim my audience. That's who I'm really worried about. I don't think about anybody else. I worry about those three getting behind it, understanding it, and liking it. Then, if we all like it, it definitely seems to work with our audience. With the film, it has to work with us first, then our audience, and next the film. The movie is a very strong and specific part of the process. It's different. It's not always easy.
Well, it's a Soundgarden song at the end of the day. The band's identity shines through.
In a way, there are aspects of having to write with the film's idea in mind. The collaboration probably led to some different moods I otherwise might not have done. I might have, but I might not have. I think that's always good. You have a new combination for the song's destination, and you have to figure out what works for that without really considering it when the conception comes up. For a song to be good, the conception has to be pure and come from somewhere. You have to be excited about it. If it doesn't work for a destination, you move on. That happened in this situation a few times. If there is no destination, anything you write has to be fun, exciting, and cool. Then, if that's the case, you like it and it has a destination later. That's the way we usually do things. This is a good thing for me to do. It helps me realign myself with the notion that music can be anything and there is really no such thing as specific genres unless you decide there is. You can mix genres anyway you want. You can make records with any amount of complexity or simplicity. I think that's the most important thing.
The film touches upon some deeper existential themes of loneliness that you've also explored with Soundgarden and your solo material.
Yeah, I think that's why it probably was a good movie for us to write a song for. Other than the fact it gets our song and band in front of a lot of people, we coexist well with the attitude of the film. Beyond that, there's the idea of the music being associated with product. When is that okay? For us, it's always been okay if it's something we can get behind—if it's a good product. This happens to be a great product. We all saw it as a band. We loved it as a movie. We thought it was great. It's not disappointing. That's really important for us. This is a partnership, and the partner made a great thing. That's good!
What sparks your writing?
Lately, I decide to write and I have an overall mood in mind that has nothing to do with words. It's just a mood. The words come out. Some amount of them comes out immediately. There's some little part of that which is the song, and I can see it. That's easy to recognize. I take that out and start building the song on that. Most of the time, that's how it goes for me, lately. The other way is I'll read something which gets me thinking and flowing lyrically. That doesn't necessarily work right away. I'll read for a little bit and start writing, and it all opens up. Writing periods for me, I'm not someone who walks around with a notebook my whole life and every time I see something I write it down or think about it. I don't really do that. I'm writing and playing music a lot. I'll tend to read when I'm not writing. If an idea strikes me, I'll write it down. I never actually write out whole lyrics until it's time to write lyrics or I'm writing a whole album usually. The reason why is I get into flow, and it's like opening some radio frequency. It takes me a little time to dial in clearly. Once it's in clearly, I can do a lot. If I stop for a week, it gets fuzzy. It takes a lot of concentration to keep that going.
Has that been the process for the new Soundgarden album?
Definitely, it's been a pretty good time. I suppose the actual writing has taken place over the course of a couple years. Initially, we wrote a handful of songs early on in the process. Then, we went on tour a few times. I went on tour. Matt went on tour with Pearl Jam. Ben was working on a solo record. We would take breaks and come back. That was actually good. Otherwise, I have to force myself to take a break for a minute which is usually after beating my head against a wall if I'm having trouble with something. If something doesn't immediately work and the melodies and lyrics don't coexist with the music perfectly, then I can go away from it and come back a couple months later. Then, the problem seems to have solved itself. Having this amount of time to make this record hasn't hurt us. It's been good—especially for the first record back. To not have a ton of pressure put on it with scheduling, release date, and touring is great.
You have the space to be creative.
Yeah, if you consider the time we took off as time when we're doing other things, you condense the amount of time we spent actually working on the record, we probably spent less time working on this record than other records. However, it feels a lot more relaxed.
When did you first discover heavy music?
I probably first discovered it with The Beatles—from the certain songs they did that were that way like "Revolution" and "Helter Skelter". Then, that got me into other music. I sort of went the past the stuff every kid listened to like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. I got into a period of prog. Prog brought me into AC/DC and The Ramones. It was kind of the antidote. I was learning about music and the notion it can be anything. It can be The Ramones or Yes. Those both can certainly be rock, but they're insanely different! It's like they're from two different planets. Being in Soundgarden, I was listening to Bauhaus. They had a couple of songs with these riffs that were very heavy and these dark moods with the guitar. There were other post-punk bands that did that. It was more from that than anything that Soundgarden started doing it. Once we started doing it, we immediately got Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin comparisons in a positive way. That was actually the first time I started listening to Led Zeppelin without it feeling like I was listening to the music that drive Camaros listen to [Laughs]. I began becoming a huge fan, but it wasn't until after Soundgarden existed. In some way, my understanding of what a heavy song is was definitely born out of Soundgarden's development not out of listening to it first.
To look back on Superunknown, is "Like Suicide" a special song for you?
Yeah, I remember writing the lyrics and originally coming up with the musical idea for it. It was very different. It was definitely one of those songs that comes up when you're going through an exploration. It stands out in a way because of my clear memory of it. I feel like every song, whether I'm writing to someone else's parts or I'm writing a song in its entirety for Soundgarden, there's always some need for exploration. There really is. Otherwise, it's not going to work as a Soundgarden song. If it's something where I understand how all the parts are going to fit and I'm going to play them because I've done it before, that really disqualifies it. I don't know why that is, but I feel like we all have that same notion. I think that's what makes our records unpredictable and pretty eclectic and broad musically and mood-wise.
Have you heard "Live to Rise"? What's your favorite Soundgarden song?
See our review of the song here! Watch the video below!