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The Gibson Classic Interview: Chris Cornell

Aidin Vaziri
|
11.16.2012

Gibson.com is pleased to present “The Gibson Classic Interview,” where we open our archives and share with you interviews we’ve done over the years with some of the world’s biggest artists. This week, we revisit Aidin Vaziri’s 2009 interview with once-and-future Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.

As soon as we heard Chris Cornell was entering the studio with hip-hop producer Timbaland, we came up with a long list of questions for the former Soundgarden/Audioslave lead singer. The first one, naturally, was, “What kind of conditioner do you use to get those wonderful wavy tresses?”

Of course, we probably wanted to know about the unusual collaboration that resulted in his much debated third solo release, Scream. Except Cornell is such a super busy guy — what with rocking out all the time, being the world’s coolest dad and hanging out in clubs that won’t let us in — that every time we scheduled an interview with him, he would have to cancel at the last minute.

After months of trying, we finally got him on the phone, pulled out our extensive list of queries and got maybe three in before he went on a monologue that lasted nearly 30-minutes, at which point his publicist jumped on the line and said it was time for his next interview. What can we say, the guy is a pro.

Fortunately, Cornell touched on all the things we were dying to ask him about anyway, such as the miracle of Twitter, the backlash against the new album and the general horrors of touring. Sadly, he didn’t offer any advice for our ongoing battle with frizzy hair.

Here are the highlights:

Why he decided to work with Timbaland instead of Steve Albini:

“I felt like I sort of established the concept that I'm going to be doing whatever it is I'm going to be doing after I made the Temple of the Dog album. That was the moment I had all these songs that didn't fit with my band and suddenly there was this opportunity to go in with these other people who I had known for years and record that album. I was scared. I was afraid of the concept because I knew the band I had was special, but I didn’t know what it would mean if I was going to create some music with some other people. It ended up being that album. From that point on, because it was such a great experience and it could have easily not happened, I decided to always be open and aware and focused on any concept of collaboration. That's how Audioslave happened. I did it; I'm really glad I did it. The Timbaland album was the same thing.”

Why playing Soundgarden’s rocket-fueled metal on the reunion circuit doesn’t appeal to him:

“That, to me, is similar to playing the back of Chinese restaurant. My heart needs to feel good while I'm playing a song. In order to play old songs from my history, I need to be able to also play songs from the present and songs that will literally turn into the future in a moment’s notice. That does work for me.

Why Audioslave had an uphill battle even though it sold a bazillion albums:

“With Audisolave the numbers were the same as Soundgarden but what it meant was different. Now it was this new story about a supergroup, and what does that mean? That was what those records meant and our job was to go out and be who we were. I think we successfully changed that perspective and reminded people that Led Zeppelin and Crosby Stills Nash and Young were supergroups. Something happened in the ’80s where there were so many bad ones that it left an awful taste in peoples' mouths. So we had that going on.”

Why he doesn’t care what you think of Scream:

“My strongest belief has always been that as long as I'm inspired by it, other people will be. I feel that now. The creative process of making the album and going out and performing it is what's important. I don't think anything is as challenging as that process, or as exciting regardless of what happens after the fact. I'm on the road playing a catalog that goes back to 1990. The response to my newest material from some of my oldest fans is phenomenal, at least in terms of what's happening in front of me. It’s an unbelievably satisfying experience because there’s so much musical diversity on-stage. I have more fun doing it now than I ever had in my life.”

Why he spends most of his waking hours on Twitter:

“For me, it's actually become a way to communicate with fans that I've never been able to do before. It's been difficult to figure out a way to do that that's honest and direct enough but still comfortable and not weird or dangerous. With Twittering I found out people can ask me any question and I can answer it really quickly. You have that layer of safety — they don’t know where you are, you don’t know where they are. If somebody is crazy you can tell. And, yeah, I can have conversations with people that have real fan questions. A lot of the time in terms of celebrity, people separate themselves from their fans. In a way that becomes a little bit unrealistic because at the end of the day we're allowed to do this for a living because of our fans. For me, there can also be insight into who I am and what it is I do by actually responding to fans’ thoughts and ideas.”
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