Chris Cornell: Alive in the Super Unknown
GW You like that feeling—“danger.”
CORNELL Sure. If you don’t feel that as an artist, then I don’t know what you’re doing. Just being a homogenized sellout, I guess.
Look, I’m well aware of the flak I’m getting for this record, and I’m okay with it. When you look back at so many records that are now considered classic or great or whatever, it took time for them to find their place. I fully admit that Scream might be ahead of its time. Maybe people will appreciate it in five or 10 years.
I made the record I wanted to make. I didn’t make it to be of its time [or] to work with what’s happening now; I made it because it’s what I felt, what I heard. So people might tune into it a year from now or three years from now. I’m absolutely okay with that.
GW What types of guitars are you gravitating toward these days?
CORNELL I play acoustics a lot. I like smaller-body models—I guess you’d call them concertsized guitars. I have a Martin that’s fantastic. I don’t know the model number or anything, but it’s a fantastic guitar. It feels right against my body; it feels good in my hands. More than that, it gives something back to me. I play it and it gives me songs. It’s a great guitar for story telling. If you can find a guitar like that, you know you’ve picked the right one.
You know how it is: you can go to Guitar Center or wherever, they can have 25 guitars of the same make and model, but you can pick out one of them and that’s the one. It’s not like buying a car. A guitar is a living, breathing thing. Each one is special, which means one can be better than the other. That’s why you should spend a bunch of time in a guitar store. Don’t just pick one up and buy it. The one right next to it might be the keeper.
GW Are you still playing Telecasters? I remember you really gravitated toward them in your Soundgarden days.
CORNELL Oh, I love Teles. I wasn’t using them at first in that band. I started out playing Les Paul Customs; they sounded big and aggressive and sustainy, but not in a heavy metal way. After a while, though, my tastes started changing, and I found that Telecasters gave me this almost Sixties garage rock sound that I really liked. Actually, it was a progression of guitars: I started out with the Les Pauls, then switched to Gretsch Duo Jets, then Jazzmasters, and it was the Jazzmasters that led me to the Telecasters. I found that Teles were very consistent and reliable, no matter what song or tuning we were using.
GW Were Teles a way to sound different from [Soundgarden guitarist] Kim Thayil? He played the Guild S1s a lot.
CORNELL Yeah, he loved using the Guilds. I guess it was a way not to clash with his sound. We were trying to give our records these sonic beds of guitar sounds. If you hear the same guitar sound throughout an entire album, it gets boring.
GW You were first known as a lead singer in the Robert Plant mode, the guy standing at the mic bare chested—the whole rock-god thing.
CORNELL Yeah, I ran from that as fast as I could. As soon as people started seeing me in that light, I pulled back.
GW Is that why you started playing guitar so much? I remember on the Superunknown tour, you were playing guitar live pretty much the whole time.
CORNELL It was partly for that but also because our songs at that point wouldn’t work with just one guitar when we played live.
It’s funny: I pretty much learned guitar from being around Kim. He didn’t sit down and actually show me how to play; I kind of soaked it up like a sponge. His whole approach—gritty yet psychedelic—I dialed right into that. He was very influential. He was encouraging, too. He never felt threatened when I picked up a guitar. Anything I played, if it was good, he was thrilled. Kim taught me an incredible amount about music just by being in the same room with me. The whole band influenced me: Ben [Shepherd, bass] and Matt [Cameron, drums] were very important in shaping me musically.
GW Sounds like you have a lot of fond memories of those days.
CORNELL Absolutely. For some reason, there seems to be this belief going around that we had a bad breakup, which is totally untrue. There was never any bad blood between us. In fact, I spoke with Kim just recently. We’ve always been good friends.
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