Chris Cornell is best known as the frontman for Seattle's recently disbanded Soundgarden, who reintroduced integrity and reckless passion back into the tired genre of hard rock. Though the band split in 1997 at the height of their 12-year-career, Cornell continues on in the tradition of breaking boundaries and challenging traditions with his daringly eclectic A&M debut "Euphoria Morning."
GC: Do you want to tell us a little about what you're doing now, I know you have a new record coming out obviously. Any plans for touring?
Cornell: Well we're doing five shows starting next week: Boston, New York, D.C., L.A., and San Francisco, which is basically just to start playing and warm up in a sense. It's a little weird to be playing a record that no one's heard yet in a live situation. But that's what we're doing right now. We've just been rehearsing and getting ready to go.
GC: Did writing material for this new record differ from writing in a band situation?
Cornell: Well really, a lot of it has to do with who you are working with, who you're writing for. For me the actual moments of coming up with songs, weren't different, because I've always written a lot by myself and that part is pretty similar. I guess it's just the perspective sometimes that changes. If you're considering a band, and you have an idea of the identity of that band then you're obviously thinking about it and the writing situation. This record is different in that I don't have to do that.
GC: Do you have a home studio that you use to write or to record your own stuff?
Cornell: Yeah, I have a basement studio, and then when I started working on songs for this record I rented a little warehouse where I had a couple of Adats. I just did MIDI drums and played all the other instruments myself, which I've done in the past. With Soundgarden I did that a lot, or sometimes I would just go into the studio with Matt (Cameron) and record demo versions of my songs. A lot of the time I think writing and recording go hand in hand for me. If I'm not in a situation with a band in a room working on songs, then it's only necessary to record the basic body of the song and then start adding color parts and different ideas to see how they sound as well as going for different sounds. I might have an idea for a guitar melody, but the sound and how the texture fits in is equally important to me because it colors the song so much. I definitely use recording as a writing tool in that way.
GC: So besides the Adats, what sort of equipment do you use to put ideas together?
Cornell: I use a variety of different microphones. The one I was using in the studio was the new RØDE microphone, the NTV, for recording vocals and acoustic guitars, which sounded pretty amazing. It was pretty easy to gets sounds out of that microphone through a Urei 1176 and then straight into the Adats.
GC: What do you think about the guitar rig you have now? Do you use a different setup live versus in the studio?
Cornell: In the studio I use mostly old Fenders, old amplifiers and guitars. On this tour I'm not actually playing guitar though. Alain's playing all the guitar. He's using Line 6 stuff now, which works pretty well considering the variety of sounds we have on the record. He seems to be able to get pretty close to everything and the capability of switching between sounds is great. Also with the Line 6, the texture doesn't change with the volume, so everything is really friendly for a live amp. One of the problems you always end up having with amps is you have to change your volume all the time or you may be in different countries where the power ratio can be inconsistent and sometimes your tone is totally inconsistent because of it!
GC: What's the coolest recent edition to your guitar setup? Did you get anything while working on the new record?
Cornell: I sold about 5 or 6 Tele re-issues. I had to use a lot of them onstage because Soundgarden had so many different tunings. I sold a bunch of those and bought one '52 Telecaster. I had to sell all those guitars just to buy it! It was expensive but it's an amazing guitar! I always wondered how much truth there was to the myth that vintage guitars are better than new guitars and I suppose if you get the right guitar it's true, because this guitar is just amazing.
GC: Soundgarden was pretty notorious for using alternate guitar tunings. What are the motivations behind using an altered tuning when you're writing?
Cornell: It depends really. A lot of the weirder ones I came up with were based on trying to get to one note I couldn't reach. So I'd just tweak one string and get it where I wanted it. Or, if I wanted an open arpeggio and still wanted to be able to do power chords here and there, just tweaking a couple of the notes in an open tuning would make that happen. Really it's just me responding to the melody and what I want to hear in the song and then figuring out how to do it on the guitar. On this record I'd written a song in an open C tuning and then we changed the key of the song, so I couldn't use that tuning anymore. But the arpeggio part, the feel of it, really had to be in that tuning and I ended up using two different tunings on different tracks when we recorded it.
GC: Is it useful to have two or more of the same guitar if you want to perform using altered tunings?
Cornell: It's necessary live, because for some of the open tunings you have to set the intonation for that tuning, otherwise it's not going to work. At that point you can only use the guitar for that tuning. So in a live situation you can't just take one guitar if you've got eight different tunings throughout the set. There's no time to tune-it. Even if you have a couple of back-ups it's not really enough because of the intonation thing. So really it's just a necessity. They were all the same kind of guitar so that the sound was consistent. I found that the American Teles were really consistent from one guitar to the next and not that expensive.
GC: Having played a lot of different venues, and particularly in your early days, I imagine you had to deal with some pretty bad PA systems and monitoring systems, which can be tough for a vocalist, I imagine. Do you have any tips for people who might be going through that kind of a thing now? What do you do?
Cornell: It's really helpful to know what frequencies you want out and what frequencies you want in. For your voice or your guitar sound or whatever you're doing, just get as familiar as you can with the changes that you consistently make from room to room, and then just tell the sound guy. In a lot of the situations you're using a house monitor engineer, and they're going to totally differ from one person to the next. Their equipment's going to be different, their ears are going to be different, and their voices are going to be different. That's the one thing about monitor engineers: they're getting you a sound based on what their own voice sounds like, just yelling, "One!...Two!" into a microphone. So it's really good to know what your voice sounds like, what it benefits from and what you need. Then you just tell them what to do. I've noticed that things go so much better and so much faster. The more you can get used to having nothing in your monitors except for what's absolutely necessary, the better things are.
GC: What advice might you have for a young musician who might want to model their career after yours?
Cornell: I don't think that that should be anyone's goal. I don't think that looking at music in terms of success should be anyone's goal. I think you should play music because that's what you like to do and because you want to be creative with it. Because you need to just pick up an instrument and write songs and play. That should always be your focus. The world of music is too full of ambitious people and it gets in the way of people making cool music. There's something to be said for somebody that's doing their own thing and doesn't give a sh*t about sucess. I think that attracts people. It's truly coming from your heart and it definitely attracts people.
GC: But, it might be nice to make a living off of it, for instance, and not to work some sort of a day job!
Cornell: Yeah, but it depends on what that living is. I was much more willing to wash dishes in a restaurant or work on a dock and be able to afford to buy instruments than I would have been to play music in the back of a Chinese restaurant!