Chris Cornell muses on Soundgarden, 'Avengers' and 'Sesame Street'
It's been a decade and a half since Soundgarden released a wholly new song. A first song from the reunited act's recent recording session was unveiled this week, and the hard-rock vets had a little help getting the word out. Soundgarden attached itself to Marvel super-hero vehicle "The Avengers," and leader Chris Cornell said aligning with the likes of Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk was something of a necessity.
"In the grand scheme of things, the record business is completely different than it was when we last put out a record," Cornell told Pop & Hiss. That was the pre-Napster days of 1996, and the band's "Down on the Upside" was following its 1994 chart-topping blockbuster "Superunknown," an album that brought '70s-inspired metal ferocity and somber melodic intricacy to the grunge era.
"In other words," Cornell said, "there needs to be some tie-in [today]. Without one, it’s great that you made a record and recorded a song, but no one’s going to hear it -- have a nice day. The problem, really, isn’t so much as finding a tie-in, but finding one you can get behind, where you can feel 100 percent comfortable that there is a partner."
Linking with "The Avengers" was a simple decision for the band, Cornell said. Though Cornell is no comic geek, guitarist Kim Thayil is, said Cornell, who described his bandmate as someone who "knows every detail of every character and when they were conceived and what metamorphosis they went through."
For his part, Cornell said past Marvel films such as "Iron Man" rank as high with him as the works of digital animation house Pixar, as he praised the Robert Downey Jr. hit for its blend of comedy and action. "The Avengers" will be released May 4, and the soundtrack, dubbed "Avengers Assemble," will be released May 1.
"A lot of the other tie-ins that someone may propose to a band sitting in the room are not so great," Cornell said. "They don’t ring so well in your ears, especially if you’re a rock band that started as an indie band and you’ve been around for over 25 years. It takes some getting used to, some of these concepts, like you go out on and tour and they try to put a banner from a cellphone company somewhere near your stage.
"So this," continued Cornell, "was the best possible result of having a partnership. This is a movie that’s part of a series that we all like, and part of a history of Marvel that we all like."
Don't, said Cornell, look to it for any hint of what the band's new album will sound like.
"It sounds kind of stripped down and more streamlined than a lot of other songs we’ve been writing," Cornell said of "The Avengers" cut. "But if you take any song out of context, from any one of our albums, going all the way back to our first Sub Pop EP, it’s not going to tell you anything about the songs around it. We’re just that way. This would fit on our record ... but if there’s a way that it stands apart, this is fairly rhythmically straightforward."
Now a family man, Cornell compared Soundgarden's upcoming album to a long-running childrens' television series. "Look at it like ‘Sesame Street.’ You got all these different colors and different types of creatures and people from all over the place, but they all live happily together on ‘Sesame Street.’ All our songs are just characters on ‘Sesame Street.'"
In terms of giving away the song for free, Cornell said the Web has overall had a positive effect on the music business. For one, less money is wasted.
"People have had to figure out how to go back into their garages and make a record without having to spend a half of a million dollars," Cornell said. "That was never necessary, anyway, and everyone is figuring that out now. It’s similar to shooting a video. The last big-budget video I did was for $1 million, and that was in Audioslave. It didn’t look like it needed to cost that much."
Yet plenty has stayed the same in the past 10 or 15 years. If one, for instance, were to glance at the artists who grace "Avengers Assemble," a soundtrack that features music in the film as well as music "inspired" by it, many could have toured with Soundgarden in the late '90s. The likes of Bush, Evanescence and Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland are among the contributors. One act, Buckcherry, was even on the 2000 soundtrack to "M:I 2," for which Cornell donated a song.
"It’s a little weird," Cornell said of the '90s revival. "It’s not that dissimilar from the list that was on the ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ soundtrack."
But Cornell does want to make one thing clear:
"I just hope that people understand that our song was written for the film, is in the film and is part of this film. It’s not just a tag-on to a soundtrack record that celebrates the film. We honestly wouldn’t have done that. That wouldn’t be exciting. That’s a holdover from 15 years ago when the movie business and record business discovered that people would buy these records even though the songs aren’t in the film. That’s fine, but I want people to know that our song is actually in the movie."
So do Cornell a favor and stick around for the end credits.
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, Ben Shepherd, Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron. Credit: Patrick Wymore