Chris Cornell Talks About His Acoustic 'Songbook' and the New Soundgarden Album
Chris Cornell has just released the live album Songbook, which he recorded on a solo acoustic tour earlier this year. The song selection spans his entire career, including his time in Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave, as well as his solo work and a Led Zep and John Lennon covers for good measure. We caught up with the singer-guitarist while on another acoustic tour to talk about the release and the forthcoming Soundgarden album, due next year.
REVOLVER What inspired you to do the Songbook album?
CHRIS CORNELL Well, the album came from the tour. I’ve probably had the thought of doing an acoustic album in the back of my mind since when I wrote [the Cornell solo song] “Seasons,” which I suppose was ’91. I literally wrote that song just for fun, and [director] Cameron Crowe heard it and wanted to put it on the soundtrack for the film [Singles] and put it in the movie itself. But it got a big response and over the years I’ve heard people asking if I was gonna make an acoustic record.
I did an acoustic show in Stockholm a few years back, and that encouraged me to go in that direction with my solo music. I decided I need to go out and do real touring for this probably after the first five shows, it started to become what it wanted to be, which is something that’s really unexpected. It’s very churchy, people are very quiet when I’m performing and very vocal in between songs. I don’t follow set lists. It’s become more and more the opposite of what Soundgarden has always felt like to me. Soundgarden has always felt like this giant, sonic wall, and there’s definitely a connection with the audience, but there’s also this punishing onslaught that is our live music. Performing acoustically opens up a completely different window for me in terms of being a performer and interacting with people.
Was it odd to put your Soundgarden songs in an acoustic setting?
Well, songs like “Blow Up the Outside World,” “Fell on Black Days,” and “Black Hole Sun” were written initially sitting down with an acoustic guitar. And “Spoonman,” the original demos were just acoustic guitars and pots and pans. And that’s often true with rock bands, certainly was with us. Everyone in in Soundgarden that has written songs, even really aggressive ones, they’ve often initially come up with ideas on acoustic guitar. There are certainly Soundgarden songs or Audioslave songs that wouldn’t make any sense to do acoustically, ’cause they’re really entirely riff-based, unless I wanted to just reapproach it entirely. But I suppose I started with songs that more readily lend themselves to acoustic versions.
Speaking of Soundgarden, you’re working on a new record. How is it sounding?
It’s a really, to me, organic sounding, kind of a next-phase Soundgarden album. It definitely isn’t retro, definitely isn’t nostalgic. It sounds to me like—I don’t want to say the next logical step because I don’t think logic has anything to do with it—but it sounds like we’ve picked up where we left off really.
Kind of like the next one after Down on the Upside?
Yeah, you know, there’s musical moods we’ve never done before, and that was always the case with every previous album. Every time we wrote a new album, we would sort of test the boundaries of what we’ve done before. Because we’re band of four songwriters, everyone’s involved in the arranging. That means there’s always a really big palette, which means it’s very unpredictable as to where it’s gonna go. The record’s take on their own lives. And right before Soundgarden went on our little summer leg of our tour, I heard all of the roughs of the songs we were working on together on one CD and that was the first time I sort of kind of got a glimpse of what the personality of the album was gonna be. And it’s very exciting. It’s very eclectic; it’s very Soundgarden. That’s very evident and it feels very forward to me.
Black and White photo: Deena Cavallo; Color: Jen Cash