As the glass-shattering shrieker fronting Soundgarden, Chris Cornell became an underground hard-rock sex symbol before the term "grunge" existed. He's since wielded his powerful pipes and six-string skills in Audioslave, and, after a stint in drug rehab, in his solo career. He recently released the acoustic album, Songbook, and is in the process of working on a new Soundgarden record. Of the new album, he says, "To me, it's a really organic sounding, next-phase Soundgarden album. It definitely isn't retro or nostalgic. It sounds like we've picked up where we left off, really."
REVOLVER What's the definition of a rock star?
CHRIS CORNELL I've always looked at Iggy Pop as being absolutely the ultimate rock star. His personality, his persona, every molecule of him embodies that which is a rock icon. He was completely irreverent, completely indifferent to what we think of as the social rules of American society or any society, period.
Would you apply any of those qualities to yourself?
I think I started out completely in that Iggy Pop direction of what was referred to as the quintessential "angry young man": shirtless, screaming, aggressive, didn't care if I sang on key, sort of unrestrainable in a live situation. But there was always another side to me, intellectually, that wanted other things.
When did things come to a head between those personalities?
I had an identity crisis in the early '90s. I was the first guy sort of running around climbing up into the rafters, like a jungle boy, and smashing guitars and crowd surfing. And then I started seeing it [in other bands] a lot. I remember one day going in my closet and seeing that all my clothes essentially looked like what everyone in Alice in Chains wore. So I shaved my head, changed what I wore and, from that point on in, like, 1992, delved into a different character and tried to find different aspects of my personality through the music more than anything. And I kind of shed that guy, whoever he was.