Chris Cornell on Why 'Avengers' Debuted the First New Soundgarden Song in 15 Years (Q&A)
"It's the only way to get your music in front of people," says the rocker of "Live to Rise," which was offered for free on iTunes its first week of release.
The Avengers movie opening May 4 in the U.S. will premiere a new Soundgarden song. "Live to Rise," which does not appear on the band's hotly anticipated new album due in the fall but will no doubt be heard on this summer's Soundgarden tour, is the band's first in 15 years (it's available on iTunes, or listen below). Why take the film route with a legacy of being one of grunge's greatest? Lead singer Chris Cornell explains to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: You once said your Golden Globe-nominated solo song for Machine Gun Preacher came to you while biking the Mulholland hills. Did "Live to Rise" come so easily?
Chris Cornell: This song came arduously. It's different, because it has to be a Soundgarden song. It has to resonate with every band member. Writing a song for the Avengers film, it has to be lyrically not specific to the movie or the story, but it has to work with it. It wasn't so easy. But it turned out absolutely a Soundgarden song.
THR: The "Live to Rise" riff has a "Spoonman"-esque vibe ...
THR: But not too much.
Cornell: Yeah, I think it works. It doesn't give away our album, but it could coexist with it.
THR: Soundgarden songs arose like action paintings: a lot of splatter going on, and then the patterns would start to show up, and those complicated time signatures. Making that all cohere -- wasn't it the opposite process of having a tune come into your head on a bike high above L.A.?
Cornell: That's well described. But that has happened in Soundgarden, where it was that easy, where something does fall out of the sky onto your head. And seems to be fully formed and work in the context of what can be a complex, um, group of people. The challenges seem to me to be managing this kind of indescribable chaos that exists when the four of us play together. No matter how much experience we have, we don't seem to necessarily have control over it. Somehow on this album, we haven't had to worry about controlling it.
THR: With no record label, you released "Live to Rise" on iTunes for free during its first week (April 17-24), where it got 150,000 downloads in a day. What's the strategy?
Cornell: It's such a different environment. In this day and age, you don't have the monolithic record company with seemingly limitless resources and multimillion-dollar profits. They don't exist. Which is why a partnership like this exists. The movie company does have that, and they will promote it. It's the only way to get your music in front of people -- that and the age-old way of getting out there and playing. There was a time when the idea of staying at home sounded good. That's long since gone. It's a privilege to be able to travel the world and play music you wrote for people. Millions of people write songs no one will hear except a few who follow them on Facebook and their grandparents, who begrudgingly listen because they love their grandchildren.
THR: Is it different now that you have 28 years' worth of chops under your belt?
Cornell: Everyone's worked with other people, seen it from different angles, seen how lots of other people do things. Just learning individually how we can get the sounds and textures and performances closest to what we're thinking -- that was always our biggest problem. We knew who we were and how we sounded onstage. The only crisis we ever had was getting into the studio and getting that on tape. Most of it had to do with not keeping it simple. As the years go by, you also learn all kinds of little ways to articulate things the way you want to hear them in the studio.
THR: You've been active, but it's like you're all back from a long vacation.
Cornell: It seems like that. It seems like we've only had a five-year break. Everyone's come back refreshed and renewed and excited.
THR: Is it fun to get together with these guys, musically?
THR: What do you bring to one another's party?
Cornell: We're a rare commodity in that all four members contribute not just arrangement ideas but actual music. The drummer [Matt Cameron, also of Pearl Jam] brings in songs. He's multi-instrumental. Our bass player [Ben Shepherd] is multi-instrumental, writes songs, releases albums. Matt and I co-write songs, [guitarist] Kim Thayil and I co-write, Ben and I co-write, and they write together. A number of songwriting partnerships come together under this one umbrella that is Soundgarden. This thing that's larger than the sum of its parts. You can't take one out. If somebody quit, we wouldn't be Soundgarden. Nobody in this band is expendable.
THR: Is Cameron different after Pearl Jam? You Seattle guys were always one big mosh pit.
Cornell: He's been good since I've known him. He definitely knows what he wants, and he's meticulous about getting it.
THR: Did you have good discussions recording the new music?
Cornell: We always do. With every new song, there's a discussion of what it means and what it can mean.
THR: Is there a way to say how the new album is like and unlike a Soundgarden album of old?
Cornell: No, not really. I mean, it's like any Soundgarden album of old in that it's extremely diverse and within the definition of what we all believe Soundgarden should sound like, and pushes that boundary simultaneously. But I always thought it was a waste of time trying to describe us. A band that can do "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Black Hole Sun" with equal conviction and equally authentic, seemingly effortlessly -- that's a wide enough spread that practically anything can fit between those two moods. And then it becomes impossible to describe. It's like an abstract painting ..."
THR: No! No!
THR: How about the analogy of Soundgarden as The Avengers? Superheroes individually. Superheroes together.
Cornell: Yeah, that would be good. One is the cat, one is the spaceman, one is the monster, and one is the guy with the star on his face -- whatever Paul Stanley is supposed to be.
THR: What's the point of reuniting? Didn't you accomplish everything already?
Cornell: The only reason would be to add to a legacy in a meaningful way. Which is a big risk, when you have an authentic musical legacy. You're not a band that started to fall apart and lost members and continued to make records sort of at half-mast and touring just because there was a market for it. And all those pitfalls most bands do. We didn't do any of that, so we sort of disbanded leaving the legacy spotless. I definitely had trepidation. But now I'm speaking to you pretty much being done with the next album, and I feel like we absolutely added to it, so I'm thrilled with it. And you know what? To be honest, if that wasn't the case, I don't think we'd put out anything, even if we went to the trouble of recording it. If it didn't elevate it, we wouldn't put it out.
THR: It's widely reported that you tweeted about Soundgarden's fan club, the press misunderstood this as a reunion announcement, and the reunion then happened sort of by accident.
Cornell: Yeah, that's bullshit. I've said that's bullshit 100 times, and nobody really believes it. Who cares?