Chris Cornell: 'I Just Prefer To Be A Solo Artist'

artist: Chris Cornell date: 05/05/2007 category: interviews
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Chris Cornell: 'I Just Prefer To Be A Solo Artist'
It seems as quickly as Audioslave's last album Revelations came out, the band combining the musical talents of Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine also sent the message that it was splitting up. While there has been plenty of talk that money was the reason behind the band dissolving, vocalist Chris Cornell recently talked with UG writer Amy Kelly to reveal the actual motivations behind it all. According to Cornell, the business aspect did come into play along the way, but essentially he just wanted to concentrate on doing what a band should be doing: writing, recording, and performing. The more those activities were pushed to the backburner, the more Cornell realized that a solo career was a logical next step. Although the US release date of his solo record Carry On has been pushed back to June 5, Cornell is already making a huge impression upon audiences with his latest tour. His setlist covers his entire career, including songs that Cornell admits he never played much with his previous bands. And while some fans out there might be waiting to find out about a reconciliation with Audioslave or Soundgarden, Cornell told Ultimate Guitar that he will be flying solo indefinitely. UG: You recorded your last solo record Euphoria Morning back in 1999. What was it about the present time that inspired you to make another solo album? Chris: I guess that question will come up a lot lately, where there kind of has been the distinction made between me making a solo record and then working with a band. I don't make a distinction so much. To me, it's my next record. Whatever circumstance, situation I'm in, whoever I'm working with when I'm making a record, it's all kind of the same to me. When I'm making a record, I'm trying to make it the best that I can and write the best songs that I can so that I can make an interesting record that I'm inspired by. Doing a solo, it obviously removed for the most part anyone that I'm collaborating with. It has its up sides and it has some down sides. It's always kind of one thing or the other, with the upsides, which for me at this time on my life, clearly outweighing the downsides. I just have to move in any direction musically. My pace tends to be pretty focused and pretty fast. I guess I'm sort of moving in the opposite direction that people move in after they've had 20 years of doing this, going in the direction where I'm trying to and have been trying to develop a way to play in front of more people. To be able to tour more, to be able to put out records more readily. I also enjoy that whole process more. I think everybody wants their job to be as fulfilling as it can be, and I'm lucky to be in a situation where I get to do what I do for a living. Performing night after night is one of the most satisfying things I've ever been able to do. To be able to wake up in the morning, go into the spare bedroom and like write a song and make a demo that's going to be on my next record, and that's kind of my job. I get to do that for several weeks before I go make a record. That's a pretty great job! To me, that is living. That's the excitement of life. So to be on my own, I think it's just the best thing for me now. It wasn't a situation where it's like, Okay, I'm making a solo record. It's 1999. Now it's a completely different world and now the years have gone by and I want to have that experience again. It's just another record.
"After 3 albums in my opinion a band kind of needs to go back to the creative well."
Was there a turning point in Audioslave that you realized the band just was not working anymore? Well, there are 2 for me, neither of which were like insurmountable. But putting the 2 together, combined with the fact that I can make great records on my own and have a great time doing it - putting the 2 together made it, for me, not worth it to continue. One of them was that there were certain aspects of how we conducted business that were still in tact that those 3 guys brought in from their history with Rage Against The Machine that I didn't necessarily like, wasn't agreeing with, and things weren't changing. Probably more than most bands, I actually made a concerted effort to resolve those issues. We came to an agreement and yet things didn't change. That becomes time consuming. It takes away from what it is that we were supposed to be doing, which is writing music, making records, and touring. From the very beginning, the agreement was - and I was outspoken about it - as long as this is fun and it's not complicated and we're having a good time and it's not like a clash, then I'm happy to do it and we'll make great records. Otherwise, I'm having a perfectly good time doing a solo career. So that kind of crept in again for the second time. The other thing is, that after 3 albums, especially during a period of time that was that short, in my opinion a band kind of needs to go back to the creative well. Just go bring some new way of writing, a new identity that they can achieve as a band. My experiences with Soundgarden were clearly that, going from Louder Than Love to Badmotorfinger to Superunknown, we made great musical strides. It wasn't easy, but to keep myself happy and interested at an artistic level, it's something that has to be done. I felt that the only way it's going to happen for me is I'm going to have to put a lot of effort into making that change. I would rather do that alone. I think it's the best for me. Three records was a great amount of records to do. I think the third record was something that wasn't any less than the first one. They were all different and they were all great. We had a great time doing them. We got along great doing them. We put it to bed without putting out an embarrassing record or do some long hiatus that keeps me from making records or be onstage. Your new solo record definitely shows the diversity you're exploring now, with everything from R&B to grooving rock riffs showing up on it. Do you usually begin each song idea on an acoustic guitar or are they abstract ideas? Usually my fingers don't have much to do with it, as far as the mental process. There are a couple songs that I literally kind of just sat and made noise, just like I used to do Soundgarden until some inspiration hit me. I would try to kind of just fly with the song and put it together. Most of the songs kind of happened more in my head, where it's just melodies and changes and ideas and lyrics and lyrical melodies. Then once that's pretty concrete in my imagination, then I would pick up the guitar and figure out what those chords are. That amounted for a really, really enormous tap to draw from to even create the song. Like the song Safe And Sound, which ended up becoming the soul ballad. My brain was more of like a moody, melodic Pink Floyd song, an old school one. But once I started translating it to guitar and then singing over it and playing the parts, when I started singing it especially, what came out naturally was more of what's on the record. I just go with whatever feels most natural. The other thing I think that I've had a lot of luck with - and I truly kind of believe in this and I always have - is that the first inspiration is probably the most honest one. It may not technically necessarily be the best thing, but I think in terms of relating it and in terms of making honest music, it's the most honest thing and the most relatable. I think that's part of why I've been able to make 4 records in the last 5 years. It's trusting that ability and that instinct. It's that, Here's an inspiration, rather than do what I would have done 15 years ago and kind of questioned it and compare it and think about it. Is this really a great idea or am I wasting my time here? That amount of thought can take days. Whereas I could be done with 3 songs in that amount of time, and then listen back and make my decision on it later. That initial inspiration is the most honest. It might not be the story I want to tell. It may not be the way I want to be perceived because I would like people to think of my in some other light. The honesty part I think is ultimately is the most exciting. Your setlists from recent concerts seem to cover your entire career thoroughly. When you're performing older songs like Loud Love, is it easy to go back to the mindset you had when you originally wrote it? Yeah, I think of it more as like a playlist on my IPod. You've got all the subcategories. One of them is Artist, one of them is Playlist. To me, it's putting all those songs together in a way that makes sense in a live context. But the other is I've always been kind of a forward looker, thinker in my career. I've always been thinking about the next step. Obviously, the amount of time between Revelations and my solo record is not a lot of time, but I'm already putting out my own record. I still am that way. But there are songs that we're playing on this tour that I either have not done in years or were never done very much or never at all. That's the 50-50. It's 50 percent for the fans and 50 percent for me, to be able to get up these songs and have it feel fresh and just have a good time.
"The first inspiration is probably the most honest one."
Is there any one song you have written during your career that you consider a defining moment in terms of songwriting? I think lyrically Outshined is one of those. That's a song musically that I messed around with for a long time. Back then, it was pretty typical that I'd spend a long time on the music for a song. But that was just that my proficiency as a guitar player to get what I heard in my head out on the guitar wasn't very easy because I never played the instrument for any other reason than to write songs. Lyrically, I was in sort of a self-imposed isolation so that I could really focus on writing lyrics. I was working on a bunch of songs I wrote musically and also songs that the other guys in the band wrote. When I got on to Outshined, I was really just kind of in a flow and I wrote that line Looking California and feeling Minnesota. I remember specifically thinking that it was pretty confessional and autobiographical, but also sounded really stupid to me. I just had a moment of panic thinking, What the hell am I doing? You can really sort of have freak-outs like that. I just chose to keep that in there. Then for some reason, as odd as it sounds, we started playing the song live in front of people, who were keyed in on that one specific line that freaked me out! That was a big lesson. That kind of broke things open lyrically. Still to this day, people look at that line and part of it became the title to a film, where the director said that's where he got it. That was a big lesson. The one thing that really I thought might be over-confessional or stupid was something that was immediately cued in on and still is. Musically, was there a defining song? Musically there were a lot of them, but I guess Black Hole Sun would be one. I remember finishing the demo in my basement, where I recorded all the parts to the music. So it was basically like a really lo-fi version of what's on the record. I'm listening back to it, and sonically it was a really difficult song to listen to because the recording was bad. But I just knew that there was something about that song that I had tapped into. It was all done in my head and done really quickly, and yet it had components to it unlike anything I had heard. I didn't know that other people would want to hear it. The fact that it was a song like that with lyrics like that and they play it on rock radio - it ended up being like the hit of that summer! Looking to the future, do you think you'll be sticking with the solo career? I really don't see the point of doing anything else. I've done some interesting collaborations. I definitely have messed around and done that, really more than I have done my own projects. I think I just prefer to be a solo artist from now on. Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2007
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