Travis Hay of Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently conducted an in-depth interview with AUDIOSLAVE/ex-SOUNDGARDEN frontman Chris Cornell. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Has living outside of the country [Cornell resides in Paris, France with his wife and daughter] helped with things coming full circle?
Chris Cornell: "Living outside of the country has helped in terms of just personal inspiration in a lot of different ways. One of them I think is just being an American living outside of America in an international city such as Paris where Americans aren't necessarily the most popular folks there. Seeing just the general humanity of that, living in a place where the U.S. isn't necessarily considered the center of the universe and learning what's great about the country I come from and what's great about other countries and the way they think.
"For example, medical care in a country like France and its socialized medicine — everybody gets it. Everybody gets dental care, everybody gets everything and they don't have to pay for it. If you go to a pharmacy to get any type of medication, prescription or otherwise, the most you're going to pay is like $4 for something. That's incredible. When you see a country take care of its people regardless of class, or how much money they make, or what color they are, that's pretty inspiring.
"But for example, the very fact that I m able to live outside of the U.S. and come and go; I couldn't do that if I wasn't a U.S. citizen. The freedom I have as a U.S. citizen is unparalleled. Despite the fact people may not like American passports, having that passport affords me more freedoms than any other passport could. It's (living outside of the country) just opened my eyes to a lot of different things.
"Paris is a very international city. There are a lot of Middle Easterners there. There are a lot of Africans there. There are obviously people from lots of different parts of Europe there. In fact I know more people who aren't French than who are. That's been really eye opening; hearing stories from all over the world in a way that is just like you and I are hanging out having a conversation.
"One person from Yugoslavia, one person from Armenia, one person is from Algeria, one person that is from Iran. It's very inspiring and very eye opening and I think it is a great experience for me to have at 40-years old, to see the world open up and get all these fresh perspectives. Kind of like a life begins at 40 feeling. I recommend it for anyone who can do it.
"I think that one of the main privileges of what I do, which I am just starting to learn, is to have the ability to travel all over the world and experience different cultures. I wasn't necessarily interested in that when I was in my twenties, I was interested in taking what I did as angry young singer to wherever I could go and just do that and just kind of present that and express it and then let the chips fall where they may and move on. I didn't really care who I was doing it in front of.
"Early on in a rock band it's kind of an us against the world mentality and we (SOUNDGARDEN) had that. Right now it's really turned around as the opposite. I'm interested in where I'm going and the people I am there to see. Going to Cuba was a great example of that and the succession of going into Cuba, which is not a very easy place to get into, and playing music for people who have never seen a live rock concert outdoors like that. And seeing them feel out what they do because they're used to listening to and seeing performed music that they participate in, dancing and jumping up and down while playing music. They are very participatory in their music.
"Then, going from there to Mexico City it was entirely opposite. Everyone had the records, everyone knew every song, and they were going off like the most intense rock crowd you're every going to see. In some ways emulating American rock audiences and in some ways being completely Mexican, it was incredible. The diversity of the cultures appears in the diversity of the fans at each show and how they respond. It's like how different countries are different and different states are different. A Texas audience is going to be completely different from a New York audience or a Minneapolis audience.
"I have come to believe the main privilege (of being in a band) is to travel all over and see things and experience it in a way other people can't. If someone is wealthy and they are just a tourist, we can see those aspects of things when we are traveling but also we work. We end up at the backdoors of venues with people who are working and we work with them and we see people who have just got off of work. It's a little different. That's one of the things that when we (AUDIOSLAVE) started as a band we said we wanted to do. Cuba definitely came from that, which was to be a little more adventurous in terms of our traveling and where we wanted to play.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Opening your eyes to various cultures and living out of the country and the experiences that you've had, has that made it easier to work with the former RAGE [AGAINST THE MACHINE] guys who are a little more political? AUDIOSLAVE's stuff isn't political and you've gone on record as saying you really don't want it to be.
Chris Cornell: "I think it has helped that I am a little more educated on a world political view I suppose than I was. I've spent most of my life as an artist up until now trying to isolate myself from being exposed to a lot of different people's political opinions and really any sort of outside influence unless I wanted it.
"I have always been more of an observer from an isolated area and in the last few years that has kind of changed. I have become someone who participates and someone who is more outgoing. Obviously in my relationships with my family and whoever might be there, I feel that is starting to come out a little bit. But I think the human experience is pretty broad and I want to cover any aspect of that I feel like covering and not concern myself too much with my political opinion or my opinion of other people's political opinion.
"We took a stab at 'Hunger Strike' a few days ago, and I haven't sang that song in a long time, and strangely enough doing that song with Brad [Wilk] and Tom [Morello] and Tim [Commerford] made me remember that the lyrics are somewhat of a political, socialist statement. Doing that song with everyone that was in TEMPLE OF THE DOG it felt like singing with Eddie [Vedder, PEARL JAM], but it felt more so when you put it in a set with some of the RAGE songs we are doing and some of the other songs AUDIOSLAVE is doing. It just had a different feeling. Being played by those three guys and I, it came across differently to me.
"Maybe it's all in my head, but it made me begin to think about all of the songs I had written that actually were politically motivated or had string political opinions behind them. There are a lot of them. Compared to everything I have written maybe it's ten percent or less, but as long as it comes out naturally I'm perfectly happy with it.
"The song on 'Out of Exile' that opens the record we also open with every night, 'Your Time Has Come', was received by the band as a political statement, but to me it wasn't. It was personal. It was kind of a reflection. I have met a lot of people over the years who have died for stupid reasons, in accidents or whatever, and when I looked back at it the list got longer and longer.
"In the bridge of the song I draw a correlation between the people I know who have died unfortunately and my visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, where you just see what seems like an infinite amount of names of young people who died for something that's ridiculous. They (Cornell's current band members) took it very much as that song being a political statement and I guess it depends on how you look at it."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: How does it feel different being onstage with Tim, Brad and Tom than it did with (former SOUNDGARDEN members) Kim (Thayil), Matt (Cameron) and Ben (Shepard)?
Chris Cornell: "It's really hard to compare. In some ways there are similarities. Tom is an innovative guitar player who is educated and Kim was an innovative guitar player who is educated. They are both from the Chicago suburbs and they're both not white. Timmy and Ben are both very eccentric, very aggressive and both have a very powerful presence on stage. Matt and Brad have a lot of similarities in terms of their personalities and in terms of confidence that me, as a musician, can have when either one of those people are behind me.
"As a group performing it's a completely different ball game. Brad, Tim and Tom have been in a band together for so long I think between the three of them have a sense of subconscious timing, rhythm and feel that is unlike any band I have ever played with."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Do you still talk to Kim and Ben and Matt?
Chris Cornell: "Yeah. We've remained friends since the breakup of SOUNDGARDEN. There was no animosity in the breakup of SOUNDGARDEN. So we are all still friends."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: I suppose the question all the Seattle readers want to know is that since you have never really ruled out a SOUNDGARDEN reunion do you think it will happen?
Chris Cornell: "You know I don't know where the motivation to do so would come from and the longer we're not together I have a harder time imagining where that motivation might come from. I don't think there are too many rock bands in history that can look at the beginning and middle and ending of themselves and see what I see when I think of SOUNDGARDEN. I think from the beginning through the middle and the end it was such a perfect ride and such a perfect legacy to leave.
"It's almost like we sealed the lid and said this is SOUNDGARDEN and this is its lifespan and put it out there and it looks really great to me. I think getting back together would take the lid off that and then could possibly change what to up to now to me seems like the perfect lifespan of the band. I can't think of any reason to mess with that. Everyone in the band is doing other things musically and everyone in the band is very proud of SOUNDGARDEN. To answer your question, probably not."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Are there any SOUNDGARDEN songs you would not play or anything RAGE that is off limits since you are mixing in those songs into your sets?
Chris Cornell: "Thus far we have only done SOUNDGARDEN songs I wrote all the music for. That started out mainly because I thought it might feel a little weird. You can't replace Kim or Ben or Matt. I felt like if we're going to do a SOUNDGARDEN song I would prefer it be something I wrote because I feel closer to it and less like I am taking it out of the context of SOUNDGARDEN. At this point I feel like the fans as well as the ex-member of SOUNDGARDEN should feel like it is a tribute, because that's what it is really.
"Tom and Brad and Tim were huge fans of SOUNDGARDEN before I ever met them. The songs we have played they play incredibly well, they take very seriously and they love. The reverse is true for the RAGE songs. I love the RAGE songs that we do and it's such a different feeling. It adds something to the live sets I wouldn't bring on my own. It's not something I would have thought to bring. But I can go there and I enjoy. What a gift that is for us to have such long legacies of such varied musical fields and tap into any time we want and we can make them ours and they're good. We're in a really good spot."