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Chris Cornell — who, at age 52, was found dead from suicide May 17 after playing a Soundgarden concert in Detroit — released his fifth and final solo LP, Higher Truth, in September 2015. His death came as a shock to most, especially since the grunge god had expressed that he planned to rock well into his golden years. In fact, the month before dropping that particular album — on which he tried out an acoustic route — he said in an optimistic interview, “I plan on doing this forever.” Nobody had any reason to doubt him.
Here’s that full interview from 2015, in which Cornell also discusses Seattle’s musical legacy and some favorite lyrics from Higher Truth — including the now-chilling-in-retrospective line, “Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard/It’ll show you who you truly are.”
YAHOO MUSIC: One of my favorite songs on Higher Truth is “Before We Disappear.” I love that line, “Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard/It’ll show you who you truly are.”
CHRIS CORNELL: That’s one of those songs that kind of happened in one moment. I just picked up a guitar and started playing it, and those lines just came out. I had a dream when I was in Seattle with my wife. I woke up from this dream, and as I woke up it was like I was sort of flying away above us. I remember feeling like our whole life is wrapped up in moments, but we have to be really aware because it’s so short. That was kind of what the song was about to me. We have to be really aware of every moment together. All we really know is that we have this life. Who knows what else is gonna happen? Let’s not let it suddenly be over and we didn’t appreciate it from day to day, from hour to hour, ’cause life’s gonna fly by.
Having been in the game for more than 35 years now, did you ever imagine you’d still be rocking in your fifties?
Yeah, I kinda did. I mean, I didn’t know what it would be like. I didn’t know that it would be like this necessarily. But yeah, definitely. I would look at older blues musicians who just keep going into their seventies. They keep doing it until they drop dead. And I’ve always felt like that’s what I want to do. I’ve felt that since the day I was able to start playing music for a living. I don’t see the point of thinking about retiring because it’s not work to begin with. I plan on doing this forever.
Looking back on the grunge movement, do you think something like that could happen in today’s music landscape?
I don’t know. In terms of a genre kind of coming out of nowhere and a collection of different bands and artists going in what is perceived to be a like direction, I’m not sure how much that is possible when you consider how much is going on. Seattle very much benefited from this geography where it was a town nobody had really heard of in terms of a music scene. So we had that factor of being a new discovery. Now, especially due to the internet, everybody has access to everything from everywhere. So we have become this kind of global network of songwriters and recording artists. I don’t know if that will lend itself to one specific movement or genre that kind of reinvents how everyone thinks about music. But I think it’s totally unpredictable. The one thing I know is that I don’t know what’s coming.
What do you think about the current state of rock?
Hip-hop kind of absorbed rock, in terms of the attitude and the whole point of why rock was important music. Young people felt like rock music was theirs, from Elvis to the Beatles to the Ramones to Nirvana. This was theirs; it wasn’t their parents’. I think hip-hop became the musical style that embraces that mentality.
You have one of the greatest voices in rock. Which rock voice do you love most?
I think Freddie Mercury is probably the best of all time, in terms of a rock voice. There was a vulnerability to it, his technical ability was amazing, and so much of his personality would come out through his voice. I’m not even a guy to buy Queen records, really, and I still think he’s one of the best.
Besides your 2011 solo acoustic tour, what else inspired Higher Truth?
It goes back to 1989-1990, when we were at our most aggressive period in Soundgarden, and I just wanted to hear something that wasn’t guitar feedback. I started listening to anything that I could find that was super stripped-down. I bought the Nick Drake boxed set, and my favorite album was Pink Moon, where it’s really just him and a guitar. And then around ’91, I wrote a song called “Seasons” that was on the Singles soundtrack. It just had acoustic guitar and it got radio airplay, and I remember thinking at that point, “One day I’ll make an acoustic album.” It just didn’t happen until now.
How did you have to change your creative process to work acoustically?
I had to reinvent my songwriting a little bit to make it work. Lyrics were a big factor. I felt like there really needed to be a story that was easier to connect to than some of the more metaphoric, atmospheric lyrics that I write. I had to be way more diligent about finding the right key and the right tempo. And I had to actually learn some guitar styles that I’d never played. It was really a rewarding experience to be able to go into new territory like that and come out on the other side.
What was the inspiration behind the single “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”?
I was on tour with Soundgarden, and I remember writing down the title. The title immediately brought up the idea of the song, which is that someone is so distracted by a new person or a new thing in their life that they kind of forgot that they had given up on life. Sometimes it just happens without us even noticing.
You also just reissued your 1999 solo debut Euphoria Morning, but with its originally intended title Euphoria Mourning. What was up with that title switch?
People who heard the title thought that it was “morning,” so my manager at the time suggested that I take the “u” out and just let the misconception become the reality. I regretted changing it right away, but it was too late and I swallowed it. So when the idea came up to re-release it, I thought, “Can we put the ‘u’ back in there?”
There was negative reaction when you collaborated with Timbaland on your last solo studio album, Scream. What do you think about that whole project now?
I expected it to get bad reviews, I expected it to get somewhat of a negative fan reaction, because it wasn’t going to be what anyone who was an old fan or a hardcore fan wanted to hear from me. But having said that, I feel like there are a lot of people who only know that album from me and really love it, and there’s also fans of mine who over the years started to get into it. That was always the best that I felt like I could ever hope for.
What would you say are your career highlights at this point?
Johnny Cash doing a song that I wrote [Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”] is definitely one. When I finally met him, it was like I was talking to God and Jesus at the same time. And the royal premiere of the James Bond film Casino Royale with my song [“You Know My Name”] in the opening title sequence was pretty crazy. But I was pissed off that they had the volume turned way down on the movie because the Queen was going to be there, so when the song started it was too quiet.