Whether as solo act or singer of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog, Chris Cornell’s been behind some of the biggest and best songs in rock. But for his new outing, he’s just bringing his acoustic along for the ride…
Words: George Garner (Twitter @george_garner8)
In this week’s new issue of Kerrang!, Chris Cornell reveals the inspiration behind his new solo record, Higher Truth – a 12-track set produced by Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Neil Young), and the first all-acoustic outing in his studio discography. Over this delicate music, he’s exploring – among other things – the nature of the universe.
“We’re in this weird age where there’s more and more immediate distraction and we’re all getting used to it,” explains Chris. “The distraction is just absurd – watching a YouTube video of a guy falling off a skateboard, this kind of crap! Our eyes are just sort of buried into our smart phones now, so I think we’re going through a period of getting further and further away from recognising what we have, which is this crazy planet full of amazing things.”
While that explains the title-track, Chris has also revealed his inspiration behind the album’s stunning lead-single, Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart. It may be acoustic, but Chris still thinks it’s in dialogue with one of Soundgarden’s classic songs…
What inspired you to write Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart?
Chris Cornell: “Well, originally it was going to be a country song. I think I was on the Soundgarden tour and it popped into my head. The initial idea I got from it was: what happens when someone suddenly realises that they’re moving on with their lives? Whether they had a bad experience, or got fired, or are suffering with their self-esteem, or got dumped – whatever it is – and feeling like life is going to be dark forever, and then you realise one day, ‘Wow, I don’t know what was going on, but I realise I haven’t been thinking about how fucking miserable I am!’ In a way, I suppose, hearing myself describe it, it’s kind of the opposite of the lyrics I wrote for [Soundgarden’s Superunknown single] Fell On Black Days, which is like, ‘Everything’s going wrong, I’m having an awful time in my life but I can’t really point at any specific reason why.’ I think both of those things happen, but Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart kind of points out the really great one – the one that I think that people need to wait for when they’re considering jumping off a bridge. Because anything can happen.”
How did the song come together?
“It didn’t become a country song because I didn’t like the sound of it. I tried to get more personality out of it to make it warm from beginning to end. I looked back, changed it, and added the mandolin part, which became the thread through the whole song. I took the mandolin track that I recorded at home from the demo and that’s the actual demo that you hear – we just built the whole song around the demo of the mandolin track!”
Where did the idea of doing an all-acoustic record come from?
“Well, it started out as an idea to make the solo acoustic touring I’ve been doing more of a living thing as opposed to a look back at my career. [The acoustic tour] has become, in essence, my solo identity in a way, because I’ve been doing it for the longest I’ve ever taken one approach to a solo effort. It made sense as a way to bring in all the songs throughout my history and all my big bands and put them on one stage, in one place, but without anything in the way of it. You can hear the lyrics, you can hear my voice, without it having to compete with so much other stuff. That ended up being a great experience for me, so I wanted to write new material that really, essentially, makes this a living thing instead of just a nostalgia thing. I think that’s helped start to, in some way, create a solo Chris Cornell identity musically, whereas previously I think what I was trying to do was avoid having solo identity. The first instance being [1999 solo debut] Euphoria Morning – my goal was to not sound like Soundgarden in anyway at all.”
Euphoria Morning’s a very highly regarded record, though…
“Yeah, I think it is. I really love the songs on the record. I think the challenge of that record was not so much defining who I was as a solo guy, but being able to write a collection of songs without having a specific artistic direction. When you’re used to writing for bands for so long, or one specific band for so long, you kind of know what that band is and you’re already outside of yourself when you’re doing it. When that’s what you’re used to, to sort of walk in and say, ‘Okay, now it’s just me: who am I?’ That’s great, I can be anything I want in the context of writing songs. That’s a great position to be in. But what is that going to be!? [laughs] Shit, I don’t know, so I just start writing songs!’”
You’ve done a lot of looking back lately – Soundgarden’s Superunknown’s 20th Anniversary, Pearl Jam’s PJ20 documentary, Sonic Highways, Mad Season/Temple Of The Dog revivals. Did any of those reflections on the early days inspire these songs?
“I think there’s two aspects to take from looking back when making an album like this. One of them is that I wrote songs and actually released songs of just me and an acoustic guitar that people really embraced, but never a collection of them. The first one that really got a lot of airplay was Seasons, and then there was also a song called Sunshower. There was a looking back to aspects of what I’ve already done that people really love and that have been very fulfilling, but then I also had to discover some new ability to write multiple songs in a very spare, straight forward way where it just worked sitting and playing acoustic guitar. That’s the opposite of what the tour is because the tour takes in songs that are from rock bands – whether it’s Temple Of The Dog, Soundgarden or Audioslave and even some of my solo songs are rock songs – and bringing them down into this stripped down acoustic intimate thing. Now I’m doing the opposite, which is starting there! What’s interesting to me is, are those two worlds going to work side by side? Are the songs that were written and arranged entirely [on acoustic] going to play well through the other ones? And am I that guy, too? Can I be that writer? A writer that can write multiple songs with simple arrangements and the audience will still be interested in the same way they are when I take more complex songs, songs that were much more aggressive and layered, and bringing them down. We’ll see!”
Full Higher Truth tracklisting:
1. Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
2. Dead Wishes
3. Worried Moon
4. Before We Disappear
5. Through The Window
7. Murderer Of Blue Skies
8. Higher Truth
9. Let Your Eyes Wander
10. Only These Words
12. Our Time In The Universe
13. Bend In The Road
14. Wrong Side
15. Misery Chain
16. Our Time In The Universe (Remix)
Higher Truth is out September 18 via Universal. Pre-order the album now via iTunes.