Chris Cornell: A Songwriter Blooms in Soundgarden
Rotondi, James, Guitar Player
It seemed like the only alternative. Feeling penned in and distracted by the numerous roommates in his small house, Chris Cornell couldn't get any writing done, and with recording for Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger just a few weeks away, he needed space. With his little dog in tow, Cornell retreated to a serviceable oceanside cabin for 10 days without so much as a phone call from another human being.
"It started to get pretty wild after the fifth day," recalls the singer/guitarist from his Seattle home. "The voice in your head becomes really loud, and since all you're doing is thinking, anything memorable that happens that day happens in your head." Despite admittedly "getting paranoid and freaking out," Cornell hung out long enough to write some incredible lyrics, like "Drawing Flies," which he frantically scribbled down just as he was preparing to return to society. A tough way to get some good lines? "Hey," shrugs Cornell, "it worked."
The 29-year-old performed doesn't spend all his time recreating Walden Pond, though. White it generally takes a few hours alone for "the flood gates to open," Cornell values the wealth of ideas that only human contact can provide: "Especially really inane conversations where people say things that are totally benign, stupid, and drunken. They can strike you as really important." Musically, privacy is not an issue, as Cornell says he invents his share of Soundgarden's angular, alternate-tuned riffs (see The New Alternate Tunings, Dec. '92 GP) on Les Pauls "even in the most chaotic scenes."
Cornell says he often finds it easier to be "vocally creative" over odd-time riffs: "In a weird time signature there's really only one thing you can sing, and it jumps right out at you. Straight-four riffs have been around for so long that you can end up writing the same song 500 times." Chris also leaves room for happenstance. "Birth Ritual," Soundgarden's contribution to the Singles movie soundtrack (which also features Cornell's Zep-esque acoustic solo piece, "Seasons"), features a tough, D-tuned 7/8 riff by drummer Matt Cameron overlaid with a shrieking melody Cornell says he had in mind before he ever heard the music. …