Chris Cornell Looks Back At Soundgarden's Superunknown

(Radio.com) Superunknown was both Soundgarden's most commercially successful album, and their most highly acclaimed. In an era obsessed with stringent notions of underground credibility, the band took risks by bringing a new sense of melody into the mix. Also helping: Chris Cornell added singing to his previously abrasive vocal repertoire. Soundgarden achieved the rare combination of sales and respect: Superunknown debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the spring of 1994, going on to sell five million copies in the U.S. It got five-star reviews in Rolling Stone and metal mag Kerrang!; even the mainstream-leaning Entertainment Weekly gave it an A.

This year marks the album's 20th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion, the band is releasing deluxe editions of the album on June 3. This summer, they're co-headlining a tour with fellow alt-rock legends, Nine Inch Nails. Cornell was thoughtful in discuss both subjects, including why the he doesn't appear on the album track "Half," why "Mailman" still resonates today, and how NIN influenced his band.

Radio.com: You recently performed Superunknown from start to finish at South By Southwest. Did you enjoy it?

Cornell: That's a pretty dramatic concentration of songs. [South By Southwest] was the first time we ever played them in a row. As we performed it live, every song was in a different turning, so we had to swap guitars after every song. That kind of gets in the way of the flow, but it was OK, it worked.

Radio.com: Does the fact that you're coming off of a very strong and well-received album, [2012's] King Animal, make you more enthused about a reissue project?

Cornell: I think that there's some validity to the idea that, had we not made a new album, we wouldn't be so happy about anniversaries and re-releases and repackaging. But in the back of my mind, I always knew that if we got back together, we're gonna start creating something new.

Radio.com: Superunknown was very different from your previous albums. Do you feel that you were progressing as a lyricist?

Cornell: I think I was changing my focus a little bit. I wasn't a lyricist when the band formed, it kind of happened out of default because I was singing. I don't think that I had a lot of confidence as a lyricist, and I don't think that I really wanted to tell my story. To me, Soundgarden was its own entity, this weird, gloomy, psychedelic creature. My lyrics, early on, were more atmospheric and were there to support the atmosphere that the music created. As time went on, I think I yearned to do more with it, and that's when I started opening the door into who I am. Had that not worked, I would have slammed that door. But it worked! I think at some point you have to do that to really connect with your audience, that's a very powerful thing as well. By the same token, always wanting it to be something not so specifically about me or what I think about things, so that whoever is listening to it can adapt it to their life.

Radio.com: "Mailman" was unlike anything you had written before.

Cornell: I think it's like this tiny voice of a forgotten person, or a person who feels forgotten or powerless. I think that there are bedrooms full of those people in the world, and especially here in the U.S., this is a culture that thrives on making a name for yourself, a face for yourself, we're goal oriented, we're achievement-oriented. And so we're growing up in this culture feeling that we have to do something to distinguish ourselves in a country full of 350 million where it's impossible for everyone to distinguish themselves somehow. That is one of the main reasons why we have these horrible incidents of somebody walking into a public place and shooting everyone. What happened to John Lennon was that. This kid that wanted to make a name for himself, he figured out that that was a quick way to do it, at he wasn't wrong. It worked.

Radio.com: When Superunknown came out, some fans didn't like "Half," which [bassist] Ben Shepherd sang. I remember someone saying, it sounds like a B-side.

Cornell: That's what an album is, it's not sixteen singles for radio! It was one of my favorites. I remember getting into a discussion with Ben, where I had to convince him to sing it. He sang the demo and played everything on it. And it was amazing and we all loved it, but I didn't feel like I was going to capture what he was trying to do on it. He said, "If you don't sing on it, and you're not playing guitar on it, then it's a Soundgarden song that you're not even on." And I remember thinking, "That's what we should be trying to do," which is make the song the best song it can be and not worry about anything else.

Read the rest of the interview here.

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Copyright Radio.com/CBS Local - Excerpted here with permission.

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