Chris Cornell Unplugged: Scott Yager Interviews the Rock Singer

chris cornell

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If you were to proclaim that you thought Chris Cornell was the most prolific and consistently great rock singer of the last twenty years you would be hard pressed to find somebody who would call you misinformed. Sure everybody has their preferences and as the kids say, “to each his own”, but to find a guy who is so widely accepted as not only one of the pioneers of grunge rock and alternative but considered a national treasure when it comes to writing songs and belting them out with his trademark pipes, is quite rare nowadays.

Chris Cornell has proven himself time and time again, as a solo act, as well as the front-man for legendary rock act Soundgarden, who recently in 2010 got back together after an over ten year hiatus and finally played some shows. They are planning to record a new album in 2011. After leaving the band that made him famous Chris teamed up with the singer-less members of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave, who quickly became one of the most successful and beloved rock acts of the 00’s.


Sound like a hall of fame career already? That doesn’t even include his other band Temple of the Dog, who along with Eddie Vedder are responsible for the one of the most memorable rock ballads of the 90’s , Hunger Strike. Throw in a couple Grammy nominations for solo work, a James Bond theme song for the very well-received Daniel Craig reboot Casino Royale and what you have is a bonafide rock icon.

I had the pleasure of talking with Chris recently, about his upcoming solo acoustic tour, the future of some of his other projects, and lots more. A voice I have heard practically every day for the last twenty years, Cornell has come to embody rock music, at least for those of us who grew up in the age of grunge and alternative, where having a singer as technically skilled and versatile as Cornell took your band to the next level, a level that few bands ever dreamed of reaching.

Scott Yager: So you’re hitting the road for the songbook tour, an all acoustic tour, what gave you the idea to do this stripped down show?

Chris Cornell: Its something I wanted to do for a really long time. I think the first time I did it was the late 80’s and I don’t even remember where that came from but I’ve done acoustic versions of songs or acoustic songs that were released over the years, Seasons is one of the them, I did an acoustic version of Suicide for a film a few years ago, here and there doing live shows I would do acoustic versions of songs and it started to pick up steam, when I did an hour long acoustic set in Stockholm, which I didn’t know was being recorded (laughs) and it turned out really good, it’s fun to really approach and interpret songs that I only know amplified and in the context of a band and recreate them acoustically, and there are a lot of records that I like where I’ve heard that and there are also acoustic versions of some of my songs over the years by someone else and I’ve actually preferred their version.

If I Youtubed Springsteen for example I could find someone sitting there doing songs from any part of his career and I actually prefer that more than E-street band versions of any of it. My favorite record…actually the only one I really ever liked when I was younger was Nebraska and other records that stand out are the first Bob Dylan record where there is only one song he writes on it, it wasn’t really about Bob Dylan as the singer songwriter icon than it was about Bob Dylan and his repertoire as a street musician, it’s very aggressive, very raw…something you can turn up really loud. It’s something I’ve always been a fan of when it’s done great its unbelievably great. There are some Neil Young moments that I think are some of the best moments in film documented music history period. There’s one, Don’t Let it Bring You Down in the late 80’s, pretty incredible, there’s a couple other moments too.


Yager: I can speak personally to this, I actually saw Audioslave in Manhattan a few years back and you came out and sang Black Hole Sun acoustic and I could imagine how great a complete show would be like.

I actually wanted to talk about you working with movie soundtracks again, I know you created the theme to the James Bond film Casino Royale, but would you ever want to get behind the scenes scoring a movie entirely sort of how Johnny Greenwood did for There Will Be Blood and Trent Reznor did for the Social Network?

Cornell: Depends on the movie and the situation, they’re all very different, would depend on the director and what the subject matter was. If I knew the director well I think it would be something fun to do, it would also have to be a movie where whatever my sensibilities are would fit the movie, I wouldn’t want to fit a square peg in a round hole for something as long form as an entire film….and I think that can happen sometimes. I think that music for film is a strange thing, there’s a certain amount of expression from the writer/composer that can exist within it, buts it not center stage, it’s there to support the film, you have to be able to take the backseat almost in a sense and collaborate and coexist. Films are so different than production of an album, films are so many people and so many moving parts that you become one of them, but I still think that if a certain situation came up I would love to do it.

Yager: So who would be the director that if he called you, you WOULD say yes?

Cornell: Jim Jarmusch and James Cameron.

soundgarden performing

Yager: Obviously this past year Soundgarden reunited and played some shows, making every rock fan’s dreams come true, but do you ever see Audioslave reconnecting somewhere down the road as well?

Cornell: That’s nothing we’ve really ever discussed, so I don’t have an answer for that.

Yager: If the world was going to end and there was one last concert where you could only play one last song to sum up your career, your life, your relationship with the fans…what song would that be from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave or your solo stuff?

Cornell: You know what I’d probably opt out and play nothing because that doesn’t make any sense to me really, to be honest. There’s no one song that I think would be the anthem of my life and or career…maybe I would pick someone else’s song (laughs). I would do My Way, which…the guy who wrote My Way, Paul Anka, he did a version of Black Hole Sun so that would be sort of returning the favor.

Yager: You’ve collaborated with a ton of artists, most you were on Slash’s last record, but out of those you haven’t had a chance to work with yet…who is somebody you would love to get in the studio with?

Cornell: Good question, I don’t know, guess I never really thought about it…I guess with all the turmoil in the world it seems like the book of revelations might come to fruition and everyone is saying Jesus is coming back so I would say Jesus. My guess is he would be a rock star because it just makes sense. People listen to pop and rock stars more than anyone else and they follow them…like Charlie Sheen wouldn’t get as much traction with his meltdown if he wasn’t some guy on a sitcom. He’s gonna show up in music for sure…he’s totally got the best logo for sure, it’s the cross with him on it, it’s totally memorable, it’s powerful, everybody has one so it’s gonna happen and I would collaborate with him.

chris cornell hair

Yager: You heard it here first folks…keep on ear out for that collaboration with Chris Cornell and Jesus Himself.

Okay, I personally think you’re the best rock vocalist of all time, that’s my opinion. I hate to put you on the spot right now but who do you think you would put on par with yourself or might say is better than you in terms of rock vocals?

Cornell: I think there are a lot of singers that are better than me, I never really thought of music in terms of good, better, best. I mean obviously there are records, bands, singers, performers that are clearly better than others, but in terms of what we like about music, Jimi Hendrix is the best guitar player to walk the planet…I think that, but other people who are really into guitar don’t really like listening to it. I’ts not something you can place a value on it like giving away awards, there’s some ways to gage and judge how good something is but whens its an art form it all splinters into attitudes of taste, it’s sort of difficult to judge around that. Some of the people that I think are phenomenal singers technically can’t sing at all. I think Mick Jagger is a great singer but technically he’s awful. I think Tom Waits is a great singer but one can argue that he can’t even really sing now, so I don’t think those comparisons really work.

If you consider yourself a fan of Chris or any of his bands you would be crazy not to do your best to be in the building for one of the many acoustic shows Chris is putting on all around the country. Although most of the shows are sold out, there is always Stub-hub and Stub-hub was meant for situations like this where money should be no object when it comes to getting in a tiny intimate setting just feet away from a guy like Chris singing practically every song that shaped the landscape of rock music during the 90’s and 00’s. Tour dates below!

Songbook Tour Dates Are As Follows:
3/25/11 Aspen, CO @ Belly Up
4/1/11 Austin, TX @ Paramount Theatre
4/2/11 Houston, TX @ House of Blues
4/3/11 Dallas, TX @House of Blues
4/5/11 Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage
4/6/11 Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
4/8/11 Bridgeport, CT @ The Klein Memorial Auditorium
4/9/11 Boston, MA @ Berklee Performance Hall
4/10/11 Glenside, PA @ Keswick Theatre
4/12/11 New York, NY @Town Hall Theatre
4/13/11 New York, NY @Town Hall Theatre
4/15/11 Atlantic City, NJ @ Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa – Music Box
4/16/11 Montclair, NJ @ Wellmont Theatre
4/17/11 Washington, DC @ Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
4/19/11 Poughkeepsie, NY @ Bardavon
4/20/11 Toronto, ON @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
4/22/11 Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
4/23/11 Milwaukee, WI@Pabst Theater
4/24/11 Saint Paul, MN @Fitzgerald Theatre
4/26/11 Edmonton, AB @Winspear Centre
4/27/11 Medicine Hat, AB @ Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre
4/29/11 Victoria, BC @ Royal Theatre
4/30/11 Coquitlam, BC @ Red Robinson Show Theatre
5/1/11 Seattle, WA @ Moore Theatre
5/3/11 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
5/4/11 Los Angeles, CA @ John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
5/5/11 Los Angeles, CA @ John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
5/6/11 San Diego, CA @Humphreys Concerts by the Bay

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