Q&A: Chris Cornell

On his ex-wife, his Tom Jones impression and his new CD with Timbaland

Chris Cornell performs at the Columbia Club on February 27th, 2009 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Florian Seefried/Getty

Chris Cornell's new record features an un­likely collaborator: hip-hop superproducer Timbaland. The singer's third solo album, Scream, is a set of moody elec­tro pop that pits Cornell's grav­elly wail against Timbaland's nail-hard drums and squiggly synths. "Some friends of mine didn't like the idea," says Cor­nell, who kicks off a U.S. tour on March 28th. But Cornell says crowds are digging new tunes like "Sweet Revenge" and "Part of Me." "My audience is made up from different parts of my career," he says. "There's a common thread in all of my music, which is me."

A collaboration with Tim­baland is quite a curveball to throw at your fans.
There's something about that blind trust between Timba­land and me — two people that have almost nothing in com­mon, except for a love of music — that is really rejuvenating. But if you're not going to get behind electronic music, this album's definitely not for you. I took a risk on doing something that may be disliked by a lot of my fans, but maybe I can turn them on to a new concept.

What would be the down­side of doing a tour with Soundgarden?
I don't know if there would be one, really. My fear would be that we wouldn't tap into the greatness we felt when we were on our game.

What album have you lis­tened to the most?
Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I was 19 the first time I heard it. I don't know how many times I've had to buy it — five times on CD, cassettes, different versions of vinyl. I used to have the back of that album painted on my leath­er jacket.

You recently got 15 guitars back from your ex-wifc. Which did you want most?
The Gretsch I played in the "Black Hole Sun" video. I wrote the song thinking the band wouldn't like it — then it became the biggest hit of the summer.

How much did your ex-wife influence "Scream''? I'd guess that "Sweet Revenge" is about her.
I wouldn't disagree. But I have this weird philosophy that the truth comes out more when it's subconscious. If I said, "I want to write a song about how I'm feeling," it wouldn't come out.

On April 27th, you'll be playing in Seattle. Arc you looking forward to that gig?
I used to hate playing Seat­tle shows. In the 1990s, people who were on the periphery and the slutty girls always got back­stage. I felt bad for the fans that couldn't because they weren't willing to blow anybody.

Who was the first person to tell you that you had an amazing voice?
When I was eight, my piano teacher played seven or eight notes, and I sang them. She stopped and looked at me in shock! That was the first time I'd gotten that reaction. I'd had looks of horror, but never shock in a positive way.

Are you good at imperson­ating other vocalists?
I can do any heavy-metal sing­er. Rob Halford? Not a prob­lem. But there are certain tim­bres and styles that I can't come near. No matter what, I can't sound like John Lennon. But I can do Tom Jones.