Chris Cornell freely admits that he has some butterflies in his stomach about his first-ever solo acoustic tour, which kicks off tonight in Aspen, Colorado. "I'm very used to a full band where you can hide behind a sonic wall if you want," he tells Rolling Stone. "You can't do that sitting down and playing songs with an acoustic guitar. You're right there with the people and you can hear every word they say. But I feel like you're not a real musician or entertainer if you can't go into a room, pick up an instrument and entertain people."
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The Soundgarden frontman doesn't want to reveal his setlist, but he promises he'll play a wide cross-section of material from throughout his career. "I want to do everything – going pretty far back," he says. "Some songs I just think won't sound good in an acoustic format. So I'll just keep playing it and then one day, on the 50th time, suddenly it'll work. It gets very interesting finding songs that don't make any sense in the context of an acoustic performance, but they can be brilliant that way. I'm approaching cover songs in the same way."
Cornell learned this lesson years ago when Rick Rubin asked him create an acoustic rendition of Soundgarden's 1992 classic "Rusty Cage" for Johnny Cash. "I backed out of it because it didn't make any sense to me," Cornell says. "I tried for a minute, but then told him that I couldn't do it. Then somebody else did it and they basically turned it into a Johnny Cash song and it worked. When you get into doing acoustic shows and tours it opens up that opportunity to completely reinterpret something and have fun with it."
The tour comes midway through Soundgarden's sessions for their first studio album since 1996's Down On The Upside. The LP is being produced by Adam Kasper, who has worked with Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. "Everything's going very quickly," Cornell says. "We've been having a great time. The chief reason for Soundgarden taking such a long hiatus was concerning ourselves with deadlines we never met and scheduling tours and promotion for an album ahead of actually writing and recording the album. So we're not doing that. We're just making the album. When it's done we'll decide, 'Okay, this is when we're gonna put it out. This is when we'll promote it.' That kind of thing."
Cornell says it's difficult to compare the sound of the new album to any of Soundgarden's past work. "When you have a band that does 'Jesus Christ Pose' and 'Black Hole Sun' and everything in the middle, one bridging to the other, it's sort of hard to say, 'Well, this sounds like that,'" he says. "There's a lot of things that don't sound like anything we've ever done, but that was always the case. We always were constantly reinventing how we wrote and recorded from one song to the next, literally."
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The band has only played a handful of dates since reforming last year, but Cornell says that will change. "We'll probably do some shows before the album even comes out," he says. "But like I said, we're not planning things based on the album's rollout until we feel like the album's done."
Pearl Jam are planning a big festival in the late summer to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Drummer Matt Cameron divides his time between the two bands, so it makes sense that Soundgarden might get invited to play too. "I haven't heard anything about that," says Cornell. "Whether it makes sense or not depends on if you're Matt. He might not want to get carpal tunnel syndrome."
A dream for fans would be a reunion of the early Nineties grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog, which also featured Cameron on drums. "We could also get Matt to play in a few other bands," laughs Cornell. "He could just play until basically he has to go to the hospital."