Chris Cornell estimates that Soundgarden's forthcoming studio album, their first with new material since 1996's Down on the Upside, was 75 percent done when the recently-reunited Seattle grunge heroes were first asked to help contribute to the soundtrack for Joss Whedon's new superhero film, The Avengers. "It was the last song that was written," Cornell tells Rolling Stone of "Live to Rise," the soundtrack's opener, which is available for free download on iTunes, and the first new Soundgarden song to be released in 15 years.
Cornell says Soundgarden's yet-to-be-titled album will be mastered in a week's time so, in his mind, "it's done. It'll be out in probably October," he says. "I would say September but I'm just guessing October. We're pretty much done with everything." "Live to Rise," a riff-heavy rocker, while not necessarily representative of the entire album's sound, the singer says, would "work just fine on it."
When the band was initially approached with the idea to contribute to the Avengers soundtrack, Cornell says his natural instinct was to use a song from the new album’s recording sessions. "The first thought was, 'Let’s take one of our songs,'" he says. "That thought lasted about three minutes. I didn't believe that we had anything that was gonna really work. But it did seem like it would be a cool challenge to try and write [a new song]."
The idea of writing a custom track, however, was simpler in theory than in execution. "I went through a lot of different ideas that I scrapped – probably more than usual," Cornell says of the laborious process of writing "Live to Rise." "Soundgarden does a lot of time signature changes and shifts and things like that. It felt like this should be a little more straightforward 'cause it's for a broad audience. The idea of having it be intelligent lyrically and melodic and all these things – it's a task to do all that stuff. Once I got started I wanted it to be right. But maybe that's more of a 'Chris being OCD' thing."
A band linking up with a blockbuster movie, Cornell says, is as clear a sign as any of the "new landscape." "[Licensing songs] has become kind of the cheap way that bands with any version of credibility have to get their songs out in front of people," he explains. "It used to be absolutely the forbidden fruit for any band – if you put your song in a commercial you were screwed. I've never felt like that was a no-no." But Cornell recognizes that certain sacrifices must be made in today's new age of music; he recalls having to record five live acoustic tracks for his latest solo album, Songbook, just so Wal-Mart would stock it. "It's not even a matter of like, 'Do it so they'll put it near the front of the store,' like it might have been 10 years ago," he says. "It's, 'Do it so they'll carry it.'"
Cornell does take solace in the fact that The Avengers is a film that he and Soundgarden respect and enjoy. "For a band like Soundgarden, being associated with [The Avengers] – for what it's about and what they accomplish in it – it's a pretty good way to have a partner in the entertainment business to get your songs out in front of people," he says. "The record companies don't have that any more. They don't have the money. They don't have the resources. They can't do it. They won't do it. Not gonna happen."