More than 20 years after Soundgarden first surfaced, Chris Cornell hasn’t lost his sense of musical adventure. He was a grunge king, dabbled in acoustic songwriting for his movie soundtrack solo work, revisited his hard-rock roots with Audioslave and even tried his hand at the orchestrated drama of Bond themes — but the 44-year-old singer returns next week with his most unlikely offering. Produced by Timbaland and featuring contributions from Justin Timberlake, Scream sees Cornell throwing down the guitar (as the cover art symbolically depicts) in favor of continuous dance grooves and hip-hop beats.
Talking to Rolling Stone from his Paris home, a calm Cornell explained that he’s paying the early backlash little mind. “At this point, it’s all theory. It’s like when I got together with the Rage Against the Machine guys for Audioslave and there was all this talk about how it was sacrilege from Rage fans, Soundgarden fans — even old ladies on the street would come up to me and say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’! Maybe I’m an optimist or just an idiot but I really think the fans will come around to the concept,” he says. “I could sit down and make a wall-to-wall guitar album tomorrow. I think it’s important for fans to know that but if I’m doing something that inspires me musically then I think it will inspire someone else too.”
Cornell says Scream‘s experimental nature is rooted in his own well-established need to seek out new turf. “During the Soundgarden days, even songs like ‘Black Hole Sun’ were so different to what people had expected at the time because the songs from Badmotorfinger were pretty aggressive hard rock,” he tells us.
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“I think Euphoria Morning [Cornell’s 1999 solo debut] was the biggest shift for me. I remember playing my first gig in Boston; I walked out, started playing the first song, and nobody shot me. There was a drunk looking Soundgarden fan in the front row who looked like he wasn’t sure if it was for him but he jumped up towards the end of the first song and shouted, ‘all right, fuck yeah!’ I guess he just decided he liked it and went with it. I wish I could meet that guy now because since then, I haven’t worried about trying something different.”