Features > Artist of the Month > July 2007
Chris Cornell

 


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   Ranked 12th in MTV's "22 Greatest Voices in Music" survey - ahead of such icons as David Bowie, Steven Tyler and Bruce Springsteen - Chris Cornell, the voice behind Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, has been called "the single most dynamic rock and roll force produced by the Grunge Revolution of the early '90s." After earning two Grammy Awards, selling more than 20 million albums worldwide, and paving the way for numerous other artists, Cornell will lay fresh asphalt for himself with the June 5th release of his solo album, Carry On (Suretone/Interscope).

   Superstition aside, this 13th career album promises to extend his status as a musical risk-taker. As a solo artist he previously explored his creative range on Euphoria Morning, whose single "Can't Change Me" earned a 2000 Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Carry On, produced and mixed by Grammy-winning British producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Rolling Stones, Morrissey, Dave Matthews Band), showcases his distinct voice - at turns powerful, ethereal, growling, lilting - remains, as Blender magazine dubbed it, "one of alt-rock's most elastic instruments."

   The new album's fourteen tracks offer the bluesy and soulful "Safe and Sound," psychedelic "Scar On The Sky," country-flavored "Finally Forever"... paeans to persistence in "Disappearing Act" and a slow-grind cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" that gives the familiar song a completely new feeling. More personal selections include "Ghost," "Arms Around Your Love" and "She'll Never Be Your Man" and alt-rock experimentations ("Killing Birds" the anthemic "Silence the Voices"). Fans of Soundgarden and Audioslave will appreciate the harder edge of "No Such Thing" and "Poison Eye" and the redemptive "Your Soul Today."

   Carry On will also include the Top 10 European smash hit "You Know My Name," the main title song for the current James Bond theatrical release, Casino Royale, appearing for the first time on a full-length release. Cornell wrote and recorded the track with long-time James Bond composer David Arnold for the film.

   Music played a tangible role in Cornell's youth growing up in a large Catholic family in Seattle. Disliking piano lessons, he taught himself some basic piano and then guitar, figuring out tunes he knew and those that came to him. At the age of eight he composed enough for a full-set and after sharing them with a teacher he was then brought to the University of Washington to perform his selections before the music faculty. By nine or ten he listened almost exclusively to The Beatles for over a year after finding a trove of records at a friend's house. Cornell experienced a musical breakthrough when he received a snare drum, honing both his focus and his passion.

   Supplementing the snare with a full drum set, Cornell quickly joined a band, playing traps and singing backup. At age fifteen, he dropped out of parochial school and took a job as a cook, helping to earn money for the family. He segued through various cover bands, struggling to find where he fit, until meeting a kindred spirit, guitarist Kim Thayil, in 1984.

   The pair formed their own band, Soundgarden, named after a wind sculpture in Seattle, and eventually Cornell moved from the drum kit to downstage, focusing on singing while expanding his abilities as a guitarist. Along with new drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Hiro Yamamoto, Soundgarden "made a place for heavy metal in alternative rock," according to music critic Stephen Erlewine.

   Playing the circuit that would several years later be traveled by Nirvana and Mudhoney, the band released 1987's Screaming Life EP on the new label SubPop, and an LP debut the next year, Ultramega OK. Interest around the band began spreading outside the confines of the Northwest, as their A&M album, Louder Than Love, was released in 1989 and then Badmotorfinger in 1991. Cornell wrote most of the material on the critically acclaimed 1991 album Temple of the Dog, a collective of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden members who formed in tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. In 1994 Soundgarden hit it big with Superunknown and its crossover single "Black Hole Sun," going multi-platinum and earning two Grammy Awards. Soundgarden retained momentum with their most experimental release, 1996's acclaimed Down on the Upside. But the album found the band grappling with their imposed legendary status, a mantle of importance that proved suffocating. In 1997 they disbanded, but not before releasing a best-of collection, A-Sides, as a goodbye of sorts.

   Cornell's next group project came as frontman for the rock supergroup Audioslave. Their debut, self-titled debut album in 2002 went triple platinum and produced the hit singles "Like a Stone" and "Cochise." After extensive touring the band released their sophomore album Out of Exile, which debuted at #1 on the U.S. charts in May 2005. The same month Audioslave became the first American rock band ever to perform in Cuba, captured in the platinum DVD Live in Cuba. Revelations was released in September 2006 and touched upon more topical subjects, from Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf War.

   Many of Cornell's songs have been featured on film soundtracks such as Pump Up the Volume, Wayne's World, True Romance, Feeling Minnesota (a title lifted from one of Cornell's own Soundgarden lyrics), Great Expectations, Mission: Impossible II, Miami Vice and Cameron Crowe's Seattle-based film Singles, in which he also gives an on-camera cameo performance. Most recently was "You Know My Name," the title track for the James Bond film Casino Royale written in collaboration with the film's composer, David Arnold.

   In addition to his work in the music world, Chris Cornell served as the face of the 2006 John Varvatos ad campaign and became a restaurateur with the opening of Black Calavados (BC) in Paris, his new home. It's there that a few years ago Cornell began a new chapter in his personal life with his marriage to Vicky Karayiannis. Cornell is the proud father of daughter Toni, son Christopher and another daughter, Lillian Jean, by a previous marriage. Visit his website at www.ChrisCornell.com.