Posted September 21, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Chris Cornell’s Higher Truths

Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell

Best known for screaming his lungs out with heavy hitters Soundgarden, singer-guitarist Chris Cornell actually listens to and likes a wide range of music. His latest solo effort, Higher Truth, evokes decidedly quieter artists such as Nick Drake, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Envisioned by Cornell and directed by Jessie Hill, the music video for “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” appropriately has an old-timey motif and features cameos by actors Eric Roberts (Runaway TrainHeroes, The Expendables) and W. Earl Brown (Deadwood). Cornell recently phoned us to talk about the music video and the new album.

You just released the video for “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.” Talk about the concept for the video.
Well, it was one of those moments where everyone decided that we should have a video for this song. That’s a good thing on the one hand. It’s good that the record company wants to make money to promote the record, but I can’t stand videos. I’m happy that it’s not a requirement anymore. There were some ideas written up by directors. I think they send the same ideas to people all the time. I didn’t like any of them. I was in Seattle with my wife and I was doing some Soundgarden rehearsal. I was exercising in the room. I was thinking that I had to come up with something. I listened to the first couple of notes of the song, and I came up with this story. It’s kind of a comedy or a farce. The guy is on death row in the Old West. He’s saved by a woman who puts a corrosive solution on the rope and it breaks and she carries him away and marries him with the preacher. That’s the video.

Do you think of it as your acting debut?
I guess so. People have said the moment when I’m standing next to Matt Dillon in Singles was my acting debut. I got comments about whether I’m going to do any more acting. It would have to be explained to me. People would say, “Well, you acted in Singles.” I would say, “Not really.” I walked down the stairs and stood next to Matt Dillon. I did that. I didn’t think that was acting. He was acting. He was cool.

I really liked the music video.
The director was good at that and Eric Roberts was in it. I love him. My son got in a cameo, which was great. He had never done that before. My daughter kept asking me when she would be in another video. I told it would be the next one I make but in the back of my mind I was thinking I might not make any more videos because I don’t really like them.

The press release for the new album says you were inspired by the stark arrangements of musicians like Nick Drake, Daniel Johnston and White Album-era Beatles. Talk about that a bit.
Somewhere in the late ’80s when Soundgarden was on the road a lot as an indie band doing van tours, I think our record was playing 22 shows in a row without a night off. All the bands we played with were super aggressive. We were super aggressive at the time. The shows were really violent. I started coming across these records like the very first Bob Dylan record. He just does cover songs and it’s just a guitar and him singing and playing harmonica. It’s a super simple and edgy recording but it has a lot of energy. Nick Drake’s Pink Moon similarly, in that he has such a calm icy voice but this really aggressive finger picking style. It has that very magical British folk thing going on. I started getting into those records with nothing going on except the storytelling and the singing. Maybe one instrument that isn’t even played that well. There was something about that that felt like it was clearing my palate. I got into it then. Even before that, I had been writing acoustic songs at home for fun. I had a 4-track and an 8-track. They sounded almost as good as any record. That’s what “Seasons” is from the Singles soundtrack. It’s me in my closet recording on a 4-track. There’s two tracks of guitar and two tracks of vocals and that’s it.

So you’re saying you’ve always been into starker music?
Yeah. It’s a part of what I always liked to listen to. I imagined I would make a record like this and I just haven’t. Euphoria Morning was going to be an acoustic album but when I was writing songs for it, a few of them seemed to lend themselves to that style, but mostly not.

You’ve been a Beatles fan since you were a kid. Talk about how you first discovered them.
The Beatles are like my discovering that music is important to me as a fan. I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of me being a musician. I didn’t have those ideas at an early age. My best friend’s oldest brother had left and he left all his albums in the basement. Seattle basements flood a lot and there were puddles of water and there’s this stack of Beatles albums. I just took it. I didn’t want to leave them there to die. I was eight. I didn’t know anything about the Beatles. I just started listening to them in my bedroom. I was taking a new album and then would go back and just listen to side A for several days and absorb it. As soon as I felt a little bored, I would listen to side B for a few more days. Then I would listen to the whole thing. This was kind of a ritual. I really got into it. I think what was happening was that they were rich records.  Revolver and Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s — those records were really magical for a kid at that age. Music was becoming an escape for me. I wasn’t good at anything. I wasn’t good at school or sports. I was outdoorsy but I started to disappear into this world of music. What happened in terms of influence is that my intrinsic understanding of songwriting and being in a band and making records is based on those early experiences of listening to Beatles’ records. What’s important about what they did is that they had multiple singers singing in different ways. If you take John Lennon or Paul McCartney, they’re singing completely different on any one song. They seem to not have any concern about presenting an overall band sound from song to song or on consecutive records. They’re completely enthralled in music and whatever inspirations they get. It’s like, “I just came back from India and check this out.” Or “I think I can write a song like Bob Dylan; check me out.” They could do all this stuff. I think that’s the guy I came to be as a songwriter because it’s how I learned what music was.

Did you have a moment when you knew you wanted to sing?
I don’t know that I had the type of moment that they show in films. It was over a long period of time and a lot of trial and error. There wasn’t a lot of encouragement. It’s not a place at that [anyone] would say, “You have a huge gift.” All anyone ever said was that, “It’s great you like music. You should concern yourself with a real vocation.” I had one experience where I took a piano lesson. I was maybe ten years old The piano teacher played a scale and asked me to sing the notes. She wanted to see if I was tone deaf or not. When I sang, she jumped up. That was the first time anyone has reacted to me in that way for anything I did — ever. It was enough of a reaction that I remember it. I remember thinking I shocked the heck out of this lady for doing something that was super easy. Why couldn’t math be this easy? By the time I was in rock bands, I was a drummer and my voice had dropped and I wasn’t singing. That happened based on the fact that nobody could sing. I would do guest lead vocal moments where I would sing a blues song and it would bring the house down and piss off the lead singer of the band. We’d go back to our normal programming. Even with Soundgarden, I was the drummer and started writing lyrics and singing because between the three of us that started the band, I was the one who could sing. As we started to get into songwriting I realized we had a body of work and doing both wasn’t going to be good. We had to find a drummer or a singer and I became the singer.

I think the tour is a solo acoustic tour. Talk about when you first started playing acoustic. How have the shows evolved?
The first time I did an extended version was in Stockholm when I was doing promotion. They did a radio show. One hundred people showed up. I was going to play for an hour and on acoustic guitar. I thought I would play for a half hour. I did the songs and everyone was dead quiet. I thought it would be cool to do a tour like that. This manager I had at the time was really cautious about it. He wanted me to do test shows. I played Hotel Café in L.A. which is a really tiny place but really amazing for that type of one-man show. That went great. I started doing more. They weren’t as good. Part of it is the venue. Anything that feels like a bar doesn’t really work. In order to figure out how to do it, I needed to do a real tour. That’s what I did. Somewhere mid-tour I started to understand what it was. The room has to be the right room. There’s a flow that happens that’s based on the audience. I’m not following a set list. I tell stories but I don’t know what I’m going to say until I say it. If it all comes together, it works really great. It’s one way for me to play a show where fans of different periods can come and have a good time.

If you’re a Soundgarden fan, you can still like it. If you’re just a fan of my solo work, you’ll like the Soundgarden and Audioslave parts. It works for everybody and that’s not easy to do.

What other projects are in the works?
I’m doing this tour world wide so it will take up the rest of this year and maybe next year. Soundgarden is working on songs for a new album so we’ll be doing that. That’s all I can talk about at the moment.

Upcoming 2015 Shows






























Santa Barbara, CA – Granada Theatre

Santa Rosa, CA – Wells Fargo Center for the Arts

Oakland, CA – Paramount Theater

Modesto, CA – Gallo Center for the Arts

Seattle, WA – Benaroya Hall

Vancouver, BC – Orpheum Theatre

Denver, CO – Paramount Theatre

Salina, KS – Stifel Theatre for the Performing Arts

Minneapolis, MN – State Theatre

Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre

Lakewood, OH – Lakewood Civic Auditorium

Toronto, ON – Massey Hall

Buffalo, NY – University at Buffalo Ctr for the Arts

New Brunswick, NJ – State Theatre

Bethesda, MD – Strathmore Music Theatre

Philadelphia, PA – Merriam Theater

Wilkes Barre, PA – Kirby Center for the Performing Arts

New York, NY – Beacon Theatre

New York, NY – Beacon Theatre

Boston, MA – Shubert Theater

Wilmington, DE – Grand Opera House

York, PA – Strand Capitol Perf. Arts Ctr

Atlanta, GA – Atlanta Symphony Hall

Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium

Miami, FL – The Knight Concert Hall

Saint Petersburg, FL – Mahaffey Theater

Dallas, TX – The Majestic Theatre

Austin, TX – ACL Live @ The Moody Theater

Phoenix, AZ – Orpheum Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].