Chris Cornell on the making of songs and the craft of singing

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The Australian site MusicFeeds recently posted an extended and very interesting interview with singer and songwriter Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog) about his new album Higher Truth (Progarchy rating: 5 stars). A couple of excerpts:

Well going through the actual lyrics on the record, I seemed to find a lot of recurring themes of love and heartbreak and the passage of time. Where were you drawing from emotionally and ideologically when you were writing the record?

I sort of let that happen kind of on its own and then I sort of have a better perspective on what it all means to me a couple of years later, usually [laughs]. It’s moods and ideas that just sort of occur to me is the best way to put it and I tend to not put that under a microscope too much and the closest that this comes to a concept record really is in that I wanted it to be stripped down and I wanted it to kind of feed this type of acoustic touring that I’ve been doing over the last several years and I wanted that to become a kind of a living thing with new music and generating new ideas, as opposed to always a look back.

So I think like anything else – like a Soundgarden album or like an Audioslave album, the lyrics are often and the lyrical ideas are often inspired by the music and by the mood of the whole thing. And that ends up in this case being love and loss and heartache and the things that everybody goes through.

Has your approach as a song writer changed much over the years or is it similar to how you first started?

I’ve always pretty much done the same thing, which is whatever works [laughs]. So, that is always a moving target I think. Whatever it sort of takes to feel like not only am I writing but it feels good and it feels like I’m writing something that means something to me. I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block, I think I’ve just gone through periods where I’ve written things that I don’t particularly like. I guess that’s what writer’s block is maybe, I don’t know. But for me the process is always a moving target. …

When you read a lot of the reviews surrounding the record so far, a lot of the talk has been about just how strong your voice is shining through. How do you rate your voice at this stage of your career? For a lot of artists it can go away and become weaker and for others who work at it it can get stronger and it seems to be the general consensus that your voice is almost as strong as it ever has been.

Well I think it’s different and I think that mostly to do with what I try to make it do and what I want it to do and what’s important for me that it does. You know my approach to singing and what I want it to sound like and the songs that I write are really very different than 20 years ago or 30 years ago even. Really I think it’s more of an artistic issue than anything else. But I also think that there’s a dedication to craft in a sense and maybe that’s not fair and everybody’s different but I think of singing – I approach it as an instrument because it is, it’s a reed instrument really.

There’s a lot of factors that go into creating the particular tones that you want to try to create. The same that there would be if you were a trumpet player or if you played strings or you played the saxophone. Over the years with the amount of experience that I’ve head I’ve figured a lot of things out and have become a lot more experienced and getting a lot more out of what I believe it can do – getting my voice to do things I didn’t think it would do. That sort of learning curve never really goes away.

The entire interview is well worth reading. (Soundgarden fans: the band is planning a 2016 album.) And, as a bonus, here is Cornell performing “Josephine” from the new album; I happen to know it is one of TimeLord’s favorite Cornell cuts—and rightly so!

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