As a member of the grunge powerhouse Soundgarden, Chris Cornell lent his rich, powerful voice to classic albums like 1991's "Badmotorfinger" and 1994's "Superunknown" before the band dissolved in 1997. A solo album, "Euphoria Morning," appeared in 1999. In 2002, Cornell joined up with three former members of Rage Against the Machine and became Audioslave, which released three top 10 albums, most recently 2006's "Revelations." Citing "irresolvable personality conflicts," Cornell divorced himself from the group in February of this year.
Currently touring behind a moody and diverse new solo disc, "Carry On," the 42-year-old Cornell spoke to Salon on the phone from Los Angeles.
How hard is it for people to understand why you would willingly quit one of the biggest bands in the world?
I think it's difficult for people who haven't been in that position to understand. As time goes on I realize that I want to do more and more. If I write a song that's really important to me that the band doesn't like, what do I do with it? My entire life has changed in the time since I released my first solo record and joined Audioslave. I've divorced and remarried. I've become a father. I've stopped drinking, stopped doing any kind of substance. I don't even smoke anymore. Not engaging in any chemical abuse or self-destructive behavior has changed everything in my life dramatically -- I was drinking regularly when I was 17 and experimented with drugs for the first time when I was 12. My ability to focus musically and be prolific is more intense than ever before. It takes too much time to communicate musical ideas to a band. Quite simply, I had enough.
At this point in your career, where do you see yourself fitting into the musical landscape?
I started to become more aware than ever that the first inclination is to compare whatever an artist is doing now to a template from the past. But that doesn't work; it's not possible. This is a different age, a different generation. Everything has changed: when and where people listen to music; how people buy music; the frequency with which records are made. I could compare myself to someone like Eric Clapton, who was in several bands and then went solo, but when he did it, there was no such thing as hip-hop, Top 40 was different, rock radio was different. It was a different world.
While you were still in Audioslave you modeled for a John Varvatos ad campaign. You also recorded "You Know My Name" for "Casino Royale." Do you feel pressure to get your name out there in ways that you didn't before?
Times have changed for rock musicians. Doing stuff like that is a decision you have to make. You just have to decide what you're comfortable with. I probably wouldn't have written ["You Know My Name"] if it had been another Pierce Brosnan installment. But I happen to think "Casino Royale" was the best film in the series, and it ended up being a great experience. And the Varvatos campaign got my face in places it wouldn't have been before. There are things I do now that I might not have done in the past, but I need to do those things in order to let people know I'm making music. I want people to hear my music.
-- David Marchese