Chris Cornell

Upon first listen to Chris Cornell’s upcoming solo album, Higher Truth, the Soundgarden frontman’s lush, soaring vocals reach out and caress you with a warm, rich tone and color. The guitar chords also grab you with their clear, clean tone and slight snarl.

Higher Truth is the solo album Cornell diehards have been hoping to hear. It’s heartfelt and melodic, but raw and real enough to make it rock. I could listen to this album for days.

Cornell was kind enough to speak with me about Higher Truth, his first encounter with his now-beloved ES-335 and the status of new Soundgarden music.

Higher Truth is in stores Sept. 18. Also on tap for Cornell is a fall North American tour. I caught one of his previous “Songbook” tour dates and can vouch that his solo, acoustic shows are enchanting. For the full list of tour dates, visit www.ChrisCornell.com.

Congratulations on your new solo album, Higher Truth. That’s a great title. What’s the significance of Higher Truth?

I really believe that the ultimate, highest experience is to be in the moment, aware of everything that’s going on around you and supporting that moment, much in the way that a baby is looking at a key ring, completely engrossed in the miracle of what they’re seeing around them. Adulthood and growing up and living in this world is pretty much all corrupting that. That’s the process of filling your life up with all kinds of concerns and preoccupations and distractions that don’t mean anything and that are hollow and don’t actually give you anything back. If there was ever an age where our days are filled with that, it’s now. So, I think it’s a good time to have that title for a record. Right away, my gut feeling was, “That’s a great title.” I think it means something to everybody, and that’s kind of what the title needs to be.

What made producer Brendan O'Brien the right fit for Higher Truth?

Well, the first issue is that he’s one of the few engineers and producers that I’ve allowed to record me singing in quite a while, which I did on the third Audioslave record, Revelations. Since Superunknown, I’ve kind of just done it myself. I sit and engineer and record my own vocals, and it just tends to come out more raw and more immediate and not poured over so much. I come up with ideas. I don’t have to communicate anything. I don’t have to rely on someone else’s ear. Most people’s ears I don’t trust, and I don’t trust them because they don’t hear what I hear. It becomes difficult. So, I’ve just done it alone, for the most part. And the couple of experiences I’ve had not doing it alone, I wasn’t happy, with the exception of Revelations. I was very surprised by what a great experience I had with Brendan.

What special challenges did you face doing an acoustic album?

I felt like writing an album that’s written to be acoustic songs first and highlighting the vocals and the lyrics just by the nature of the arrangements of the songs, that it better sound good, but I didn’t want it too slick-good, because anyone can do that now with a computer. It needs to be emotional; it needs to be raw. Brendan will record a singer in two or three takes, and that’s all you’re going to get out of him, so you can’t help but have an emotional and raw edge to it. And then beyond that, I wanted this record to be as close to an approach of someone demoing the songs as possible.

You’re known for your signature Chris Cornell ES-335. What was your first introduction to the ES-335?

The first one that I got – which was before the Chris Cornell model – I actually got off the shelf at a Guitar Center by the Seattle airport in 2009 or 2010. My flight was delayed, and I had nothing to do at the Seattle airport, but I had passed a Guitar Center, and I said, “You know what? I’m going to go back and look at guitars.” There was a Les Paul from the custom shop that was kind of a strange thing I’d never seen before and there was also an ES-335 from the custom shop that I’d never seen before, and they were sitting there on the wall, and I thought, “Gosh, those are really cool.” I played both of them and really liked them a lot. So, I made a few phone calls to see if I could get both of those. And it turns out, I couldn’t, because those were the only ones. There weren’t any more, but I could have somebody try to make one at the Gibson custom shop, so I waited a few months and then just went back to that store and bought those guitars. I loved them so much, so that’s when I started getting into discussions of creating the ES-335 model. Then, I started to do different things with the pickups and make it more versatile for a Soundgarden recording and live.

What makes the ES-335 your guitar of choice?

It’s a versatile guitar. I really like it. We were just writing and working on new Soundgarden songs with it, and it’s the first guitar I picked up and played. It sounds great recorded. It’s super versatile. It’s one of those few guitars that sounds really good clean, with personality, though. Not slick, but a little bit rattily and fun. As crazy as you want to get with it, it will go there.

Thanks so much for the chat, Chris! Before we wrap up, what can you tell us about the upcoming Soundgarden album?

We have a bunch of new songs, and we’re working on them, and things are going really great. It’s really fun, and we’re definitely on the ground and running towards the next Soundgarden record. Everybody’s really motivated and so far. It’s been a great experience working on it.

Photo Credit: Mark Maryanovich