Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, but reunited in 2010 and released a new album, King Animal, last November. On Sunday, the much-missed hard-rock group headlines night No. 2 of the Carolina Rebellion festival at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Fellow Seattle grunge vets Alice in Chains headline Saturday.)
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell recently spoke to the Observer about the comeback, the state of rock and the future of music listening.
Q. The band never really disappeared from radio or the public consciousness, but because the break-up lasted so long, were you worried that fans had moved on?
I always have that worry. (But) two years after we split up, I realized we werent going anywhere. We were ahead of our time, and then (became) very current, and then this classic band. ...You fast-forward 10 years, you realize the bands whose legacies live on.
There tends to be someone beating that drum, even if its one of those bands members. Even if its Roger Waters playing one record without the other guys. People pay a lot of attention to that one record. That was what got us in a room talking, not the thought of a new album and touring, but re-releasing some of our classic albums and rarities and B-sides.
Q. The music video for Crooked Steps has you crashing a DJs set like Sons of Anarchy, but on Segways. Is that a statement about rock being an underdog right now with the popularity of pop, hip-hop and electronic music?
It depends on how you look at it. If you define it as no electronic instruments, then I suppose yes. If its not an underdog, it doesnt really work. Look at the times when rock was at the top of the pile of the dunghill of commercial music. The 80s is an example. (Rock then was) the most commercially bankable music in history, and it was crap.
Then there was this sort of indie underground, post punk. It wasnt great music, (but) thats what became the rock of the 90s and took over. You have to have an environment like this for something vital to come out, whether its a kid that approaches hip-hop from a new angle or guitar music from a new angle.
Q. What do think about the current state of music?
The only thing I can jump up and down about and say I think is bad for future generations is the MP3. I listen to MP3s of records I listened to when I was 8 years old. I know what they sound like on vinyl and analog. Its not the same experience. There were records I was drawn to as a little kid just because they sounded so good. I listened to the Eagless Greatest Hits several times on vinyl because I was enamored with the tones and what was happening sonically.
Q. Do you think old-school recording methods will become a lost art?
Yes. If you look at the percentage of records recorded now and how theyre recorded, it almost forces new musicians into that corner in a sense. We dont sell hardware or vinyl even close to the percentage that used to be sold. Therefore, there isnt an income generator for labels to be able to pay for bands to record in a studio with analog equipment.
If you record digitally with a large enough bandwidth, you can reach the fidelity that way. But everything that is happening in terms of digital technology is dragging a large number of people away (from that).
Q. How do you buy music?
On iTunes. Classic records Ive rebought on iTunes because I like the convenience of having it on an iPod for example. They sound awful. Being a band that makes records, we obsess over mixes and recording. Then you end up hearing what the final product is that people buy. Its sort of tough.
I think there will come a time when people wont buy music at all, but go to a subscription service thats streaming music. Kids will never know what it feels like to hold a record in their hands.
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