Chris Cornell is a man of diverse musical interests. Not only did he help create the plaid shirt and torn jean craze of the early '90s with his grunge band Soundgarden, Cornell has also fronted the bands Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, wrote the theme song for the James Bond flick Casino Royale, and released three solo albums. On his newest release, Scream, Cornell puts his rock endeavors on hold to collaborate with hip-hop producer Timbaland. We chatted with the singer moments before he played The Jimmy Kimmel show to find out about adding big beats to his musical repertoire, modeling for John Varvatos, and how he really feels about David Cook covering his version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."
Out: How has Scream been received so far?
Chris Cornell: Good. I've actually played the album live twelve times now from beginning to end, in different parts of the world. All the performances were really amazing.
What kind of audiences were you playing for?
Those shows tended to be my hardcore fans because they were small clubs and sold-out shows. That's partly why I felt the reaction was really great because these are people who are going to be the most critical of such a change in terms of how different my album is.
Were you a fan of Timbaland before your brother-in-law suggested his name?In the studio, since it was your first time working with Timbaland, what did the recording process entail?
The writing and recording part of it was different from what I've done before. I don't know how different it is than other people in the hip-hop world. For example, Timbaland didn't really have anyone around. There was no one hanging out ever. It was people there just working on the album. It was a situation where we were kind of writing for beats and recording vocals and other instruments all the time, as opposed to writing songs and working them out and rehearsing the songs and playing with a live band, which how I am more used to doing things. In the years I've done things just about every way you can do it.
My brother-in-law suggested him for a remixer and that's how I ended up getting in contact with him. I had heard productions he had done for a long time actually, but it was talking to him on the phone that convinced me to work with him. It was my idea to go for a whole album versus doing either two or three songs or remixes. It seemed like it would be an interesting project.
Timbaland predicted you would be the 'first rock star in the club.' What's your reaction to such a statement?
It feels great! I don't know if it's really true because I feel like U2 has probably already been there. I'm actually getting a lot of club presence for the song 'Part of Me' already.
Referring to the club scene, have you ever performed at your club in Paris, Black Calavados?
I haven't. I have performed at Neyo, which is my brother-in-law's other club. It's a little bit bigger. But no I have never performed there.
What type of club is it? Describe the typical crowd.
It's a mixed crowd and it has turned into more of a lounge and bar. It depends on what is going on. If it is Fashion Week in Paris then it's packed full of fashion week people.
Why did you decide to open Black Calavados in Paris?
It was the building and the fact that my brother-in-law was working and already owning clubs there and looking for another place to open. And we were living there. It wasn't like we looking to open something like that and had to choose a place. We were living there. It just kind of happened.
Do you consider Paris home? I know you have lived all over the world.
We live between Los Angeles and Paris. I would love to consider Paris my home. I wish we could spend more time there. With my job we end of moving around a lot but it's between the two places.
You modeled for John Varvatos in 2006. Do you maintain a friendship with him?
We are definitely still friends. He comes to shows when I'm on tour and I talk to him occasionally. I was just at his benefit for Stuart House a couple of days ago, which he has put a lot of his time and effort into. It's a rape center for women and children and it has a multifaceted emergency rape and abuse center that has become a new model for that type of thing nationally. John's efforts have been incredible, seeing what's he's done over the past years and the momentum he's created and how much support he's gotten. I've been involved with him on that a little bit.
Would you ever model again?
It's something I never really looked at as something I wanted to do. I kind of did that campaign with him because it was him.
Do you find that fashion and music coincide?
I think they do as a sort of lifestyle. I think a lot of people look at music as being more than just something you listen to, particularly young people. It's a way to distance yourself from people you want to distance yourself from and join a group you want to join. That includes listening to certain music, certain artists and adopting the way they dress, what their style is, what they look like.
You've gone through so many transformations. Have you noticed that your fan base has remained consistent or do you have younger fans that have recently discovered your music?Last season David Cook covered your version of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean.' Are you a fan of other artists covering your arrangements of songs? Or was this a shock to you?
It certainly didn't bother me. I don't think it's a bad thing. You can tell you're obviously out there and your music is sort of reverberating in culture when other people are covering it. In this particular case I really liked it because the fact that when my album Carry On first came out with this twisted version of ['Billie Jean'], a lot of people were critical of me doing something like that. People didn't really get it. David Cook covering it on American Idol was the first of what became a whole bunch of people doing it on X-factor shows all over the world. It became a worldwide X-factor phenomenon of people singing my version of that song. First it was Chris Cornell's lost his mind doing this weird version of 'Billie Jean' and then it was reverberating all around the world where millions of people hear it. You're sitting at home, alone, and you have a weird and creative idea and other people question it. It's sort of my job to do it anyway and not worry what other people think. Not really have my own critical voice be loud based on the fact that other people are not necessarily get what I do sometimes or why I want to do it. Also it's really easy when someone does something dramatically different -- they become an easy target.
I've done so many different things that to me it seems pretty spread out -- people who are older than me to people who getting into music right now. They can be fans of music of various times of my career. It's not necessarily about knowing about other periods. There was a big moment when Audioslave got new, young rock fans who didn't necessarily know about Soundgarden. I'll play shows outside the US where I'll go through a repertoire that includes Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog and Audioslave and solo things like the James Bond theme and other songs. A lot of people realize that my voice is the same throughout all these different things.
What will the next album be like?
I'll have no idea what I'll do. I haven't thought about my next album yet.
What's the tour going to be like? Do you have any special tricks to expect while you're onstage?
I'm planning on it being an entire career retrospective as well as my new album. I play really long shows and I may do some more shows where it's the entire new album first and then catalog songs. The new album is an hour of continuous music and it's a one-idea album in a way. That's the way I perform it, so, we'll see.
Scream is available in stores and online now.
Chris Cornell will appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno March 20th and The Carson Daly Show on March 24th and 25th.
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