Chris Cornell on fatherhood & rockstardom

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*Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 14, 2005. I have decided to republish it after hearing the news of Chris Cornell’s death.

Photo by Steven Friederich

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him but Chris Cornell is a changed man.

The curly-haired “Screaming Life” singer, who was once a poster boy for a musical movement, nearly appears the same as he did when Vogue ran its infamous “Grunge and Glory” spread in honor of flannel fashion. His steely eyes, heart-throb good looks and distinctive, gravely-yet-smooth vocals are near identical to how they were some 10 years ago at the peak of popularity for his former band, Soundgarden.

However, looks can be deceiving. Cornell is a changed man and something unexpected has changed the now 40-year old rock star – life as a family man.

“It’s very inspiring and very eye-opening and I think it is a great experience for me to have at 40-years old … Kind of like a life begins at forty feeling.”

Hours before his current band Audioslave took the stage in Everett last month, Cornell, a former Seattleite who now splits time between homes in Los Angeles and Paris, was beaming with fatherly pride as he explained how his 1-year old daughter, Toni, learned to walk. During the concert Toni danced and watched her father perform from the side of the stage for the first time and later in the night Cornell held her high in his arms as he introduced her to the crowd.

Before joining Audioslave – which consists of Cornell, guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and bass player Tim Commerford, all former members of Rage Against the Machine – Cornell was wasn’t sure about his musical future. He has since credited meeting Wilk, Commerford and Morello with saving his life.

However, it’s not just the former members of Rage that helped save him; Cornell equally credits his new family life with helping his career – and his life – get a second wind. When he met his current wife in Paris she didn’t know a thing about Cornell’s career as a musician, but now she willingly helps him whenever possible and acts as an inspiring force in his life. The two have been married for more than a year and along with having a daughter who recently started walking, the two are expecting their second child together, a boy, after Thanksgiving.

“I didn’t have the same focus (when I was in Soundgarden) I have now. Now everything has come together. The focus on my wife and my children, it really helps me make sense of the music side of it somehow,” said Cornell. “It’s something that’s natural, rhythmic, that makes sense in this family where it’s sort of shed the light on music and how much music makes sense.

If you allow yourself the freedom of expression of music it’s actually the easiest thing ever. For me to write right now with Audioslave some days go easier than other days, there’s no question, but every day something comes out of it.”

When asked to compare the differences between his former and current band mates Cornell instead reflected on the similarities. Something the pre-family life Cornell may not necessarily have done. He reminisced fondly about his days fronting Soundgarden and was excited toward the possibility of making more music as a part of Audioslave.

“Brad, Tim and Tom, have been in a band together for so long I think between the three of them have a sense of subconscious timing, rhythm and feel that is unlike any band I have ever played with.”

While Audioslave has been a successful venture for Cornell, what about Rage and Soundgarden, which were two of the most popular rock groups of the nineties? Audioslave recently began performing songs from its members’ previous bands and they received some of the loudest applause during the Everett concert. Cornell explained performing the songs as being a natural progression for the band.

“Tom and Brad and Tim were huge fans of Soundgarden before I ever met them. The (Soundgarden) songs we have played they play incredibly well, they take very seriously and they love,” said Cornell “The reverse is true for the Rage songs. I love the Rage songs that we do and it’s such a different feeling.

What a gift that is for us to have such long legacies of such varied musical fields and tap into any time we want and we can make them ours and they’re good,” he added.

Since Audioslave is readily performing Soundgarden songs, are plans for a Soundgarden reunion in the works? Although Cornell said he and his former band mates parted amicably, he practically ruled out any possibility of a reunion.

“I don’t think there are too many rock bands in history that can look at the beginning and middle and ending of themselves and see what I see when I think of Soundgarden. I think from the beginning through the middle and the end it was such a perfect ride and such a perfect legacy to leave,” said Cornell.

(Getting back together) would take the lid off that and could possibly change what to up to now, to me, seems like the perfect lifespan of the band. I can’t think of any reason to mess with that.”

While fans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for Soundgarden to get back together, Cornell said they should expect to see Audioslave more often. The band finished pre-production on its third album before leaving for tour and when it is released next year he expects to get Audioslave on the road again.

“I think what we are trying to do as Audioslave is deemphasize the cyclical nature of modern recording artists where a band tours for a year and a half and then vanishes for two years,” said Cornell. “What we’d like to do is make records and tour. Write music, tour, record, tour. Keep it all going all at once like bands did in the seventies. Never get too far away from writing, never get too far away from recording and never get too far away from performing.”

Recharged, rejuvenated and nearly 20 years removed from grunge, Cornell is enjoying the fruits of family life and how it’s impacting his music.

“It’s unpredictable. It’s just simple and very enjoyable. Which is something I think is kind of normal for people when they grow older.”


Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.