Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Chris Cornell talks about his latest reinvention, living in Florida

Two things South Florida has in common with Seattle:

1. Rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain.

2. Chris Cornell loves them both.

"If you look at the continental U.S., it's as far away as you could possibly get," the singer-songwriter said from his home in Miami. "It's not something I would have guessed I would have liked, in terms of the heat and the humidity, and it turns out that I really do. After being here for a couple of weeks, I thought, I could really get used to it."

The golden-voiced Soundgarden frontman, who also has homes in New York and Rome, bought a home in Florida about three years ago after spending long stretches writing and recording here, including most of his 2015 album Higher Truth. Fittingly, Florida is where he'll kick off the next leg of his Higher Truth World Tour on June 16 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

"I'd come down here enough times to where I sort of had a feel for it, but it wasn't until working here that I felt like it was a place I understood a little better, and really started to grow to like a lot," he said. "It might actually lend itself to the creative process a little bit, similarly to Seattle."

BREAKING: Death of rocker Chris Cornell investigated as suicide

In some ways, the move to a more relaxed latitude mirrors Cornell's evolution as a singer, songwriter and human.

Soundgarden rose to fame through the Seattle punk and metal scene in the late '80s before dropping three albums — 1991's Badmotorfinger, 1994's Superunknown and 1996's Down on the Upside — that sold millions of copies and established them as icons of the grunge era, as big as Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

But by the time Down on the Upside was released, "it was a difficult period in my life outside of the band," Cornell said. "I didn't feel when that album came out like I was seeing the end of anything. But I'm not sure for me, personally, that was a period where I was seeing anything as clearly as I would've liked."

When Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Cornell became a free agent. He released a solo album in 1999 and formed the supergroup Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine, but could have joined any number of bands eager to utilize his one-of-a-kind wail.

"I started getting those (offers) probably around 1990, and haven't really stopped," he said. "What I do is attractive to guitar players."

Cornell's most recent reinvention came a decade ago, around the time of Audioslave's breakup. He wrote You Know My Name, the theme to the 2006 James Bond flick Casino Royale, and released his second studio album, Carry On, which featured his signature slow-burning cover of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean.

In 2006, while promoting an Audioslave album in Europe, he took his first-ever solo acoustic gig in Stockholm, Sweden.

"It included a couple of solo songs and a couple of Soundgarden songs," he said. "I felt at the time like I could probably get away with it for 45 minutes, and then people would start talking. And after the hour was up, it felt like I could have played for two hours."

A few years later, he decided to test the solo show on the road — just him, his guitar and his magnificent voice. He played Soundgarden songs, Audioslave songs, solo songs, covers ranging from Led Zeppelin's Thank You to Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U. The format was freeing, with Cornell able to take requests and banter with the crowd in ways he never could with his heavier hard-rock projects.

"Rehearsing for that tour is just me sitting in a room with an acoustic guitar, playing all my songs that I can think of," he said. "Anything that comes to mind, I'll just learn on the spot."

Soundgarden reunited in 2010, but Cornell has stuck with his solo career, too. In 2011 he released Songbook, a collection of live recordings from his acoustic tours. Higher Truth feels similarly intimate and stripped down, suiting his new life as alt-rock's top traveling troubadour.

"It's about creativity and writing songs and being inspired by something, and what that feels like," he said of the album.

Sober for years, Cornell doesn't look back on his prior life of addiction as something he survived — even after the high-profile, drug-related deaths of artists like Scott Weiland and Prince.

"What ends up happening with musicians and actors is, they're famous, so when somebody has an issue, it's something that gets talked about," he said. "People die of drug overdoses every day that nobody talks about. It's a shame that famous people get all the focus, because it then gets glorified a little bit, like, 'This person was too sensitive for the world,' and, 'A light twice as bright lives half as long,' and all that. Which is all bulls---. It's not true."

Living in Florida with his family is part of what has made his life feel more stable over the past few years, even if you won't be hearing steel drums and shakers in his music anytime soon.

"The first time I ever went to Hawaii, I was listening to island music, thinking, I could've been born here, and I'm pretty sure I would never play that," he laughed. "For me, it's some sort of osmosis, some other aspect of culture that I key into.

"I wasn't sure how that would work, being creative here, living here, writing here. But I just started doing that, and it seems to be doing great."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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