The music industry joke about rock band reunions is that even when there seems no possible hope of one happening, just wait a few years.
Take Seattle grunge vets Soundgarden, for instance, who hung up their heavy-rocking mantle in 1997 after touring their last studio album, 1996's Down on the Upside.
As recently as 2007, big-voiced singer Chris Cornell -- who went on to front another big rock band, Audioslave (featuring three-quarters of Rage Against The Machine), and pursued his own solo career with varying degrees of success -- was telling me it wasn't in the cards.
"Getting back together -- I just don't see the scenario where it made sense," said Cornell at the time when he was promoting his latest solo album. "So it'd have to be for some reason that I can't think of right now."
Fast forward to 2010: Soundgarden reunited for a tour that stretched into 2011; they released a 2010 compilation album, Telephantasm: A Retrospective; a 2011 live album, Live on I-5; and a 2012 Avengers soundtrack song, Live to Rise.
Now the band -- rounded out by lead guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd -- is releasing their first studio album in 16 years, King Animal, on Tuesday, produced by Seattle veteran Adam Kasper (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam).
The first single is called, somewhat pointedly, Been Away Too Long (Listen below).
We caught up with Cornell on the phone from the West Coast to talk about what led to one of rock's most-anticipated reunions ever.
You were pretty adamant five years ago that a Soundgarden reunion just wasn't going to happen. What changed your mind?
I wasn't adamant about me not personally wanting to do it but I didn't see it as being likely. And 90% of that was just based on we weren't talking about it ever ... We didn't seem to need to reunite in terms of we put away Soundgarden in a very kind of truimphant and complete way. Our last album was one of our best in terms of all four band members really being completely immersed in the whole process ... And it's one of my favourite albums. And then we walked away from it. It did well commercially ... So it wasn't a question that tugged on heartstrings where you think, 'God, if only we could have done X. Or yeah, it would be really great to get back so we could redeem ourselves for that long period of crap.' "
So what began the process of Soundgarden getting back together?
It was a matter of us being in a room together and then becoming comfortable and starting to take on a responsibility for reconnecting with our fans based on our old material and considering doing reissues ... And that led to us finally deciding to play a show and then tour and then a new album.
And was there, as they say, big money involved?
When news got out that we were working on Telephantasm and other projects, that's when the offers first came in -- huge. And the first thing we did was kind of unanimously say, 'No we don't want to do that.' And I think that was a catalyst to the trust and the feeling that we're in this for the right reasons moving forward.
Now that a new Soundgarden disc is just days away from release, how are you feeling?
I'm just anxious for it to be out ... Now you have to worry about track leaks, you have to worry about album leaks ... And then any small condensed snippet of any song that anyone hears gets talked about online until there's a thousand blogs about people sort of trying to predict what the album will sound like and what it means. Often times people will actually decide they know (what the album will be like) based on, for example, one song.
And that song would be?
It started with Live to Rise where people heard that and that was written after all of King Animal was finished really. And it was written specifically for the film so it had nothing to do with the album and yet it got a lot of response saying this is their new direction. Like they understood who we were now and what we were trying to do, which is silly. And it's especially silly for Soundgarden because there's never been a period in our career where you could listen to a single song and say, 'Oh, it's this.' I always felt like we were doing our job well because of that. A band that can do Jesus Christ Pose and Black Hole Sun, both convincingly, that should have been enough to give the impression that you're never really going to be able to predict from one song.
What do you think the response to King Animal, which isn't so far afield from the bedrock Soundgarden sound, will be from fans?
The anxiety is I know we have a lot of close, hardcore fans that have supported us for a long and I feel personally, very confident that they're going to be really happy with what we did.
And isn't it better that they're talking about the band, then not at all?
Of course! I'm not really complaining. I'm like a kid at Christmas and I want the record to get out there."
More North American tour dates planned
Soundgarden's 2010-2011 reunion dates went over big with fans given the Seattle band had broken up after their 1997 trek.
And now that the group has a new album, King Animal, out on Tuesday there will be a 2013 North American tour, says singer Chris Cornell, after the group plays three club dates this month, including Friday at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre. (The other two dates are in L.A. and New York.) "It's a really economic approach to 'What can we do?' " Cornell says. "And where can we go where we definitely have a huge fan base and just draw attention to the fact that we do have a record coming out."
Needless to say, Cornell says, there was definitely a warm-up period the first time Soundgarden got back together for live shows in 2010.
"It took me a few shows," he says. "I don't think it was like riding a bike. I think our body of work is too big, our songs are complicated. There's that, 'All eyes on you,' kind of thing ... But I also felt like it wasn't until we actually got out and played a few shows that I started to feel like we were the Soundgarden that I remember."
Crank up the bass - it's almost summer By now, you've removed your winter tires, dusted off your spring jacket and glimpsed at that elusive orange orb in the sky. Remember summer? It's almost back. When warm weather makes a comeback each year, there's nothing like that first drive. That first ... Read more