Chris Cornell Talks Soundgarden & Machine Gun Preacher

Soundgarden frontman and Seattle rock icon Chris Cornell wrote the song found on the closing credits for Gerard Butler’s new film Machine Gun Preacher. “The Keeper” is an acoustic guitar piece inspired by the film about Sam Childers, an ex-convict (played by Butler) who became a crusader for Sudanese children.

CraveOnline spoke with Cornell at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film premiered, and got in a few of my Bond geek questions, as well as a bit of talk about Soundgarden.

CraveOnline: What is your process when they ask you to do a song for a film?

Chris Cornell: I think it’s different every time. Generally, obviously there’s the script involved. I try to absorb as much of the story as I can and if I’m getting a feeling from it… Machine Gun Preacher was different than anything I’ve ever done because it’s based on a real person. The scope of the story and the life of the real person is a little bit too broad to fit into one song so I really just kind of find my own way around how to do that. Obviously I can’t include all of it or sum a person’s life up in one song, so I consider what angle I was going to choose.


CraveOnline: What made you choose to go acoustic?

Chris Cornell: There were a few different ideas that I had. The different approaches I had, I thought I’m missing it. It should be something as simple as just a guitar and me singing it. If it’s anything more than that, it’s going to get obscured.


CraveOnline: At what point do they show you the film?

Chris Cornell: I had already written the song, demoed it and they showed me the first edit with my demo kind of temped in to the end. So it was after I was already done. Once I saw the film, I rerecorded the song with some additional music so it would fit over the end of the movie.


CraveOnline: How different is the film music process from writing your other music?

Chris Cornell: Thematically it’s completely different because if I’m writing songs for an album of my own, it can be whatever it is, whatever strikes me whenever. Whether it’s about me or something I observe, it’s much more whimsical. I guess in a sense I feel a responsibility to fans of my music, but when it’s something like a story in a film, I feel a responsibility to something outside of just myself or my band. That’s the biggest difference.


CraveOnline: How did they approach you for Machine Gun Preacher in the first place?

Chris Cornell: A good friend of mine, Michael Cooper, was a good friend of Marc Forster’s, the director. He had read the script and threw it out really to Marc before even me, that you should get Cornell to write a song for this. Marc liked the idea so I just talked to Marc about it. What the story was about seemed pretty amazing to be able to have the opportunity to write for. That’s how it started. Then they sent me the script and Marc and I talked a little bit about what it could be or should be or shouldn’t be. He left me pretty much alone to do whatever I wanted. The actually idea musically I think and lyrically came while I was looking at the website for Angels of East Africa, which is Sam Childress’ website for his organization. I just looked at stills of his orphanage and the children, just the real world photos and films of what he does. It’s spectacular.


CraveOnline: Do you have a quantifiable sense of how music can impact the world?

Chris Cornell: No, not really. I think it’s transitive. It changes with every person. It changes with every moment for me. I think it’s undefinable. It has its own life and that’s why it’s so important.


CraveOnline: When you’re asked to do a James Bond song, what are the rules they give you?

Chris Cornell: Well, in the instance of Casino Royale, the theme was this is different. It’s different from any Bond film ever. So just go do whatever you want and do it differently. Don’t worry about any previous Bond theme. That was hard in that I’ve always had a hard time with if I’m doing anything and it can be anything, then I have to figure out what that thing is.


CraveOnline: There is a certain sound a Bond song has.

Chris Cornell: Yes, it’s true and I went out of my way, I worked with David Arnold on writing and producing the song. We went out of our way to avoid anything that could sound like that and still at the end of the process, it had a bit of that essence.


CraveOnline: Is the mix in the movie different than the mix on the CD?

Chris Cornell: Yeah, which is also the case of Machine Gun Preacher. It’s a different world when you’re sitting in a movie theater. It’s a different pattern that you’re listening to and it has to do a different job than if you’re listening to it on the radio or at home or something without the film.


CraveOnline: As a fan, could we get the film mix of You Know My Name as a single?

Chris Cornell: It could be. I don’t know if it’d sound very good.


CraveOnline: I like it on the Blu-ray.

Chris Cornell: There are several different ones. My favorite mix actually was the Dave Sardy mix that we did that I had to do just for a radio mix. It’s orchestral but you highlight certain parts of it and take out parts of it that I thought were really exciting. I could if it hasn’t been done in any form release the final movie mix.


CraveOnline: What do you think of Adele for the next Bond song?

Chris Cornell: It’s a great idea. It’s a great idea. She’d be perfect.


CraveOnline: What’s going on with Soundgarden?

Chris Cornell: Wrapping up a new Soundgarden album that should be out in the spring.


CraveOnline: What is it like to go back to writing for a group?

Chris Cornell: It’s really exciting, especially when there’s such a history because it’s a band where all four members write music and contribute. So there’s all these different relationships of cowriting and writing I haven’t been able to work in the last 14 years. We have a lot of history doing that together so it was a really exciting thing. You’d really hear what’s special about us when we come together as a group and what that chemistry is, even without trying to define what it means. To just accept it for what it is musically and remember that that’s the most important thing. It’s been really fantastic.


CraveOnline: Does it have any kind of retro sound?

Chris Cornell: Not really. No more than there ever was before. It’s really not nostalgic in any way.


CraveOnline: What does the new Soundgarden sound sound like?

Chris Cornell: You’ll have to wait and we’ll find out.


CraveOnline: Does that mean a break from your solo work?

Chris Cornell: I don’t know that anything really does that. It never did. In 1987 I was writing solo songs and recording them. I just didn’t release it usually.


CraveOnline: Will there be a Soundgarden tour?

Chris Cornell: I think so. We just got done with a tour and it was great.


CraveOnline: What’s on your iPod right now?

Chris Cornell: In terms of playlists, I have nothing. My entire record collection is on my iPod so it’s inclusive of a lot of stuff.


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