Rock Legend Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden) Talks His Solo Album Carry On, And Writing His Songs

Chris Cornell

Note: This is an interview with Chris Cornell in 2007 when he released his solo album, Carry On. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. 

Veteran rock singer/songwriter Chris Cornell has enjoyed multi-platinum success fronting two major bands: the seminal, grunge-era Soundgarden; and more recently Audioslave, which included three members of Rage Against The Machine. He has won several Grammy awards and received many other accolades. And now Cornell has returned to his solo career ‘ on June 5 (2007) he will be releasing his highly-anticipated album Carry On, on Suretone/Interscope Records.

Carry On, which was produced by Steve Lillywhite (U2, Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel), is an excellent album which shows Cornell in fine songwriting and singing form. The CD includes the high-energy first single ‘No Such Thing,’ plus ‘You Know My Name,’ the James Bond theme song (for Casino Royale) that Cornell performed and co-wrote. Carry On is a well-rounded album which also includes some blues-rock and acoustic songs. And interestingly, the album includes a very unique cover rendition, of Cornell recording a slower, compelling version of Michael Jackson’s hit, ‘Billie Jean.’

In a special new interview, Cornell talked about the making of Carry On, and how he wrote and recorded the songs. He explained that he had a great time creating this album, and how he still felt fresh even after it was completed. In addition, he recalled how he hooked up to co-write the James Bond theme song, and how he decided to work on his album with top producer Steve Lillywhite.

Here is the Q&A interview with Chris Cornell:

DK: When did you start writing and recording the songs for Carry On?

Cornell: I started writing the songs about a year ago. We started recording the album last October (2006). It took only two months to finish the album.

DK: How did you select Steve Lillywhite to produce the album?

Cornell: I wanted to work with a producer for this record ‘ I wanted some help so I didn’t have to take on everything in the studio. I’ve had good experiences previously working with Rick Rubin and Brendan O’Brien. With Steve (Lillywhite), I hadn’t worked with him before ‘ I initially just knew his name from his work with U2. But then I learned that he had produced many other great records. He produced several other bands that I really liked, such as XTC, Ultravox and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I also noticed that he had made consecutive albums with several of these bands, and that said a lot to me, because if they didn’t get along they wouldn’t have made consecutive albums with him.

DK: How did you write the songs for the album, and did you co-write much?

Cornell: I wrote all the (new) songs by myself except for ‘You Know My Name,’ which was written with David Arnold. I wrote the songs at home ‘ we have a house in Los Angeles and an apartment in Paris. My wife Vicky and I have two young kids, a boy and a girl. I didn’t want to be isolated from my kids. So I put some recording equipment in each place and wrote the songs there.

DK: On your new album, the music and performances seem very relaxed and self-assured. Is the album a reflection of your personal life, with your wife and young kids?

Cornell: I did enjoy writing the new songs and being at home. During my last album with Audioslave I had focused on aggressive music ‘ I was going through a difficult time. And I didn’t always have a great time writing songs for some of my other albums. But for Carry On, I really enjoyed the process of writing and demoing the songs and making the record. Records shouldn’t be difficult to make – one shouldn’t be afraid of the outcome.

DK: I really like your James Bond song ‘You Know My Name.’ How did you hook up to write for Casino Royale?

Cornell: Lia Vollack (President of Music for Sony Pictures) was heading the soundtrack and she called. She said they needed a song and singer that would reflect the dramatic new direction of James Bond, with Daniel Craig starring. They wanted a strong male singer ‘ they wanted a song that would be remembered. I was a James Bond fan ‘ as a kid I really liked the Bond films which starred Sean Connery. More importantly, I’m a big Daniel Craig fan. I had seen many of his films, and I knew he would be great as James Bond. And I also liked the idea of doing a James Bond theme song for another reason. I’m a Paul McCartney fan, and I remembered how he had written and sung the Bond theme ‘Live And Let Die.’ So it was thrill that I could do a Bond theme, like my hero Paul McCartney had done earlier.

DK: So you wrote this theme song with Bond composer David Arnold?

Cornell: Yes. David and I met, and I saw the rough cut of the film in Prague (Czech Republic). David suggested that we write a song that echoed the film score. I started writing ‘You Know My Name’ and I gave him a call. It had lyrics first ‘ the melody hadn’t been written yet. Then David came up with some musical ideas. I wrote most of the lyrics ‘ he came up with some of the lyric lines ‘ and we did a demo. Then David and I produced [the full version] and we played all the instruments except for drums. It was just a few guys in the studio playing all the instruments. We recorded it at George Martin’s studio in England ‘ it was the perfect place and experience to make a James Bond record.

DK: ‘You Know My Name’ seems to fit nicely among the songs on your new album.

Cornell: I wrote ‘You Know My Name’ in the middle of writing the songs for my record, so I feel like the song belongs on the album. Writing for a James Bond movie allowed me to go to into an imaginary world. And now that I’m on tour, I’m having a lot of fun singing this song live.

DK: It sounds like making Carry On was a really good experience for you.

Cornell: I had a great time making this album, and when it was finished, I still felt completely fresh ‘ I was ready to write another one. I really enjoyed the whole creative process. [I want to say] that as a working musician, I always feel lucky to do what I do ‘ creating music for a living. Many musicians don’t make much money. But I’m in a very small, lucky group who can make a good living at it. I feel very fortunate to be able to travel around the world, making music and performing.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima