Chris Cornell Talks Working With Timbaland On 'Scream'
Was that about struggling to find a songwriting voice writing songs for yourself, as opposed the band?
When I made the solo album with Timbaland, that was obviously a conscious effort to do something completely different than anything I’d ever done in every way—and it was. I was introduced to a whole different method of songwriting, of recording, of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. It was a different set of rules. (I took some of that into the most recent Soundgarden album, just in terms of what songwriting can be. One of the songs, called “Rowing,” I took a loop from about seven seconds of Ben [Shepherd] playing a cool thing on bass, that he didn’t even remember he’d played and I built the whole song around it. A few years before that I wouldn’t have thought that could work… but it does! [laughs].
You mentioned learning a lot about what songwriting is and isn’t allowed on the Scream album. But it also involved stepping into a whole new aesthetic after a couple of decades of work. Was that scary?
Timbaland’s big picture was that, too, ultimately. His approach was you just keep going, keep writing songs, have fun with it, and hopefully that will mean that you come up with a couple of hits. But in that world of record production, you have to come up with a couple of hits, and in the world I came from, you don’t, really. You have to come up with something that’s inspired, and maybe you challenge your fans a little bit, but it doesn’t necessarily have to become pop songs. Sometimes that can even be a bad thing. There were some anxious moments, and some of what we came up with creatively came out pretty special because of the strange combination. Some of it was due to the resistance on my part, but some of it was due to how game I was for trying different things. Ultimately it became what it became, in essence, the way I like any album I’ve made: It’s a whole album, an album-oriented album, it sounds best beginning to end, nothing that needs to be taken out of context.
Did being the one person who didn’t think of hit-making as the only possible impetus to write a song cause any tension during that project?
I reached out through a friend because I’d heard that Timbaland wanted to record a song with me, and said why don’t we do a whole album, and I didn’t know what would come back. And it was sort of whimsical. To me it wasn’t like a dramatic shift-of-career decision. For me it was something to do for two weeks and wind up with this crazy-sounding album I would otherwise never have. And what ended up happening later in the process was that Timbaland seemed really inspired by the whole thing. He really ran with it and wanted to connect all the songs with interludes and make this constant hour of music. He ended up spending a lot of time making production moves after the body of the songs was already done. It was like he wanted to turn it into his Sgt. Pepper’s. So it turned into another thing, but it was still what I wanted it to be. It was a crazy fish-out-of-water experience that yielded something that didn’t sound remotely like anything else I’ve ever done.