How Chris Cornell Finally Embraced His Singing Voice In Soundgarden

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

September 2, 2022

It wasn't sa mystery to the founding members of Soundgarden in their early days that Chris Cornell could be a singer, but it took them about a year to realize how good he really was.

Chris began his career as a drummer and started Soundgarden with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto with the intention of sticking as a drummer.

Speaking to Rick Beato, alongside producer Jack Endino and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Thayil couldn't help but laugh at how long it took them to realize that their frontman was stuck at the back of the stage.

"You had like the archetypal front man," Novoselic pointed out.

"And we didn't know that because he was behind us [on the drums]!" Thayil replied.

"Hiding in plain sight," Novoselic added. "This guy, it's all there. And as a vocalist? Wow."

Chris sang at some cover band gigs with Thayil, but when it was time to write original music, he returned to his main instrument. If he had lyrical ideas, Chris would play drums and sing at the same time.

"That's how we see Chris' value," Thayil said of the band's thinking at the time. "He's helping us put these songs together as the drummer. We're writing things in weird time signatures that he can understand and interpret and work with Hiro on that or work with me on that."

It might have stayed like that, too, except Soundgarden's music kept getting more complicated. Chris had to pick a lane.

"We eventually came to this point where it was too difficult for him to sing in 5/4 or 7/4 and play drums," Thayil continued. "It was kind of amazing that he was doing it. But it was just too difficult and just got to the point where he said, 'I can't do this. Let's either get a full-time singer or a full-time drummer.'"

Soundgarden eventually found a drummer, Scott Sundquist, and later Matt Cameron. Once Cameron joined the band, Chris deferred to his judgment when there were questions about drum parts. But Chris's drummer's brain continued to help him when it came to his songwriting.

Beato began playing the song "Rusty Cage" — one of Soundgarden's more rhythmically disorienting hits — and Thayil noted that it was a perfect example of the unique way Chris thought about music.

"I don't think a guitarist could have written that. Chris's ability as a drummer, that's what it was."

Hard Rock Calling 2012 Day 1
Photo: Getty Images Europe
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