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Interview: Stripped-down, re-energized Chris Cornell performs Oct. 11 at UB

by jmaloni
Fri, Sep 18th 2015 03:15 pm
Chris Cornell performs a solo acoustic show Sunday, Oct. 11, at the University at Buffalo. (Contributed photo)
Chris Cornell performs a solo acoustic show Sunday, Oct. 11, at the University at Buffalo. (Contributed photo)

By Joshua Maloni

Managing Editor

According to the Bible, and The Byrds, there is a time and a season for change.

For some, it's taking a new job, or a long-delayed vacation.

Others try a new hair color or faster car.

It can be as simple as eating a little less or as complicated as a breakup.

For Chris Cornell, frontman of iconic bands Soundgarden and Audioslave - the man whom Rolling Stone once called "grunge king" - it means satisfying both sides of his personality and musicality.

In other words, there is a time for coming together in a band, and a time to tour as a solo artist.

It's the latter Cornell who will perform Oct. 11 at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts.

"I've kind of always looked at it as being something, directionally, that's just sort of entirely open," he said of his acoustic tour in a recent phone interview. "And when I say it that way, that's in some ways a good thing, and in a lot of ways a bad thing, too. Because it can become somewhat directionless if you're not careful.

"But I started writing songs that were never intended to be Soundgarden songs around the same time as I started writing Soundgarden songs. So, there were always two different focuses as a songwriter. One was writing for something that I could easily step outside of and kind of view from a distance, which was my band; and what is the identity of my band, and what should my band sound like? And then I'd try to help create that.

"As a solo artist, it pretty much meant anything else that isn't that."

Cornell said the break "benefits the band that you're in. To step outside and try some things that you might not have."

"You can bring something kind of back into it. You can breathe a new life into the partnership that you have with the band when you're out kind of experimenting on your own, where it seems to be a little easier to take some chances - depending on what it is," he said.

This creative outlet - this release - also benefits the frontman.

"At this time in my life, I probably spend more as a solo artist - or maybe equal time - and it's probably, creatively, the most satisfying point of my life, because it's so unconfused," Cornell said. "One thing is very much kind of this acoustic one-man show, singer/songwriter-oriented-thing that can easily access any part of a 30-year history. The other thing is almost the opposite, which is a band with a rich history, but extremely loud, aggressive, experimental hard rock. And when I'm not doing one, I'm doing the other. And as soon as one kind of wraps up and I'm switching over to concentrate on the other thing, it always feels refreshing, and I'm always happy to pick up an electric guitar again after I've been on the road for three months doing nothing but playing acoustic songs. And then, of course, the reverse is true. But I haven't done that in a long time, and I've been concentrating on Soundgarden.

"It feels great to just go into a bathroom with an acoustic guitar and play a bunch of songs."

At UB, where he performed solo in 2013, "This tour, again, is going to be just mostly me and an acoustic guitar," Cornell said. "I'm bringing out another musician that, depending on what I'm doing, might accompany me for six or seven songs, and on varied instruments.

"I think the biggest difference between this and the last time I was there as a solo artist will be playing new material. We're also mining sort of deeper into the legacy material from all three bands, and different covers that I do. I think I will try to focus, to some degree, on the new album."

"Higher Truth" was released Friday. Cornell performed the single "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart" Thursday on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

"What's great about 'Higher Truth' is that 'Higher Truth,' as an album, was written specifically to make this type of touring a living, breathing thing. Where you can have brand new songs that sort of seem to fit in with all of this legacy material seamlessly," Cornell said. "And then, you know, it gives my solo audience something to look forward to - and a sense that there will be more new songs. This isn't just a nostalgia show; this is kind of a moving experiment that will continue."

Cornell has three decades of music and three bands (including Temple of the Dog) to draw from, making the UB show an ideal opportunity to hear him sing.

"I think it allows the audience to kind of have a different experience with some of the lyrics," he said. "Because most of the albums that I've made over the years, particularly in different incarnations and different bands, it is very much sort of equal time with the vocals and the lyrics and guitar, bass and drums, and the arrangements - and even kind of the impetus of what the song was. So, sometimes, I think the stories and the paintings that the words are creating can take a back seat. And this is a very different look at some songs that a lot of people really love. And I think that's part of the reason why this type of touring worked so well, even from the very beginning."

David Wedekindt, director of marketing at the UB Center for the Arts, said, "Chris Cornell's last show not only packed our theater, but also generated a great deal of buzz afterwards about the quality of the show. He has a great audience rapport, performed songs from throughout his career along with a few surprises, and most importantly his voice has aged remarkably well."

Fans are likely to hear something from Cornell's first solo album, "Euphoria Mourning," which was recently re-released.

"I always wanted to have it on vinyl. It had never been pressed for vinyl, or hadn't been mastered for vinyl," he said. "I think the timing had more to do with the record company thinking, 'Well, OK, he's putting out a new album. Let's figure out how we can ignite the catalog a little bit.' Because that's what modern record companies really do (laughs). It's the cheapest way to sell records nowadays, because nobody really buys them. So, 'Reissue the one that we paid for 15 years ago.'

"But, by the same token, I think it's great timing. It feels really great - especially when I look at social media and I see how people are responding to being able to hear it on vinyl, and just being able to revisit it again and seeing how much that album means to a lot of people.

"That was the first full solo album I had done, where I couldn't blame the outcome on anybody but myself. It was kind of a nerve-wracking period in my life. And I felt I was very proud of the album. It's just nice to see, after all these years, that it's an important album to a lot of people."

Tickets for Cornell's show are available weekdays at the Center for the Arts box office and online at www.tickets.com. For more information, call 716-645-2787, 1-888-223-6000 or visit www.ubcfa.org.

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