Chris Cornell (born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964) is an American rock musician best known as the lead singer and songwriter for the rock bands Soundgarden (1984?1997) and Audioslave (2001?2007), and for his numerous solo works and soundtrack contributions (1998?present). He is known for his wide four octave vocal range, and powerful vocal belting technique. He was the founder and frontman for Temple of the Dog, the one-off tribute band dedicated to his former roommate, Andrew Wood. He has released three solo studio albums, Euphoria Morning (1999), Carry On (2007), and Scream (2009). Cornell was ranked 4th in the list of "Heavy Metal's All-Time Top 100 Vocalists" by Hit Parader.
Cornell was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and attended Shorewood High School. His parents are Ed Boyle (a pharmacist from an Irish Catholic background) and Karen Cornell (an accountant from a Jewish background). He has five siblings: older brothers Peter and Patrick, and younger sisters Katy, Suzy, and Maggie.
Cornell spent a two-year period between the ages of nine and eleven solidly listening to The Beatles after finding a large collection of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of a house. He then suffered from a severe case of clinical depression during his teenage years, rarely leaving the house. Cornell was a loner, however he was able to deal with his anxiety around other people through rock music. Before becoming a successful musician, he worked at a seafood wholesaler and was a sous chef at a restaurant named Ray's Boathouse.
In the early 1980s, Cornell was a member of a cover band called The Shemps that performed around Seattle. The Shemps also featured bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Following Yamamoto's departure from The Shemps, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil as its new bassist. Cornell and Yamamoto stayed in contact, and after The Shemps broke up Cornell and Yamamoto started jamming together, eventually bringing in Thayil to join them.
Main article: Soundgarden
Soundgarden was formed in 1984 by Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto, with Cornell originally on drums and vocals. In 1985, the band enlisted Scott Sundquist to allow Cornell to concentrate on vocals. The band's first recordings were three songs that appeared on a compilation for C/Z Records called Deep Six. In 1986, Sundquist, who by that point had a wife and a child, decided to leave the band and spend time with his family. He was replaced by Matt Cameron, the drummer for Skin Yard, who became Soundgarden's permanent drummer.
"Flower" was the only single released from Ultramega OK. The song's intro features Kim Thayil blowing across his guitar strings.
Soundgarden signed to Sub Pop, releasing the Screaming Life EP in 1987 and the Fopp EP in 1988 (a combination of the two was issued as Screaming Life/Fopp in 1990). Though the band was being courted by major labels, in 1988 they signed to SST Records to release their debut album, Ultramega OK (1988), for which they earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1990. The band subsequently signed with A&M Records, becoming the first grunge band to sign to a major label. In 1989, the band released their second effort, and their first for a major label, Louder Than Love. Following the release of Louder Than Love, Yamamoto left the band to finish his Master's degree in Physical Chemistry at Western Washington University. He was replaced by former Nirvana guitarist Jason Everman. Everman was fired following Soundgarden's tour supporting Louder Than Love. In 1990, the band was joined by a new bassist, Ben Shepherd.
Soundgarden in 1991, left to right: Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell and Ben Shepherd
Along with Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden became one of the most successful bands from Seattle's emerging grunge scene in the early 1990s. With Shepherd, the new line-up recorded Badmotorfinger in 1991. The album brought the band to a new level of commercial success, and Soundgarden found itself amidst the sudden popularity and attention given to the Seattle music scene. Badmotorfinger included the singles "Jesus Christ Pose", "Outshined", and "Rusty Cage". The three singles gained considerable airtime on alternative rock radio stations, while the videos for "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" gained considerable airtime on MTV. The song "Jesus Christ Pose" and its music video was the subject of widespread controversy in 1991, and the video was removed from MTV's playlist. "Rusty Cage" was later covered by Johnny Cash on his 1996 album, Unchained. It also appeared on the fictional radio station Radio X on the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and in the 32-bit version of Road Rash. "Room a Thousand Years Wide" was released previously as a single in 1990, but not to promote the album. It was released (with the song "HIV Baby") as a 7" through Sub Pop's Single of the Month club a full year before the release of Badmotorfinger. The song was re-recorded for this album. Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992. It was also ranked number 45 in the October 2006 issue of Guitar World on the magazine's list of the 100 greatest guitar albums of all time.
Superunknown became the band's breakthrough album. Upon its release in March 1994, Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The album launched several successful singles, including "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun", and granted Soundgarden international recognition. Superunknown achieved quintuple platinum status in the United States, triple platinum status in Canada, and gold status in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Rolling Stone gave Superunknown four out of five stars. Reviewer J.D. Considine said Superunknown "demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career." He also stated, "At its best, Superunknown offers a more harrowing depiction of alienation and despair than anything on In Utero." Considine criticized "Black Hole Sun" and "Half", stating that the former is "not a very good song" while the latter "is the virtual definition of a B-side." Jon Pareles of The New York Times said that "Superunknown actually tries to broaden its audience by breaking heavy-metal genre barriers that Soundgarden used to accept." He added that "Soundgarden...want something different from standard heavy metal." David Browne of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A. He said, "Soundgarden is pumped and primed on Superunknown, and they deliver the goods." He praised it as a "hard-rock milestone-a boiling vat of volcanic power, record-making smarts, and '90s anomie and anxiety that sets a new standard for anything called metal." The album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 1995. Two singles from Superunknown, "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman", won Grammy Awards, and the music video for "Black Hole Sun" won a MTV Video Music Award and a Clio Award. Superunknown was ranked number 336 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and "Black Hole Sun" was ranked number 25 on VH1's list of the 100 greatest songs of the '90s.
"Burden in My Hand"
"Burden in My Hand" was the second single released from Down on the Upside. The song was written by Cornell and blends acoustic and electric instrumentation.
The band's final album was 1996's self-produced Down on the Upside. The album spawned several singles, including "Pretty Noose", "Burden in My Hand", and "Blow Up the Outside World". The album was notably less heavy than the group's preceding albums, and marked a further departure from the band's grunge roots. Soundgarden explained at the time that it wanted to experiment with other sounds. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said, "Few bands since Led Zeppelin have so crisply mixed instruments both acoustic and electric." However, tensions within the group arose during the sessions, with Thayil and Cornell reportedly clashing over Cornell's desire to shift away from the heavy guitar riffing that had become the band's trademark. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of Superunknown. In 1997, Soundgarden received another Grammy nomination, for the lead single "Pretty Noose". Due to tensions within the band, reportedly due to internal strife over its creative direction, Soundgarden announced it was disbanding on April 9, 1997. In a 1998 interview, Thayil said, "It was pretty obvious from everybody's general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction."
Regarding a future Soundgarden reunion, Cornell stated that it would "probably not happen." He continued, "It's almost like we sealed the lid and said, this is Soundgarden and this is its lifespan, and put it out there." In interviews following his departure from Audioslave, Cornell reiterated that the members of Soundgarden had no interest in reuniting. In an interview in early August 2007, Cornell mentioned that Thayil had wanted to release a box set or B-sides album of Soundgarden rarities, although no further information was given.
Solo career (1998?2000)
In 1998, Cornell began working on material for a solo album on which he collaborated with Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider of the band Eleven. The album, entitled Euphoria Morning, was released on September 21, 1999. The album proved commercially unsuccessful although the album's single "Can't Change Me" was nominated for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 2000 Grammy Awards. Euphoria Morning includes "Wave Goodbye", Cornell's tribute to his late friend Jeff Buckley. It has been noted that Euphoria Morning is influenced by Buckley's songwriting and distinctive vocal style. He also contributed the song "Sunshower" (a bonus track on the Japanese release of Euphoria Morning) to the soundtrack of the 1998 film, Great Expectations, and a reworked version of the track "Mission", retitled "Mission 2000", was used on the soundtrack to the 2000 film, Mission: Impossible II. In 2000, Cornell embarked on a tour in support of the album.
Main article: Audioslave
Audioslave was formed after Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine and the remaining members were searching for another vocalist. Producer and friend Rick Rubin suggested that they contact Cornell. Rubin played the remaining Rage Against the Machine band members the Soundgarden song "Slaves & Bulldozers" to showcase his ability. Cornell was in the writing process of a second solo album, but decided to shelve that and pursue the opportunity to work with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk when they approached him. Morello described Cornell: "He stepped to the microphone and sang the song and I couldn't believe it. It didn't just sound good. It didn't sound great. It sounded transcendent. And... when there is an irreplaceable chemistry from the first moment, you can't deny it." The quartet wrote 21 songs during 19 days of rehearsal and began working in the studio in late May 2001.
"Cochise", typical of Tom Morello, was compared to the sound of a helicopter.
Their debut album, Audioslave, released in November 2002, spawned hits such as "Cochise", "Like a Stone" and "Show Me How to Live", and has reached triple platinum status in the United States. The band was nearly derailed before the album's release; Cornell was going through alcohol problems and a slot on the Ozzfest tour was canceled. During this time, there was a rumor that Cornell had checked himself into drug rehabilitation. He later confirmed it in an interview with Metal Hammer that was conducted from a clinic payphone. In a San Diego CityBeat article, Cornell explained that he went through "a horrible personal crisis" during the making of the first record, staying in rehab for two months and separating from his wife. The problems were ironed out and he has remained sober since this time. The band toured through 2003, before resting in 2004 to record their second album.
Audioslave's second album, Out of Exile, was released in May 2005 and debuted at number one on the U.S. charts. The album has since gone on to achieve platinum status. The album features the singles "Out of Exile", "Be Yourself", "Your Time Has Come", and "Doesn't Remind Me". Cornell admitted to writing his most personal songs ever on this album, influenced by the positive changes in his life since 2002. He also described the album as more varied than the debut and relying less on heavy guitar riffs. Critics initially described Audioslave as an amalgamation of Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, but by the band's second album, Out of Exile, noted that they had established a separate identity. The album was received more favorably than Audioslave's debut; critics noted Cornell's stronger vocals, likely the result of quitting smoking and drinking, and pointed out that Out of Exile is "the sound of a band coming into its own." Allmusic praised the album as "lean, hard, strong, and memorable." The lyrics, however, were still a common complaint; musicOMH.com wrote that Cornell's lyrics "continue to border on the ridiculous." On May 6, 2005, Audioslave played a free show in Havana, Cuba. Audioslave became the first American rock group to perform a concert in Cuba, playing in front of an audience of 70,000. The band traveled to Havana on May 4 to interact with Cuban musicians. Cornell commented: "Hopefully, this concert will help to open the musical borders between our two countries." The 26-song set concert was the longest the band had ever played.
"Original Fire" (2006)
The first single from Revelations, inspired by the Seattle music scene.
In early 2006 the band returned, recording their third album as they had written most of the material during the tour. The band released the album, titled Revelations, in September 2006. For Revelations, which was influenced by 1960s and 70s music, Cornell adopted his "seventies funk and R&B-flavor vocals." The first two singles were "Original Fire" and "Revelations". Two of the songs from the third album, "Shape of Things to Come" and "Wide Awake" were also prominently featured in Michael Mann's 2006 film, Miami Vice, prior to the release of the album. Despite the exposure to other forms of media and the positive critical buzz for their third album, Audioslave did not tour behind the release. They went into hiatus to allow Cornell to complete "You Know My Name", the theme song for the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale, and Morello to pursue his own solo work under the moniker of The Nightwatchman.
All of Audioslave's lyrics were written by Cornell, while all four members were credited with writing the music. Their songwriting process was described by Wilk as "more collaborative" and "satisfying" than Rage Against the Machine's, which was "a battle creatively." Cornell, for his part, saw Soundgarden's songwriting method as inferior to Audioslave's. Cornell's lyrics were mostly apolitical; Audioslave's Morello referred to them as "haunted, existential poetry." They were characterized by his cryptic approach, often dealing with themes of existentialism, love, hedonism, spirituality and Christianity. Cornell's battle with drug addiction and alcoholism was a defining factor in the writing and recording process. Even though the singer admitted that he was "never able to write effectively" while drinking, and attended rehab after recording the debut album, Morello stated that Revelations was "the first record didn't smoke, drink or take drugs through the recording." However, Morello said: "Chris was stone sober during the making of our Out of Exile album. Chris was also sober during the making of Revelations and prior to recording he gave up smoking as well. I apologize for any confusion or concern that was stirred up by the original article. Sobriety can be a matter of life or death and Chris' courage in maintaining his health for years has been an inspiration."
News about Cornell's departure emerged in July 2006, when insiders stated that after the third album he would split for a solo career. The singer immediately denied the rumors, stating "We hear rumors that Audioslave is breaking up all the time. ... I always just ignore ." On February 15, 2007, Cornell officially announced his departure from Audioslave, stating that "Due to irresolvable personality conflicts as well as musical differences, I am permanently leaving the band Audioslave. I wish the other three members nothing but the best in all of their future endeavors." As the other three members were busy with the Rage Against the Machine reunion, and Morello and Cornell had each released solo albums in 2007, Audioslave was officially disbanded.
Solo revival (2007?present)
Cornell and composer David Arnold collaborated on the song "You Know My Name", which Cornell co-wrote and performed and which accompanies the opening titles for the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale. "You Know My Name" is the first theme song since 1983's Octopussy to use a different title than the film, the first ever sung by a male American, and the first ever title theme song that did not appear on the soundtrack album. Cornell is the first male performer since a-ha in 1987's The Living Daylights. It is the fourth title theme after Dr. No, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Octopussy, that does not make any reference to the title of the film. "You Know My Name" won a 2006 Satellite Award in the category of Best Original Song, and a 2007 World Soundtrack Award in the category of Best Original Song Written Directly for a Film. The song was also nominated for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media at the 2008 Grammy Awards. This song became the first song recorded for his solo album, which he began work on in 2007.
"Billie Jean" unplugged
From the live album Chris Cornell: Unplugged in Sweden
Though not officially released onto CD, an hour-long acoustic concert Cornell performed on September 7, 2006 at O-Baren in Stockholm, is widely available for download under the title Chris Cornell: Unplugged in Sweden. A promotional CD for his solo album, Carry On, was released in March 2007, entitled The Roads We Choose - A Retrospective. The 17-song CD included songs from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave and Cornell's solo work.
On June 5, 2007, Cornell released his second solo album, Carry On, produced by Steve Lillywhite. It debuted at number 17 on the American Billboard charts. Among the artists who accompanied him on his second solo release was friend Gary Lucas, who contributed acoustic guitar to some of the tracks. Cornell has stated that he is always writing, and that there are some songs that he was not able to put onto an Audioslave album. While recording his second solo album, Cornell was involved in a motorcycle accident. He was apparently "rear-ended by a truck in L.A.'s Studio City while riding his motorcycle" and "catapulted 20 feet into the air." He was able to walk away from the accident, but had severe cuts and bruises. He returned to the studio later that day.
Cornell performing live in Melkweg in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
In 2007, Cornell appeared as support to Aerosmith on at least two legs of their 2007 world tour?Dublin, London, and Hyde Park?and to Linkin Park in Australia and New Zealand. These shows formed part of his own ongoing world tour which began in April 2007 and continued into 2008. Cornell has described his touring band?comprising guitarists Yogi Lonich and Peter Thorn, bassist Corey McCormick and drummer Jason Sutter?as "musicians that could get the whole picture" playing music by Soundgarden and Audioslave, as well as his solo material.
In 2008, Cornell was featured on the Main Stage of Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution tour. Joining Linkin Park and Cornell on the Main Stage were Busta Rhymes, The Bravery, and Ashes Divide. The Revolution Stage featured Atreyu, 10 Years, Hawthorne Heights, Armor for Sleep, and Street Drum Corps. During this tour, Cornell has stated that he plans to "jump on stage" with other artists as the opportunity arises; this may set the stage for future Cornell collaborations, outside of his work with Timbaland. Throughout the tour, Cornell collaborated with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park while performing "Hunger Strike", and with Street Drum Corps for a number of his Soundgarden tracks. While Linkin Park would perform their Grammy-winning song "Crawling", he would appear on stage singing the second verse of the song, the outro, and harmonies Aaron Lewis provided for the Reanimation version.
Cornell worked with super-producer Timbaland on his most recent album, Scream, which was released on March 10, 2009. Timbaland has referred to the recording sessions as "The best work I've done in my career," and predicted that Cornell will be the "first rock star in the club." Cornell called the new album "a highlight of my career." However, the album has been largely panned by critics.
On April 2, 2009, Cornell took over Atlanta Rock station, Project 961, WKLS-FM. For 24 hours the station became "Chris-FM" and included a two hour special of Cornell DJing and playing his favorite songs of his career with the stories behind them leading up to a rebroadcast of his solo show from the previous night. On September 11, 2009, Cornell performed John Lennon's "Imagine" on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
Other musical projects
Temple of the Dog (1990?1992, 2003)
Main article: Temple of the Dog
"Hunger Strike" was the first single released from Temple of the Dog. The song was written by Cornell and features a duet between Cornell and Eddie Vedder.
While still in Soundgarden, Cornell recorded an album with members of what would become Pearl Jam. This collaboration went under the name Temple of the Dog, and the self-titled album was released in 1991. The album is a tribute to their mutual friend, and Cornell's former roommate, Andrew Wood. Wood, the former lead singer of Mother Love Bone, died of a heroin overdose the year before. Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Mother Love Bone teamed up with Mike McCready, Dave Krusen, and new vocalist Eddie Vedder in 1990, forming Pearl Jam. Temple of the Dog has gone on to sell more than a million copies, thanks in large part to the singles "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Hunger Strike", the latter of which features a duet between Cornell and Vedder. This was the first time Vedder was recorded professionally. During a 2003 Pearl Jam show at the Santa Barbara Bowl, Cornell appeared as a surprise guest. After playing a short acoustic set, Cornell joined Vedder and the rest of the band to perform "Hunger Strike" and "Reach Down".
From 1986 to 1987, Cornell was also a member of the satirical Western swing band Center for Disease Control Boys. Cornell worked as a producer and backing vocalist on the Screaming Trees' 1991 album, Uncle Anesthesia. He acted in a cameo role and an onstage performance in Cameron Crowe's 1992 Seattle-based film, Singles. He also contributed his solo song "Seasons", and Soundgarden's song "Birth Ritual", to the Singles soundtrack. Cornell contributed vocals on the Alice in Chains song "Right Turn" from the 1992 Sap EP, as well as Alice Cooper's "Stolen Prayer" and "Unholy War" (which he also wrote) from the 1994 album, The Last Temptation. In 1992, Cornell and three other former members of Temple of the Dog played under the name M.A.C.C., recording the song "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" for the 1993 album, Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
It was falsely indicated (for many years) that Cornell had written the song "Someone to Die For" for the 2004 Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, but this was disproved during an interview in April 2007. The song is performed by Jimmy Gnecco of Ours and Brian May of Queen. Cornell had recorded a version of the song sometime earlier, which was released only to members of the Eleven street team. Cornell co-wrote (with Brian Howes) David Cook's first post-American Idol album single, "Light On", released in 2008. According to Josh Freese, Cornell sings one song on Slash's solo record to be released at the end of 2009.
Cornell was the face of fashion producer John Varvatos' 2006 ad campaign. He recently became a restaurateur with the opening of his restaurant, Black Calavados, in Paris. He is also the owner of the music publishing company You Make Me Sick I Make Music.
Cornell was previously married to Susan Silver, the manager of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. He had a daughter with Silver, Lillian Jean, in June 2000. He and Silver divorced in 2004. In December 2008, Cornell reported via his official website that he had finally won back his collection of 15 guitars after a four-year court battle with Silver.
He is currently married to Vicky Karayiannis (???? ??????????), a Paris-based American publicist of Greek origin. She gave birth to his second daughter, Toni, in September 2004, and his third child, Christopher Nicholas, in December 2005, who was baptized in March 2009 by godparents Greek celebrity singer Anna Vissi and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.