Chris Cornell and Justin Timberlake don't have all that much in common. Soundgarden bore precious little resemblance to *NSYNC; Timberlake never got a Grammy for Best Metal Performance; Cornell never dated Britney Spears.
But there is this one thing: Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds album, which sold nearly enough copies to ward off the Wall Street crash, was a full-on collaboration with ber-producer Timbaland. And with Scream, scheduled for a Nov. 4 release, Cornell has chosen the same path.
So did Cornell have to stave off visions of Timberlake and Duran Duran prior to those first days in the studio?
"When I heard the first single that Timbaland did with Justin Timberlake, I thought it was great, so I wasn't really afraid of that," says Cornell (sidestepping the Duran Duran part of the question). "My first introduction was Missy Elliott that was one of the first times I remember where I was a rock artist who was jealous of the freedom of hip-hop."
Replete with Timbaland's trademark beats and gossamer vocal arrangements, the title track leads off an album that's certain to surprise.
"It's unlike anything I've ever done," he enthuses, noting that what began as a six-week project turned into six months once he and Timbaland decided to make the whole album one continuous suite of music. "Timba and I were actually discussing for a long time the idea of just releasing it as [a single track], where you can't skip through it. Prince did that with Lovesexy, but that was a long time ago [laughs], like 20 years ago."
Living, breathing animal
Live, Cornell will have Timbaland onstage with him for much of the tour, including his Denver show. The concert will feature a performance of the album in its entirety.
"I was in rehearsal yesterday and someone printed up a set list for the album, from the first song to the last song," Cornell says. "And it just seemed kind of ludicrous to me, because it's all kind of one song in my brain."
Which is not to say the music won't be evolving on tour it already has, says Cornell but changes to individual songs tend to affect the whole: "It's really become this living, breathing animal in a way that I've never experienced before."
While Cornell is hoping fans will sit down and listen to the album as a whole, he's not averse to editing individual tracks to suit market demands.
"Making an album with Timbaland, there are so many layers and so much going on rhythmically and musically that doing edits is pretty exciting because you have a lot of options," he says.
That's a different feeling for Cornell. He specifically remembers refusing to edit the single "Say Hello to Heaven" from his early band Temple of the Dog.
"People told me, 'Well, you know radio stations will do it themselves, so if you leave it up to them, you might not like what they do.'"
Cornell ignored the advice and soon heard the track on a Seattle radio station: "It went intro, verse, chorus, verse, and then it jumped right to the last chorus. No guitar solo, no down-verse, nothing. So I kind of learned my lesson."
Black holes and blissful ignorance
As for Soundgarden's multiple metal Grammy nominations, Cornell says he still wonders about them.
"When Soundgarden started as a band, none of our music sounded particularly metallic," he recalls. "And at the same time, I was doing solo recordings at home that were getting played on the local college radio station, that sounded more like a young guy doing Tom Waits songs and making songs with little African instruments and singing through toilet paper tubes and stuff like that. Music to me was fun, it was experimental, and it still is. And writing a song like 'Black Hole Sun,' and then having us being put into any category that included Metallica made no sense to me."
Scream, which is actually Cornell's third solo album, finally convinced the artist that he's leaving bands behind for good.
"I'm not particularly patient with that sort of democratic voting process. I really want to focus the rest of my career on doing whatever inspires me at the moment."
Asked if he misses Seattle, the L.A.-based artist says he really misses its pre-Nirvana and Pearl Jam days "the scene nobody really knows about" when Green River, Malfunction and Soundgarden were all playing the local clubs.
"There was just that moment before you realize what's really going on. You're just blissfully living in the middle of it, and that's when it's most exciting, because you're not placing a value on it, you're not quantifying it and certainly no one was exploiting it."
Whether or not he and Timbaland continue collaborating, Cornell sees this project as a life-changing experience.
"Whatever I experienced and learned and took from the writing and recording of this album," he says, "it's now a part of who I am."