'A staggering amount of talent': Soundgarden producer remembers Chris Cornell
The music world is in shock after news of musician Chris Cornell's death broke early Thursday morning.
The grunge rock pioneer played in Detroit Wednesday night with his band Soundgarden. A few hours later, he was found dead in his hotel room. A medical examiner has determined that Cornell killed himself. He was 52.
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Helen Mann: Mr. Beinhorn, first of all, my condolences. Chris Cornell performed just last night. What were your thoughts and feelings when you heard this news that he was gone?
HM: It's been confirmed now, very sadly, that he took his own life. He spoke in the past of his struggles with substance abuse. A lot of his lyrics had some darkness about them. Are you reflecting on that today?
MB: Not so much the lyrics but more just the experience of being around him and working with him. Most of the time it seemed like he was consumed by being in a really dark place. The process of the record that we made, in hindsight, I feel that it must have been incredibly rigorous for him because it forced him to expose himself emotionally in a way that I felt, and feel even more now, that he hadn't really done or been able to do, prior. I know that was a very uncomfortable experience for him. He had to dig really, really deep and considering the pain that he clearly was in, on just a regular basis, day-to-day I would say, the experience had to be even more profound for him. So yes, this event has definitely put the process of making that record and knowing Chris into a whole different context.
HM: That was back in 1993. That's a long time to be living with that kind of darkness. I'm wondering how you found working together on that seminal album?
HM: He had this incredible voice. It was so soulful and rich. Did he appreciate that he had a talent?
HM: Did he ever share any of the source of that darkness with you?
MB: No … I mean at times he was really kind of taciturn or moody or kind of grouchy. I didn't really probe. I hoped, I guess, that the work that we did together would somehow be a safe place where he could expose those parts of himself and deal with them in his own way.
HM: I understand that you had Chris listen to Frank Sinatra. Why Sinatra?
MB: [Laughs] From my perspective, Sinatra is one of the greatest vocal performers in recorded history. He left behind this incredible legacy of how a performer immerses themselves in a piece of music and expresses themselves so fluently. It kind of brings out ever bit of subtext and every single thing that they really need to say. What I played for Chris was mainly the more moody stuff that he did like In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning or Only the Lonely. They're very, very haunted, miserable records. But it's also something that as a rock performer, not trying to emulate the phrasing or the styling, but seeing how he is kind of able to transmit his soul through the music — that was something I really wanted to get across to Chris. It's funny because when I played it for him he laughed at me. At the same time, I knew that he connected with it right away. It hit him on a pretty deep level.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Michael Beinhorn.