NEW YORK — Chris Cornell is just a man and his guitar, and for the time being, he absolutely loves it.
The former Audioslave and Soundgarden frontman has been wowing audiences on tour with his high octane, acoustic show. Last month, Cornell released "Songbook," a live collection of his solo performances that represents a wide swath of his own work, as well as some of his favorite cover tunes. They include Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" and John Lennon's "Imagine." Another popular track, Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," was not included on the album, but is performed regularly.
Although Cornell is relishing life as a solo artist, it won't last long: Cornell and the rest of Soundgarden are finishing up their new album, due out in the spring.
Cornell spoke to The Associated Press about his Soundgarden reunion, his "Songbook" album, and his contribution to grunge.
AP: Tell me about the solo tour and the live album.
Cornell: I did an acoustic tour called the "Songbook Tour" which started me doing a world tour of acoustic shows. Somewhere in the middle of it, it felt like a special thing. It has mostly to do with the room and the audience. I just had some really amazing experiences live and decided it would be great to pick some of those songs and put them out.
AP: And Soundgarden is getting back together?
Cornell: Being able to have Soundgarden back together again at this point in my life is a hugely fulfilling thing, particularly with the things that I started to end up doing in a solo career, with moving more toward kind of fulfilling that promise of doing acoustic music ... just the contrast of doing my solo career that way and at the same time being in Soundgarden and all of what Soundgarden is is a pretty fulfilling feeling.
AP: Why did the band break up?
Cornell: I don't think we were really very good at the big version of band business. We were really good at the small one. We were very self-sufficient in the beginning and as an indie band, we were very capable that way of everything. As it became big business, we, I think, we really had kind of a disdain for dealing with the day-to-day nuts and bolts of keeping that all together and being in charge of it. As we became less in charge of it as a group, I think it became less fun for us as well. ... It wasn't us at the helm necessarily anymore. That was the defining factor that caused us to be a part.
AP: Soundgarden and other Seattle bands were labeled as grunge, was that offensive?
Cornell: At the time it was. Not because of the actual name. It came from an organic place. But I didn't feel that Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Nirvana never sounded much like each other. I feel we were all indie rock bands that were part of an evolution. Soundgarden was influential in bringing indie rock into a more commercially prominent environment. ... These days, I don't mind because it makes it easier to communicate in soundbites.
AP: In the Pearl Jam documentary ("Pearl Jam 20"), you made it seem as though there wasn't any competition among the Seattle bands. Was there?
Cornell: It was. I think it was competitive there, but maybe like a grown up version. You wanted to one up your buddies but they were still your buddies and if they came up with something that was great, you recognized it and you would use that as kind of a motivator. ... Sometimes was tension and sometimes like talking behind each other's backs, but that also was you were talking about a bunch of young guys that play rock music.
AP: What is it about growing up in Seattle that leads to such a vital music scene?
Cornell: Being a child growing up in Seattle, no one would ever guess that being from Seattle would mean that you had a good rock pedigree (laughs.) No one ever would have had that cross their mind.
John Carucci covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/jcarucci_ap