Welcome to Throwback Tunesday, where Mashable amplifies the echoes of music past. From genre trends to throwbacks, we synthesize music and nostalgia.
From the balcony view at Soundgarden’s concert in New York City this week, the mosh pit below fluidly moved like an amoeba, with fans ricocheting off one another as the grunge pioneers performed decades-old hits “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman.”
The Seattle rockers filled Webster Hall with a rowdy mix of staunch followers, who’ve been buying music since the days of cassette tapes and CDs, and a new generation of music-streaming devotees for the intimate concert commemorating the 20th anniversary of Superunknown, an album that spawned both of those 1994 Grammy-winning singles.
Mashable caught up with frontman Chris Cornell, drummer Matt Cameron and guitarist Kim Thayil to discuss the impact of Superunknown, which was re-released as a 71-track deluxe version along with a DTS Headphone:X app (for surround-sound quality) on Tuesday.
The trio also reflected on the sound of today’s pop music, the rise of streaming services and how the industry needs to adjust to ensure musicians are paid appropriately in the digital age, during our interview at Rockefeller Center before the band played on The Tonight Show.
Q&A With Soundgarden at Rockefeller Center
Mashable: Are you recovered from your Webster Hall concert from yesterday [June 3]?
Cornell: Somewhat. It feels like a hangover without all of the alcohol.
Mashable: What were you constantly drinking on stage?
Mashable: The fans’ ages varied widely at the show. How does it feel to have your music from Superunknown still resonate with your loyal fans but also find new fans 20 years later?
Cornell: It’s really good. It’s a good thing. Part of doing this in a sense is sort of recognizing the album and its ability to last and its significance in our lives. But I don’t think we necessarily value one album over another. But the other thing, too, is trying to get access to new rock fans who may not know about it and say, ‘Hey, here’s this thing.’ So as these weeks have come and gone, it’s taken on its own life. New people are discovering it.
Thayil [pointing to a Rolling Stone cover from the late 1970s on the wall]: I do not like any of this sh*t — f*cking hippie sh*t — this was the problem with Rolling Stone.
Cornell: It was the problem with any music journalism in the U.S. I remember I was at Rick Rubin’s house one time and I was taking a dump and he had stack of Playboy magazines from like 1979. I opened one up and they had music commentary, and they’re talking about Billy Joel and just what’s popular. That’s all they know about. That’s all that was happening as far as they knew in 1979.
Mashable: Speaking of popular music, Superunknown went No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 200 in 1994. Right now, Coldplay’s Ghost Stories album and rapper Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” single are No. 1 on the charts. What are your thoughts on how music sounds today?
Cornell: I don’t really look at charts the way that I used to because of the nature of record sales. The age demographic of your audience completely determines how many actual people buy sh*t because young people don’t buy anything.
Cameron: So there could be really popular bands out there that aren’t reflected. In other words, we were a new thing in terms of commercial music when Superunknown came out. .. Nowadays, something that you would consider as popular as we were then 20 years ago might not be reflected in the charts.
Cornell: In terms of popular music, period, I don’t know if it’s changed that much. I mean, it’s always kind of the same to me. I’ve always said that. Every once in a while something cool gets its day in court with commercial success, but most of the time what’s commercially successful is kind of crappy in music, TV and movies.
Cameron: Our time period in the ’90s rock was celebrated a little bit more, like real rock bands. There’s great rock bands now, but it has kind of gone underground again. That’s fine.
Cornell: There’s this transition to a lot of fans listening to music in a different way. And there really isn’t any musicians — it’s like electronic dance music and that has its own formula.
Mashable: Part of the Billboard charts’ evolution was incorporating YouTube views and streams from music-streaming services like Spotify. Your music is on those platforms, but are you advocates or critics of these services?
Thayil: Car commercials is where I get my music nowadays.
Cameron: We have to adapt to the changing tide of technology and how people are getting music, but there’s still some figuring out the payment side to artists with the streaming services and that doesn’t seem like it’s been fair or really figured out fully as of yet.
Cornell: If there’s an end game with digital technology, I think streaming is kind of it for everything. … The thing that is going to change music, I don’t know about films, is that there won’t be any money to front a young bands or young artists to make recordings in the way that we grew up doing it, which is in a recording studio with a big live room with real equipment and people. Spotify at some point, if they want to keep an audience interested and want to be playing new music that was actually professionally recorded where live musicians play it, they’re going to have to front it the money.
Thayil: Someone has got to be the bank. Record companies aren’t able to invest in artists.
Mashable: Maybe Beats Music can do that for artists, now that Apple acquired them?
Cornell: If they consider that. If no one fulfills that function, music will change. Music changes, you know, but I don’t know if it’s such a bad thing.
Cameron: I can’t wait for a streaming service to hit the music industry, then sh*t’s gonna fly.
Mashable: Are you still entrenched in the Seattle music scene?
Thayil: The city is bigger now so the scene is more centralized than when there were only a dozen and half bands that played similar circuit venues. Now it’s fractured with a couple of different scenes and communities. When we were younger it was unified because people with weird hair all knew each other.
Cameron: Yeah, there was like three places you could play.
Mashable: Let’s switch things up. James Dybvig is going to do a six-second interview.