Chris Cornell on the explosion of the Seattle grunge scene

The late 1980s and early ’90s grunge scene always seemed to be one of those movements obsessed about more in journalist circles than in the actual bands who supposedly formed it. Several groups rose out of Seattle, and amongst them was Chris Cornell’s Soundgarden.

Discussing the famous city and the scene that began to emerge, Cornell explained: “Seattle had been this isolated little petri dish of art and music that was allowed to kind of grow because nobody cared about it. By the time that there was the idea that there was a Seattle scene that started reaching outside of Seattle, all of the Seattle bands that we all know of as being part of that scene, we were all out touring.”

Like many so-called cultural movements, when the global mainstream focused its attention, the boom had largely already been and gone. “By the time the scene was internationally known,” Cornell explained. “It didn’t really exist in that way anymore.”

The singer noted that as the grunge movement started growing more prominent, people were moving to the city from smaller places to start bands. “People from Kansas and Nebraska were driving to Seattle,” Cornell said, “Living together in a small studio apartment to start bands in Seattle the same way they would a couple of years before that on the Sunset Strip. That was very weird.”

Cornell went on to claim that it was Soundgarden that was “the first band to be approached by major labels in Seattle”. He added that, in many ways, his band “predated” the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. “It predated all of it,” he said.

However, Cornell also noted that there was no such semblance of overnight success for any of those Seattle bands. If anything, there was a pervading sense of unease within those groups as they had been opposed to any commercial gain. “There was a little bit of an uncomfortable transition for all of the Seattle bands, which was that it was anti-commercial, it was an anti-every institution that supported commercial music as well,” Cornell said.

Cornell then noted the fact that Nirvana had gone from an anti-corporate underground band to being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. He said: “Kurt was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Corporate Magazines Still Suck.’”

Cornell added: “I thought that’s great that he wore that and that they put that on their magazine, but he also showed up for the photo shoot and did the interviews and agreed wholeheartedly and happily to be on the front cover so how is it that he’s not sort of tearing himself apart? We all kind of had that crisis of mind and Kurt shooting himself was probably that to the extreme.”

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