Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Before they achieved great success, they experienced suffering. “Blood was gushing all over the studio”

Loud record “This” was published after a year of activity Pearl Jam. It hit store shelves a few months earlier “Nevermind” by Nirvana, who had three years more experience on stage than her colleagues. Against the background of these teams, members Soundgarden They were already pretty old when they released their breakthrough album.

Chris Cornell and company started their activity in 1984, when no one had even thought about such a phenomenon as grunge. Moreover, the species itself got its name only after it had already developed significantly. Meanwhile, in the 1980s, Soundgarden were considered a metal band and even received a Grammy nomination in this category. For musicians, names did not matter much. They just wanted to play and labels were less important.

Although commercial success and great popularity did not appear immediately, this does not mean that before “Superunknown” Soundgarden managed to achieve little. The band released, also in the famous 1991, the album “Badmotorfinger“, thanks to which the band became really famous. The band’s third album has already reached a large number of fans, and the album went platinum. It was this album that brought the world the single “Rusty Cage”. The musicians admitted that they wanted to record an album with songs that would be more memorable than what they had done before. Loosely translated: more feisty.

The band also wanted the songs to reflect the sound and energy of Soundgarden during concerts. Soon, part of the world had the opportunity to see for themselves the power of live artists. The group went on tour around the United States and Europe with Guns N’ Roses, in demand after “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II”. However, the team from Seattle was disappointed with the concerts, because – as the musicians recalled – of course everyone was waiting for Guns, and for many people Soundgarden’s performances were simply filler before the star of the evening – and nothing more. So Chris Cornell and company returned from the tour a bit disgusted, but also with new resolutions. The band wanted their next album to not only have a good sound, but also tell more stories through songs. At that time, the musicians had no idea how much this would change the band’s fate. Or how many people who watched Soundgarden’s concerts on the Guns tour will regret it one day.

It’s hard to achieve different results if you keep doing the same thing all the time. Previously, musicians had a simple approach to making records: they listened to song suggestions and if the crew liked something, the band would start working and then give the song the “Soundgarden sound,” as Cornell called it. This time the artists knew that they had to do everything differently. If a song has its own atmosphere, why change it by force? Maybe it would be better to develop this story and see what comes out of it? One thing was certain: in 1993, the group faced a lot of work and new challenges, which did not always turn out to be easy. Sometimes they were downright unpleasant and led to conflicts.

In the early 1990s, the famous Lollapalooza festival was still a traveling event. No wonder that after a multi-week tour, the musicians decided to rest for a while before they started creating the next album. Soundgarden’s plan wasn’t to simply record new songs. These were supposed to be the best songs in the group’s career, done with a different approach than before. In the fall of 1992, the artists started writing songs separately. When they met in the studio, each of the musicians could show off their proposals, and then the group decided together what was suitable and what would go to the drawer. Soundgarden managed to select 20 songs to record for the album “Superunknown” 15 songs ended up included. It’s over 70 minutes of music, which is a lot, but the artists didn’t want to throw anything away, so they decided to keep it that way.

The group went to Bad Animals Studio in Seattle for several weeks. At that time, the place was distinguished by good equipment that was missing in nearby facilities, and years later, thanks to the records created there, it gained a unique status among fans. The members of Soundgarden knew that if they wanted to change their approach to recording, they also needed a new producer. The choice fell on Michael Beinhorn, who has already collaborated with, among others, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soul Asylum. Maybe it’s a big musical spread, but that was the point. The artists thought that someone without a specific “specialization” would not impose his style or habits on them, but would fit into the group.

The entire premise of the session at Bad Animals Studio was beautiful, but the reality turned out to be not so rosy. Working with a new person meant that everyone had to “learn” each other, and this took a lot of time. The band experimented with their sound, and Beinhorn wanted to try all possible options, which turned out to be the reason for such a long creation process, which cannot be explained even by a few days break for the group’s tour with Neil Young. While the following weeks in the studio were not that painful, repeating and checking all the sounds a dozen or even dozens of times had a terrible effect on the musicians. Chris even recalled that when it came to recording the songs, when the details were finally agreed, the band was fed up with these songs.

It wasn’t even that the crew couldn’t communicate with Michael. During the first meetings, everyone got along great. The problem turned out to be huge differences in approach to work. For Soundgarden, dirty sounds and spontaneous music making came naturally, and Beinhorn was exceptionally accurate. Not only did he have each part repeated many times, but he also brought a huge number of instruments to the studio. The sound engineer who worked on “Superunknown” recalled that he had never dealt with so much equipment during a session. Just selecting the tape and recording details took three days.

Now imagine how difficult it was to choose the right microphone for a given song, since there were dozens of models on site. Malicious colleagues joked that the singer solved this problem himself, because several devices simply burned down during the recordings. Cornell’s voice was too strong for them. “I’ve never seen anyone do something like this before,” Michael admitted in an interview with Billboard magazine. However, this was not the end, because – for better results – the producer even forced Chris to listen to other singers. Cornell recalled that while working on “Black Hole Sun” played Frank Sinatra songs.

Working in the studio wasn’t always hard. For example, recording the song “Spoonman“. The singer wrote it for Cameron Crow’s film “Singles”, where a fragment of the song appeared in an acoustic version. However, the band decided that it was a great song and it would be worth recording it for an album. So the musicians came up with the idea to invite to a session Artis the Spoonman – a street artist who played on spoons and spoons. It may sound innocent, but here it turned out to be quite brutal. Beinhorn was shocked when he saw the artist in action behind the studio window.

“We started recording and he started grabbing tools and hitting his body with them. I’m not talking about light touches, but strong blows, sometimes with large, heavy pieces of metal. Before long, blood was gushing all around. It was actually beautiful, because Artis he looked almost like a dancer,” the producer said in an interview for Spin magazine. It may not have been Michael’s favorite song, but – as he admitted – he was happy when the single turned out to be a success.

“You learn something every day.” The musicians themselves also had the opportunity to learn something, as they did not suspect, for example, that “Black Hole Sun” would become a hit. The band had no faith in the song at all. “I don’t think anyone among us… even thought it would be a single. If you read the lyrics of the verses, you’ll see that it’s some surreal, esoteric phenomenon, described in words,” Cornell admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. This “phenomenon” became the biggest hit in the group’s career.

Although recording “Superunknown” was exhausting and frustrating, the success of the album made up for the band’s “suffering”. Ultimately, the artists managed to achieve their goal: they wanted to show the world a new approach to songs and a slightly changed sound, and this version of Soundgarden delighted the listeners. Maybe the group did not plan for great commercial success, However, the reactions to the album certainly did not worry the band. The album “Superunknown” debuted at number one on the Billboard charts in the United States, and later, just like in many other countries, it gained further gold and platinum records.

Thanks to this album, the band achieved what they had achieved three years earlier Nirvana and Pearl Jam – global recognition. Soundgarden was no longer just a band known to fans of heavier music. “Black Hole Sun” appeared on radio stations, alongside pop hits – and no one was surprised. The group went on the road and performed so intensively that Chris lost his voice and the performances had to be postponed. No wonder – six evenings a week on stage is a challenge even for the best.

“Superunknown” still regularly appears on lists of the most important albums of recent decades. Many musicians, from Def Leppard to Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, have mentioned that the album was a great inspiration for them. Soundgarden did not manage to repeat this great success, and the group suspended its activities for a long time after the next album, but even if Cornell, who hated constant mentioning, liked to talk about “Superunknown” – it could not have been a coincidence.