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When the Northwestern grunge-rock scene suddenly gained national attention in the early 1990s, Soundgarden had already been around for years. But by 1997, both the band and the musical movement it had helped to define had atomized.
Soundgarden's members went on to solo careers and side projects, and for a decade and change, it seemed that was that. Then, in early 2010, singer Chris Cornell took to Twitter to tell fans a reunion was imminent. After a smattering of live performances and smaller releases, the band released King Animal, its first studio album in 15 years, earlier this week. Here, Cornell discusses the reunion and the long road that preceded it with NPR's Guy Raz.
On the genesis of the reunion
"We'd all had different experiences where somebody was trying to buy a Soundgarden T-shirt for their child — for me, it was actually for my son — and there aren't any. Other circumstances started to pop up where we realized that some bands are defunct but have a rich history, you continually hear about them. That wasn't happening for us. So that's what got us in a room. Everything else was possible as soon as we were sitting in a room and talking."
On choosing music over high school
"I got a GED based on Catholic school seventh-grade education, really. I didn't make it that far. I have all those regrets now. ... I just kind of went into the blue-collar workforce at a really young age and discovered music, in terms of being a musician, around the same time. The good news is, I was probably 17 when I knew that's what I was going to do with the rest of my life, no matter what that meant. Even if that meant that I had to be a dishwasher or a janitor to support being in a band that I love and writing music that I love, I would be happy with that. So I feel fortunate. In spite of my lack of education, I didn't lack direction."
On what an active Soundgarden means after the grunge era
"I think it's really triumphant in a lot of ways. We sort of again proved ourselves worthy of being a band and releasing music and making records, separate from anything else: separate from a scene, separate from a genre, separate from anything. To be able to come back, especially after such a long break, and create an album that I believe lives up to the legacy of all of the other albums — I think that's a special thing. It's something that doesn't happen very often."