Austin Scaggs of Rolling Stone recently interviewed Chris Cornell about his upcoming release, Scream. With the Ten Reissue just days away, he decided to throw in a couple of questions about Pearl Jam which made the Smoking Section.
Q: You were obviously around the guys in Pearl Jam when they were working on Ten. From your perspective, what was it like watching them ascend so quickly?
A: It was just one surprise after another. I was at their first show, and it wasn't a surprise to me that they'd take off. It wasn't an immediate ascension, though, it was very MTV-driven, which was the case with all the Seattle bands. To be frank, it was all MTV-driven. With Soundgarden, we'd sold a couple hundred thousand copies of Louder Than Love and MTV put up "Outshined" and suddenly we were Number Five on the Billboard charts. Same thing happened to Nirvana and Alice In Chains and the Chili Peppers. The hit video phenomenon is what propelled these bands to sell out stadiums.
What do you remember of that first Pearl Jam show?
It was fantastic. It was the best debut show of any band that I've ever seen. They were not the band that we toured with in '92 on Lollapalooza, whic was much more jam-oriented and much more aggressive. That first night they were flawless, and the soulfulness coming from Eddie was unlike anything I'd ever seen in a club. His singing was phenomenal, and the songs had a lot of weight to them, more so than when I'd heard those official recordings. I felt like I was seeing a moment that was happening that was about to change everything.
Was that after Eddie had sung on "Hunger Strike," with Temple of the Dog?
Yeah. When we did that, Eddie had only sung over the demos that Stone Gossard had sent him. They were working out whether or not they'd become a band. I wasn't really sure. So Eddie was at the second of two rehearsals that we had as Temple of the Dog, waiting for us to be done so that they could rehearse, and I was singin "Hunger Strike." I'd written it but it wasn't really complete. I thought it could be a live track, or a deep album track. All it had was a verse and a repeating chorus. It was written as it is, so I was singing the low and high parts simultaneously, thinking I would overlap them, and he shyly came up to the microphone and started singing the low parts. I heard his voice and a light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, “Wait a minute, he sounds amazing in this register, why not I’ll sing a verse, then he can sing the same verse again, so it’s up to two verses, and we’ll have a real song here. This could be great.” Everybody seemed to like that idea.
Which songs on Ten blew you away?
"Black" and "Release." Those were kind of shocking. The structures of those songs were not really typical, and they were really full of melody and super-memorable. I remember Eddie singing "Release" at the show and it knocked me over. It was weird, because Seattle went from this era where you couldn't find a good singer if you went to every single show seven days a week, to seeing Layne Staley do one-take demos for five songs in a row that were all incredible album takes, and seeing Eddie's debut. I was shocked by the first Nirvana demo I'd heard, which was before Bleach! Mark Lanegan was another guy. All these unique voices were starting to appear and no one sounded remotely similar to the other guy.