Former frontman of grunge legends Soundgarden, Chris Cornell now fronts rock supergroup Audioslave and is set to release his second solo album in 2007. We met up to talk about his new theme song for Casino Royale...
VM: Hi Chris, welcome to London. How long are you sticking around here after the Casino Royale premiere?
Chris Cornell: Just a couple more days. I'm a presenter at the World Music Awards, and then that's it, back to California, where I'm recording a record.
VM: Maybe you could have a little chat with Michael Jackson about your Billie Jean cover [on the forthcoming solo album] while you're at the WMAs...
Chris Cornell: Ha, I don't know about that!
VM: Right, down to business then - we're here to talk about your James Bond theme, You Know My Name, which you co-wrote with David Arnold. You've doubtless been asked this many times already, but how did this all come about?
Chris Cornell: Well... David Arnold's a lot like Michael Jackson - very difficult to talk to, he wears a veil. No, ha ha! I think the initial idea was based on the fact that it's such a dramatic departure for the franchise and for the character, in hiring Daniel Craig as the lead. They wanted to do the same thing with the music. Taking such a big chance, when the last film was - I think - the highest grossing Bond film of all time, and taking an actor who's known more for British indie films, and putting him in a role in the biggest franchise in the history of film-making. So if they're going to do that, then they might as well go all the way. They were just thinking "what is the voice of this version of James Bond?". It's not a woman, it's not a shoe-staring guy, it's someone who, as they put it, is "unapologetically male". I think David Arnold was a big part of selling that idea to the producers and director of the film.
VM: Did it feel like you were taking quite a big gamble, as far as your career is concerned?
Chris Cornell: When I first was asked, yes, absolutely. The more I researched it, and found out it was going to be Daniel Craig, and I saw a rough edit of the film, it was no gamble at all. Coming from a world of independent music and a scene like Seattle, and being considered someone who's affected rock music in a positive way, you wonder whether being involved in such a big movie franchise is a good move or a bad move, credibility-wise. Knowing how the film is, it's a fantastic idea, it's a wonderful film to be involved with - and I knew that before I even wrote the song.
VM: Reviews of the film have almost all been positive - is that something you're relieved about?
Chris Cornell: I knew. I saw the film, I'm a film buff, I didn't have any trepidation about it. I'm sure that the producers of the film had moments when they were a little bit nervous, but they knew too. You don't bet that kind of money and that type of success on something that is likely to fail. He's a wonderful dramatic actor, and to be honest I think it's a time now when that becomes more important than good looks and a tuxedo.
VM: When you came out of seeing the film for the first time, what were your initial thoughts on how you wanted the song to sound, and on the nature of the lyrics?
Chris Cornell: Lyrically I think it had to echo the opening several minutes of the film, where he's not yet 007, he's not the James Bond we know of yet. The title You Know My Name kind of came from that. We're trying to introduce a character in a song, even though this is the 21st move made about them - how do you do that? It was as simple as what this character has to deal with, such as committing murder for the first time, and really introducing himself to what may be the rest of his life and how he will live it and what it will mean. That's more than enough to write a three and a half minute song about. Musically, it was based on what I'm seeing visually up to that moment the title screen drops. They literally showed me that and said "Your song will start here", and that was just what went through my head over the next several weeks when I was thinking about the music. That's a lot to go on as well - most of the time I write a song in a vaccuum, I have nothing, I'm just sitting thinking, then a melody might come. There's nothing visual to go on, not someone else's character, or a script or a book or someone's acting, so really it's a lot.