Superunknown was both Soundgarden‘s most commercially successful album, and their most highly acclaimed. In an era obsessed with stringent notions of underground credibility, the band took risks by bringing a new sense of melody into the mix. Also helping: Chris Cornell added singing to his previously abrasive vocal repertoire. Soundgarden achieved the rare combination of sales and respect: Superunknown debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the spring of 1994, going on to sell five million copies in the U.S. It got five-star reviews in Rolling Stone and metal mag Kerrang!; even the mainstream-leaning Entertainment Weekly gave it an A.
This year marks the album’s 20th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion, the band is releasing deluxe editions of the album on June 3. This summer, they’re co-headlining a tour with fellow alt-rock legends, Nine Inch Nails. Cornell was thoughtful in discuss both subjects, including why the he doesn’t appear on the album track “Half,” why “Mailman” still resonates today, and how NIN influenced his band.
You recently performed Superunknown from start to finish at South By Southwest. Did you enjoy it? That’s a pretty dramatic concentration of songs. [South By Southwest] was the first time we ever played them in a row. As we performed it live, every song was in a different turning, so we had to swap guitars after every song. That kind of gets in the way of the flow, but it was OK, it worked.
Does the fact that you’re coming off of a very strong and well-received album, [2012’s] King Animal, make you more enthused about a reissue project? I think that there’s some validity to the idea that, had we not made a new album, we wouldn’t be so happy about anniversaries and re-releases and repackaging. But in the back of my mind, I always knew that if we got back together, we’re gonna start creating something new.