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Temple of the Dog: An Oral History

Chris Cornell, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament look back at pivotal grunge supergroup, and ahead to their upcoming tour.

There’s no saga in rock history quite like that of Temple of the Dog. The Seattle supergroup featuring Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron along with future members of Pearl Jam came together for just a few weeks in late 1990 to record a tribute album to late Mother Love Bone frontman Andy Wood, though nobody paid much attention until a couple years later when grunge exploded on the charts. Temple of the Dog never got the chance to play any of their songs on the road, but that will change in November when they finally tour to support a new deluxe edition of the album. We spoke to Chris Cornell, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament about the band’s long and complex history.

Part I: Mother Love Bone

In 1988, former Green River members Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather began gigging around Seattle with drummer Greg Gilmore and singer Andy Wood. They called themselves Mother Love Bone and were a big hit on the local club circuit. Andy loved arena rock and aspired to be like his heroes Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley. He shared an apartment with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.

Cornell: Andy was effervescent. He was very charismatic and funny, sort of in a prankster way, but also self-deprecating while at the same time being this larger-than-life rock star. He acted the way I imagine Freddie Mercury did when I see documentaries about Queen’s early years. In a sense, he was making his own reality. In his mind, he was already a rock star and he was waiting for the rest of the world to figure it out.

McCready: Andy carried himself around Seattle like a rock star. I would see him walking around with his scarves and glasses. Seattle people thought they were cooler than that, but he just didn’t care. He carried himself in this glorious 1970s way. Andy was super funny. I didn’t know him well, but from what I recall being in the audience at Mother Love Bone shows he’d be like, “If everyone in the back doesn’t come up to the front we’re going to do the entire Peter Criss solo record.” It was this Seattle sarcasm where we were all like, “Oh, that’s hilarious.”

Ament: I wasn’t as good of friends with Andy as the rest of the guys. I don’t know if my personality was a perfect fit for Mother Love Bone. I didn’t like sarcasm at the time. I didn’t grow up around that. I was just learning it by hanging around Stone and Andy. But looking back at the lyrics years later I realised he was a great poet. There are lines that seem really, really jokey, and then there will be a line that just rips your head off. It’s so heavy knowing what he went through in his life.

The group recorded its debut, Apple, in late 1989, but on March 16th, 1990 – weeks before the album was slated to come out – Wood overdosed on heroin and went into a coma.

Cornell: We were traveling back from Europe when I got the news, so it was a little confusing. I think we stopped in New York. I just remember being kind of jet-lagged and I didn’t really understand what the news was. I think the news was he was in a coma, but it wasn’t really clear until I got back to Seattle. Then there was these feelings of confusion and disbelief. It didn’t seem like someone that alive, and particularly that young, was actually going to die. It was like watching a play where there’s going to be a surprise ending and your worst fears aren’t going to come true.

It was an odd indoctrination to when life brings that type of loss, because it can happen at anytime to anyone. But to have it be someone you felt like had one of the brightest futures and was just so full of life … it was just so tough and very surreal. It’s a difficult thing to say, but I can honestly say it hit us harder than someone where you might’ve seen it coming. There’s always people in the music that everyone knows struggles with drugs and he’d disappear for months and the news of their death might not surprise you. But Andy wasn’t that. There’s this misconception he was this junkie guy, but he was not that way in any way, shape or form.

Part II: Dealing With the Grief

Ament: I thought I might be done with music, at least at that level of playing the game and trying to be on a major label. I was feeling the pressure of being a 26-year-old that hadn’t finished college. There was pressure from the way I grew up to finish something and do it right. There was unfinished business with school, getting my art degree. That summer I went to Western Washington [University] and kind of looked at the campus and the art facilities.

Cornell: I don’t really remember doing much else after the funeral other than just being swept up in the grief of the moment, but after a couple of weeks I wrote two songs [“Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down”] for Andy. I don’t remember recording the demos, but I remember the ideas and writing the lyrics because they were really different and they involved a real person. That wasn’t something I’d normally do. I’d normally write a character that was part me and part a fictional character. But these lyrics specifically reflected Andy and my feelings about him. … I didn’t let anything else in. It was precious.

Ament: I was friends with [drummer] Richard Stuverud. I’d known him since he was in the Fastbacks. He was also in a band called the War Babies, who had just gotten signed to Columbia. They had just gotten rid of their bass player and they called me up. I crammed with them for four days and over the course of the next month I played with them. They were sort of an AC/DC-style hard-rock band, but we were trying to infuse just a little bit of groove to that sound. After a week of playing with Richard, I fell in love with playing music again.

Shortly after that, Mike [McCready] called. He worked at a pizza joint across from my apartment. He started asking, “You should come up and jam with Stone [Gossard] and I.” I was like, “Ah, I don’t know. …” The Mother Love Bone situation wasn’t the healthiest of creative environments. I sort of felt like I got shut out a little bit. I didn’t know if I wanted to deal with that again. And then a couple of weeks passed and Stone called again. He said they were going to do some demos that they had. And it was gonna be with [Soundgarden drummer] Matt Cameron, which was super exciting because we all thought of Matt as one of the great drummers in Seattle.

We had one or two rehearsals and it began taking on a life of its own. Stone and I were promoting the Mother Love Bone record, which came out around that time. We were just in the same room a lot and we talked through a bunch of stuff. We talked about what was great about Mother Love Bone and what wasn’t great. There were things we didn’t like about how we treated each other, but at that point we decided that we were going to try and do something. We just didn’t know what it was.

Part III: Temple of the Dog Forms

McCready: My first memory of Temple of the Dog is that Stone and I were playing together and then Jeff started playing with us. There was talk that Chris had written two songs for Andy. I think he played them for Jeff and Jeff was like, “Well, maybe we should record these or have fun with them.” I think that sparked Chris’ interest.

Cornell: I mixed down the two songs I had down to cassettes, and I initially had this idea that maybe as a tribute I could record them with the band and it could be a cool as a tribute. Also, it would be cathartic and take up some time because from hour to hour it was just sort of difficult to deal with. But then I sort of forgot about it. Two weeks later I ran into Jeff Ament somewhere. I can’t recall where. He said he heard the songs, he loved them and wanted to record them. That made me happy since he had the same idea without me bringing it up.

That led to a conversation about making an album since that’s what we did. We didn’t really make singles. It was a time where more importance was placed on albums. Then it became cathartic and fun. It became, “Let’s see what songs we have.” I got three instrumentals from Jeff and Stone that I wrote to: “Times of Trouble,” “Four Walled World” and “Pushin Forward Back.” There are loose references to Andy in “Times of Trouble” and maybe “Four Walled World.” I wasn’t specifically thinking about him as a person. It was more reflecting how I was feeling at the time. Then “Your Savior” and “All Night Thing” were new. That was me just being inspired to write new songs in the same vein I had done with the earlier ones. They didn’t feel like they were in the same vein as Soundgarden.

Ament: Kelly Curtis, our manger in Mother Love Bone, shared an office with [Soundgarden manager and Cornell’s then-wife] Susan Silver. I used to work out right across the street from the office. Almost every day I’d pop my head in and say, “Hey.” One day Susan told me about a group of songs, and the next day I came by and picked up the tape and took it home. I thought it was pretty much finished. When you listen to those demos, they’re just perfect. The songs were a real departure from Soundgarden since Chris was playing all the instruments. He asked if we wanted to record those songs. It happened very quickly.

Part IV: Recording the Album, Meeting Eddie Vedder

Ament: Once we started playing with Chris and Matt, the songs took on a different life, especially from Matt’s end. His playing becomes the hook on a lot of the songs. The part that he came up with on “Wooden Jesus” is such an iconic drum song to me. It’s such a riff and so musical. His playing dictated that we leave space in those songs. To my ears, that’s what makes the record really unique and fun to listen to. In a two-, three-guitar band it can be really hard to leave those holes in there because people are looking to fill them with a lot of guitar playing. We were really into Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the time. I think “Reach Down” was our attempt to write a nine-minute Crazy Horse song.

McCready: With “Reach Down” I remember that Chris was like, “Hey, let’s make a super-long song that’s the first song on the record that will piss off the record company. Let’s make it the first single.” The demo itself was pretty long with Chris playing drums, guitar, bass and singing. I wanted it to be as true to the demo as possible. There’s a guitar part that follows his vocal. I wanted to emulate that. I did a couple of guitar passes, but I didn’t go as hard as I could because I was very intimidated by this big song. I felt like I could play pretty great. I was way into Stevie Ray Vaughan and I loved blues and all that, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t overstepping my bounds until Chris just said, “Hey, just go for it.”

I remember I then did it in one take, or at least I think it was one take. I got so into it that my headphones fell off my head towards the end, like the last solo. I just kept playing an E and I could barely hear the speaker. I was like, “Well, I can’t do any better than that.” I just kind of went somewhere else. It was very cathartic.

Cornell: “Hunger Strike” and “Wooden Jesus” were ideas that might have been a few months old, but I had never really finished writing or fully realized them. They didn’t feel like Soundgarden, so I didn’t really pursue them. But “Hunger Strike” came about because of an existential crisis that Soundgarden faced at that moment. We were sort of the first band [from Seattle] that had attention from labels in a meaningful way. There was a bidding war, which was unusual for any band from Seattle. We were living our dream, but there was also this mistrust over what that meant. Does this make us a commercial rock band? Does it change our motivation when we’re writing a song and making a record? “Hunger Strike” is a statement that I’m staying true to what I’m doing regardless of what comes of it, but I will never change what I’m doing for the purposes of success or money.

The band members have slightly different memories of exactly when it happened, but early on in the process a 24-year-old gas-station attendant and night watchman named Eddie traveled up from San Diego to audition with McCready, Gossard and Ament for a new band they were forming outside of Temple of the Dog.

Ament: I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Ed came up once before Temple of the Dog. My memory is we were doing both at the same time. We spent five days rehearsing with him all day long and finished seven or eight songs. He moved up about a month later. That’s when the Temple of the Dog thing happened, I’m pretty sure.

McCready: We rehearsed with Ed for about seven days and then did our first show with him on the eighth. That sounds weird, but it’s exactly what happened because then he had to go back to work as a night watchman. I remember I had to give him a ride back to the airport at 5:30 in the freakin’ morning the morning after we played the show. He was like, “You better get me to the airport on time.” I got up at maybe 4:30 and got him back to the airport. All of this was concurrent with the Temple thing. We were rehearsing Temple and Pearl Jam stuff at the same time.

Cornell: We only had nine songs for the album and that didn’t seem complete to me. It seemed like 10 songs was a complete album. I thought that “Hunger Strike” would be a good message to end the album on, but it wasn’t complete. It was just one verse. I was singing the chorus in the rehearsal space and Eddie just kind of shyly walked up to the mic and started singing the low “going hungry” and I started singing the high one. When I heard him sing, the whole thing came together in my brain. I just felt like, “Wow, his voice is so great in this low register. He should sing on it. I’ll sing the first verse and then he’ll come in. Even though it’s the same lyrics, it’s a different singer and it’ll feel like two verses.”

Ament: My memory is that Ed was just sitting in the corner of the room, writing and drawing in his journal, and keeping himself busy. I think we did those Temple sessions after we did Pearl Jam sessions. Then there was a vocal part of “Hunger Strike” where Chris was trying to jam in a lot of vocal, just the way the verse lays over the chorus. I think Ed just walked up to the mic and sang the other part at one point. Chris just said, “Well, why don’t you just sing that part?”

McCready: Ed was from San Diego and he felt very intimidated in Seattle. Chris really welcomed him. Ed was super, super shy. Chris took him out for beers and told him stories. He was like, “Hey, welcome to Seattle. I love Jeff and Stone. I give you my blessing.” From then on he was more relaxed. It was one of the coolest things I saw Chris do.

Ament: We had our own little incestuous scene, but we were really cynical about what was going on in the rest of the world. We had no idea if the songs would be heard on a big level. But after what happened with Andy, we just didn’t have the tools to deal with it. My mom and dad were a thousand miles away. I didn’t have anyone around that I was used to talking about that stuff with. Making that record really helped that process. It helped us come to terms with losing a friend.

Part V: The Aftermath.

Temple of the Dog hit shelves on April 16th, 1991. Pearl Jam had only just begun to record Ten and didn’t have any sort of national profile yet. The album got great reviews, but didn’t chart. Temple of the Dog played two tiny Seattle gigs in late 1990, but there was no tour.

McCready: I didn’t feel like it was going to be huge, but I didn’t know what huge was. I was just like, “Wow, I got to play on a record that’s on A&M!” I was just super grateful and so happy to be part of it.

Cornell: We made one video [for “Hunger Strike”], but we didn’t make the rounds, which was very necessary at the time. It wasn’t a huge commercial success until the two separate bands emerged with successful albums. Somebody at MTV figured that out and started playing the video.

In 1992, after Pearl Jam and Soundgarden had become two of the hottest bands in the country, A&M reissued Temple of the Dog, and “Hunger Strike” went into heavy rotation on MTV. The album went on to sell more than a million copies. Throughout the Nineties and 2000s Cornell would occasionally come out at Pearl Jam shows to sing “Hunger Strike.” Once Matt Cameron became Pearl Jam’s drummer in 1998, every such occasion became a complete Temple of the Dog reunion. The group played a four-song set at Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary shows in 2011.

Ament: Stone and I did a few shows with Green River a few years ago. I hooked up with my old hardcore band around the same time, and Stone put together a show with Brad and Shawn Smith where we did a couple of Mother Love Bone songs. For me, the best thing about those situations was that maybe there were some loose ends and bad feelings about how those bands broke up.

Every time we got around Chris the topic of a reunion would come up. At PJ20 I said something like, “Man, it would be fun to go and play those Temple songs at some point if you’re up for it.” I knew he’d been playing some of the songs in his solo show. There were more conversations after that, and at the Mad Season tribute show at Benaroya [in January of 2015] we spoke with Chris about playing a few Temple shows to just breathe some life into the songs we never got to play live. It felt like there was some unfinished business.

A box set featuring a remixed version of the album by producer Brendan O’Brien along with demos, outtakes and live cuts came out on September 30th, 2016.

Ament: We didn’t have the quarter-inch masters. Those got lost. I’m sure you read about the battle over the two-inch tapes, but the master tapes should have probably been in the A&M vault, but they got eaten up by PolyGram and they got eaten up by Universal. Who knows now many times stuff got moved around. They just didn’t have it, though they spent a good year looking for it. The only way we could’ve used the original mixed would have been pulling if off a CD, which would have been inferior. Brendan’s just so great. When he remixed Ten, he didn’t really mess with the levels. He just pulled back maybe a little on the effects and the reverb. The new mix is just a little bit crisper. In the last 25 years, the way we listen to music is so different. People have gotten used to a lot of clarity at the top end. I think he really brought a lot of that out.

Part VI: The Reunion Tour

On November 4th, Temple of the Dog will kick off an eight-date tour at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. We spoke to the band before rehearsals began.

McCready: For me, getting to play these songs and maybe some cool covers, maybe some Love Bone stuff, is gonna be really cool. I’m super excited.

Ament: We were a little bit anxious about what size venues that we could play. There were months of conversations about where we should play. It’s a tricky thing. If you play in a town like Philadelphia in a small theater and five times as many people want to go to the show, then you’re screwed. On the other end of it, I think you take heat for booking in too big of a place. We’re essentially a baby band. We’re 25 years down the road, but we’ve never toured.

Cornell: We’ve discussed what other songs we want to play in addition to the album because it’s just 10 songs, but that is something just left on the table to be discussed at a later date. It’s still a mystery to me. It does make a lot of sense to play Mother Love Bone songs. There are also some other songs that Andy wrote outside of Mother Love Bone that may or may not be something we can do. As of now, we’ve made no decisions other than what is on the album. [Playing Pearl Jam and Soundgarden songs] doesn’t feel right in my gut. That’s nothing that I talked to anyone about. That’s just you asking and me reacting. It doesn’t seem like necessarily the right thing. I might change my mind. It just depends on the song.

Ament: A lot of what we do is going to depend on what Chris is comfortable doing and what he feels works for him. It’s sort of exciting not knowing what we’re gonna do or even how we’re going to present the songs. Like, are there gonna be some arrangement changes? We don’t know.

Despite appearing on “Hunger Strike” and providing background vocals on a couple of others, Eddie Vedder isn’t billed at any of the Temple of the Dog shows.

Cornell: I don’t think [Ed guesting] has even been discussed, but we certainly haven’t planned on it.

McCready: I can’t say anything about that. I don’t know if he is, and that’s kind of up to him. I would love it if he would.

Part VII: The Future?

Cornell: There’s always a chance [we’ll record more songs.] Just from my perspective, it would have to feel great. It’s a scary thing. I don’t want to say it would have to live up to the [first] album, but I wouldn’t want to take away from it. That’s the issue with me. I don’t want to detract from what happened before.

Ament: I just don’t know. That record is so unique in terms of what initiated it. But I love recording, so I’d always be up for it, I think. As far as more touring, it depends how we feel after the first set of dates. If everyone is excited, it might become a thing we do every once in a while. We can call each other up and say, “Hey, we just got an offer to play London,” or something. That would be fun.

McCready: I hope we record again. It all depends on Chris and Chris’ interest. But I would record new songs in a minute. There hasn’t been any talk of it, but if Chris is into it and so are the rest of the guys, I’m totally into that.