Producer Michael Beinhorn, who recorded Soundgarden’s 1994 breakthrough Superunkown, recently looked back at how Chris Cornell served his unprecedented talent with an unreal work ethic.
Whether it was the product of natural aptitude or maniacal practice, Cornell had one of the most powerful singing voices in the history of rock music. That fact was never more evident than as the singer left a trail of broken vocal microphones at Seattle’s Bad Animals Studio while recording Superunknown.
Beinhorn recently explained to Produce Like A Pro’s Warren Hewitt that properly capturing Cornell’s signature wail on Superunknown proved more challenging than recording any other instrument. And while replacing top-of-the-line microphones isn’t cheap, at least it was worth it.
“We experimented with a bunch of recording configurations,” Beinhorn recalls of the sessions. “Eventually, I decided that he sang better when he didn’t have an audience. So I set him up in the control room and let him record his own vocals without headphones on and [with] the speakers out of phase. So all these sessions, he’s running tape machine all by himself, remote.”
The solitude of an empty control room allowed Cornell to “put himself into the right place … emotionally without having to feel like he’s a performing monkey for the rest of us,” said the producer.
He noted that Cornell recorded his own song demos at home, so he wasn’t a complete novice at running a studio desk. Still, Cornell didn’t have the experience to protect all the studio equipment from the vocal powerhouse inside his own body.
“I’m somewhat bemused to say that he managed to fry five [Neumann] U 87’s,” Beinhorn recalled. “I know this because I saw bills from the studio for new condensers, for new diaphragms. Yeah, five mics were destroyed in the making of this record.”
But Beinhorn isn’t sure a professional studio engineer could have saved every mic.
“That’s how powerful his voice was,” he continued. “He would sing for hours. He would stop when he couldn’t physically stand up anymore. You can hear it on those tracks. There’s so much power, and he felt so free being in the room by himself. Like, no one to kind of look over his shoulder … or criticizing him or something like that.”
One example was “Black Hole Sun.” Cornell worked on the track for an entire day and still wasn’t satisfied, said Beinhorn.
“He came back, he listened to it and he said, ‘This is shit,'” recalled the producer. “He said, ‘We have to do it again.’ I was amazed. This was the first time that I’d seen a vocalist say something disparaging about his own handiwork. I mean, he was right; it wasn’t anywhere near as good as he could do. But he knew, especially on this song, it had to be as good as it could possibly be. And he came back in, and he nailed it.”
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Article: Andrew Magnotta