Despite the title, Soundgarden's comeback single "Been Away Too Long" is not "specifically about my band getting back together," frontman Chris Cornell says. But the title made it an obvious choice as the leadoff track and first single for Soundgarden's sixth album, "King Animal," due Nov. 13 on Loma Vista Recordings. (Mercury will release the album in the United Kingdom, and Vertigo will handle all other territories.)
The set, the first studio album from the veteran Seattle rock band since 1996, arrives nearly three years after Cornell announced Soundgarden's reunion on Twitter. The group broke up in 1997 following the release of "Down on the Upside," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 1.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Since then, Cornell has released four solo albums, including his most recent, 2011's "Songbook," a collection of tunes he performed on an acoustic tour. Cornell has also contributed tracks to such movies as "Mission Impossible II," James Bond film "Casino Royale" and "Machine Gun Preacher."
"I just read some quotes where Dave Grohl is talking about the Foo Fighters taking a hiatus of an undetermined length, saying, 'I want to be in this band forever, and that's why we need to take a break.' That's perfectly described," Cornell says of why it took Soundgarden more than 15 years to return to the studio. "Did we need to split up and tell the world and the fans we're splitting up? Probably not. It was time to take a breather from the business."
Cornell says the driving force behind Soundgarden's 2010 reunion was to draw attention to the band's catalog and legacy. Since the announcement, the group has reignited its fan base by playing numerous concerts and festivals, releasing its first retrospective album, "Telephantasm"; issuing the live set Live on I-5; and penning the song "Live to Rise" for film "The Avengers." According to Cornell, it was during these various projects that Soundgarden re-established its chemistry and began discussions about recording a new album.
Soundgarden members Cornell (vocals), Kim Thayil (guitar), Ben Shepherd (bass) and Matt Cameron (drums) co-produced "King Animal" with Adam Kasper. The album will be the first release on longtime label executive Tom Whalley's new Loma Vista Recordings, a partnership between Whalley's Seven Four Entertainment and Republic Records. (Other acts on the label's roster include Little Dragon, Damian Marley, Cillie Barnes, Rhye, Ghost and Cut Copy [through Modular Recordings].) Whalley says he signed Soundgarden because he's attracted to self-contained acts that write their own songs, play their own instruments and sing their own songs.
"That's what Soundgarden does," Whalley says. "I like that combination of things."
Soundgarden's deal with Loma Vista encompasses "King Animal" and its follow-up, "if we choose to do one more," Cornell says. "Either side has the option to do it, or we walk away if it's not working out."
So far, so good. According to Republic executive VP of marketing Jim Roppo, the nearly three years of groundwork leading up to King Animal has created a significant boost in exposure. "One of the things we find with so many artists-and this isn't exclusive to Soundgarden-is that when they go away for some time, the talk really dies down," he says. "And it's almost like cold-starting an engine in the middle of winter in Minnesota. It takes more energy to do that than if you continue the conversation and slowly ramp it up."
The label issued a video trailer for King Animal leading up to the late-September release of "Been Away Too Long." This week, the song is No. 10 on Billboard's Rock Airplay chart. "Been Away Too Long" and "By Crooked Steps" were used in promotional spots on ESPN for "Monday Night Football," and the single was heard during a late- October episode of FX's "Sons of Anarchy." Additionally, Soundgarden recorded a track-by-track narrative for King Animal at Seattle's Moore Theatre. Those videos have been rolled out weekly with various partners-including MSN, Spin, Details and Yahoo Music-in the weeks before the album release, Roppo says.
To stir more buzz, the band announced three intimate November concerts at New York's Irving Plaza, Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theater and Los Angeles' Fonda Theatre. Fans who preordered the new album through SoundgardenWorld.com were given access to on-sales ahead of the general public. A North American tour will follow in 2013. The group has also been tapped to perform on "Late Show With David Letterman" on Nov. 12 and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Nov. 26.
Whalley says, "The centerpiece to all this is not just that they re-formed, but about the quality of the record they made. You don't see that very much today. They fit into the general sensibility of why Adele's or Mumford & Sons' records are doing so well: There's an emotional connection from a musician and songwriter to an audience."