Well this is a sad state of affairs.
It’s been almost two years since Chris Cornell’s sudden and unexpected death, and his bandmates in Soundgarden haven’t made any indication of moving forward without him, save a few performances in his memory with guest singers.
But there’s growing animosity toward the surviving members of the band from Cornell’s estate centered around both some recordings Chris made in 2017 and accusations that they didn’t support his family publicly after his death.
In December 2019, Vicky Cornell, Chris’ widow, filed a lawsuit against the surviving members of Soundgarden, claiming she agreed to share the unreleased recordings with the band as long as they would work with a producer Chris trusted, now named as Brendan O’Brien.
In the same lawsuit, she claims the band wanted to work with a different producer and told her they didn’t want to go “through any type of approval process” regarding how any new work would be released and marketed.
She’s also accusing Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd and Kim Thayil of lying in the media about who owned the recordings and withholding royalties owed the Cornell women to force her to turn over the records.
On Tuesday, the band spoke out.
“We don’t have possession of our own creative work,” they said.
They’re seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed, as noted, “for lack of personal jurisdiction” over the recordings. They say that Vicky Cornell’s complaint is “an offensive recitation of false allegations and hurtful personal accusations,” ones they “categorically deny” — including her assertion they were “uncaring” after Chris’ death.
In their 25-page document, the surviving members of Soundgarden say Vicky Cornell does not own the recordings, which they say were intended for a new Soundgarden album. They deny there’s a conspiracy to withhold any funds from her or her family and argue that the case, if it is to proceed, should be tried in Washington State, not Florida, as there’s no grounds or personal ties to the southern location.
The band also notes that, in a 2014 interview, Thayil said Cornell was working on new material for Soundgarden, something Chris confirmed in an August 2015 interview with Rolling Stone.
The filing includes a list of seven songs, all of which have finished vocals and were written by Chris Cornell, most in partnership with at least one other member of Soundgarden.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching detail in this filing is that the band found out via social media — specifically, Matt Cameron saw a post on his Facebook page that said “RIP Chris” — about Cornell’s death. The document says Cameron then called Thayil, who was on another bus, and then woke up Shepherd and they searched news sites for more information, calling others until they received confirmation.
The three surviving members of Soundgarden were en route from Detroit to Columbus and were urged by their manager not to go back to Detroit because it would be a media zoo. Instead, they went on to Columbus, organized a private vigil, and canceled the rest of the tour. They’ve continued to offer support to Vicky Cornell and his three children, including going with Vicky to a fundraising dinner for the LA Committee of Human Rights Watch where Cornell was honored, and to the unveiling of a Chris Cornell statue at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. Their only public performance as Soundgarden since Chris’ death was at a tribute concert in January 2019, for which they were not paid and from which all proceeds went to the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation.
The trouble seems to have started after the tribute concert: The band realized Vicky Cornell had the only multi-track recordings of the seven songs Chris had been working on, stored on a laptop the band returned to Vicky Cornell after Chris’ death. Vicky said she’d arrange a time to send the files to the band but, by July 2019, the files had not been transferred and she notified Cameron that she “will not release anything without proper set up and without say in the management” of the files.
Vicky Cornell’s lawsuit was filed in December.
Late Tuesday, she responded to the band’s filing and statement, saying through her attorney in a statement published by Loudwire:
“We obviously disagree with the band’s blatant mischaracterization of events, and stand by the truthful facts set forth in our complaint. It is disappointing that Chris’ former band members have now sought to taint his legacy by making numerous false allegations, and that they continue to withhold substantial monies from his widow and minor children (despite using those same funds to pay for their own legal fees). The issue in this case is not who wrote the songs but rather who owns the specific recordings made solely by Chris while he resided in Florida. We are very confident that the court will vindicate the rights of Chris’ estate and that the case will properly remain in Florida, where Chris resided and recorded the songs that are now the lawful property of his estate.”
This is not going to end well.