Matt Cameron

Celebrates the 20th anniversary of Soundgarden’s Superunknown.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE WAS A TIME WHEN ROCK BANDS WERE POPULAR. IN THE EARLY ’90s, BEFORE THE EXPLOSION OF TELEVISED KARAOKE COMPETITIONS, TRUE ROCK BANDS—RATHER THAN GROUPS MANUFACTURED BY LABELS—NOT ONLY WROTE THE SONGS THAT SHAPED A GENERATION, BUT SHARED RADIO TIME AND CRITICAL ACCLAIM WITH EVEN THE BIGGEST POP ACTS OF THEIR DAY—SOUNDGARDEN’S SUPERUNKNOWN WAS NO EXCEPTION. RELEASED IN 1994, SUPERUNKNOWN MADE A LOT OF NOISE, FIGURATIVELY AND LITERALLY, AND BROUGHT A FRESH, NEW SOUND TO THE SO-CALLED SEATTLE GRUNGE SCENE, LAUNCHING MATT CAMERON AND COMPANY INTO FULL-FLEDGED ROCK STARDOM.

“I remember feeling good about, just, the preparation of it all,” says Cameron, referring to the now 20-year-old album. “We had, probably, three songs that we finished in the studio … it didn’t occur to me that it was ever groundbreaking, but it seemed like a good step up from Badmotorfinger for us—the sound was a lot fuller. We used a producer— Michael Beinhorn—that we’d never used before, and he was a real perfectionist about mic placement and guitar sounds, drum sounds, he had a lot of real interesting theories about that, and so it was a little more time-consuming than we were used to working … it did take a lot of time, and we weren’t as meticulous as the guys we were working with, but it turns out that worked great in our favor … once Brendan O’Brien came up and mixed it, and we were listening back to the mixes, top to bottom, I think that’s when we were all kinda like, ‘Yeah, this is really good. This is a really good record.’”

The band’s preparation for the recording of Superunknown certainly added to its success, but according to Cameron, producer Michael Beinhorn and his process ultimately shaped the final product. “I think just the methodology of Michael Beinhorn was something that was different for us. Like I said, he was real meticulous with mic placement—I think I counted, like, 26 mics on the drum kit at one point. He miked the top of the rack tom and the bottom of the rack tom—I had never seen that before—so, he was definitely going for a real full, sonic assault, and we definitely got it.”

Cameron recalls the band’s station in their career during the recording process. “I think, at that stage of the game—it was ’93, I guess—we felt “I remember feeling good about, just, the preparation of it all,” says Cameron, referring to the now 20-year-old album. “We had, probably, three songs that we finished in the studio … it didn’t occur to me that it was ever groundbreaking, but it seemed like a good step up from Badmotorfinger for us—the sound was a lot fuller. We used a producer— Michael Beinhorn—that we’d never used before, and he was a real perfectionist about mic placement and guitar sounds, drum sounds, he had a lot of real interesting theories about that, and so it was a little more time-consuming than we were used to working … it did take a lot of time, and we weren’t as meticulous as the guys we were working with, but it turns out that worked great in our favor … once Brendan O’Brien came up and mixed it, andwe were listening back to the mixes, top to bottom, I think that’s when we were all kinda like, ‘Yeah, this is really good. This is a really good record.’”

Though Superunknown is now two decades old, it remains as musically relevant today as it was when the album debuted in 1994. “I think it still sounds current because the songs are still good—I think it’s all based on songwriting, for me, personally,” Cameron says. “Sonically, it’s excellent, it’s probably our best-sounding recording, but yeah, it all comes down to songs for me. They still get played on the radio and they still sound good on the radio … you know, I don’t know if we’d really fit in if we put that record out today, just ’cause the rock scene seems pretty splintered—there’s definitely some excellent rock bands out there, but I don’t know if people would’ve paid attention as much. I think the focus on Seattle was really acute at that time, and that definitely helped us, but we always felt like we were trying to slowly get better and better as a band, and I think that record really crystalized our creative unit at that point—I think we were all really peaking creatively, and so, luckily, we made a record at that time,” he laughs.

As much as Cameron strives to keep his bandmates happy, admittedly, he himself continues to seek the joy and inspiration he draws from playing music. “You look at a band like The Beatles, and just how they changed the way people thought—they changed culture, you know? So [music] definitely has an inherent power, and it’s up to the musicians that are making the music to have the truest form of expression that they can to get that direct line into the listener’s brain or heart … it’s not easy, but when it works, it’s fully transformative.” Cameron goes on to say, “I’ve got a couple projects that I’m trying to get off the ground that I’m really excited about because I’m writing a lot of music for it, and we’re collaborating a lot, so that definitely excites me—sometimes more than the bigness of my two bands (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden), you know? Because I love working in those two types of arenas, where everything’s kind of big, you gotta go big, you gotta play big, and big concerts, big production … but it’s nice to go small again, and I don’t ever wanna lose where I came from—which was always super small. [I don’t want] to forget that side of my musicianship, you know? So that still excites me a lot.”

With all of Cameron’s success, that excitement he speaks of remains the driving force behind his continued career of more than 30 years in the music industry. “There’s a lot of great moments—I’ve had a very blessed career. And I guess, one thing is, that I never set out to have a career, per se. I set out to play music that I was proud of, and that I felt connected to. And luckily, I was able to make a living at it—and a really good living, you know, knock on wood … my career’s just been amazing because I didn’t hit success really quickly, I had kind of a slow curve up, so I think I’ve always really appreciated how I/we started, and I still feel connected to our local music scene—even though I’m not a part of it as much as I’d like to be. I think it’s great that musicians can have a place where they start and always go back to that and hopefully get inspired by that,” he says.

As the father of a son who’s also a musician, Cameron offers this advice, “I tell my son [who’s] a really good guitar player, that he’s doing it for the right reasons—because he enjoys it, and it’s an outlet for him. I try to tell his friends that what happened to me was kind of … you can’t expect that to happen all the time, just because, it was timing—when I moved to Seattle, the timing was correct. So, those types of things you can’t ever plan for—I mean, luck plays a big part in making it in the music industry … but if you start out playing for the love of playing music and getting better on your instrument, then you’ll always have that in your life. And that’s something that’ll never go away, and I think it helps shape a human in a very positive way.”

Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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