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Machine Gun Preacher: Conversations with Chris Cornell Plus Jon McLaughlin, and Stephen Kellogg Exclusives

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First off, here is the The Huffington Post's exclusive premiere of the songs "1993" and "Charlie and Annie" from Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers' October 11th release Gift Horse.

Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers - Gift Horse by Vanguard Records

To pre-order Gift Horse: http://itunes.apple.com/us/preorder/gift-horse/id457035526

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Next, take a listen to Chris Cornell's new single "The Keeper" from the Machine Gun Preacher soundtrack and check out the featured interview that follows.

Chris Cornell - The Keeper by chriscornell

A Conversation with Chris Cornell

Mike Ragogna: Chris, you have a new single, "The Keeper," and it's from the Machine Gun Preacher film and soundtrack. How did this come together?

Chris Cornell: Well, it was one of those "friend of a friend" things that got me involved in the very beginning. A good friend of mine was a friend of Marc Forster's and knew about the movie and the story and had read the script, and suggested me as someone to write an original song.

MR: Let's talk about the song itself you covered some intense territory in it.

CC: I went for not so much a song, but a story from the third person perspective about the guy, Sam Childers. It's such a broad story really, in terms of the movie. So, I kind of focused, ultimately, on what it narrows down to--what Sam Childers feels for these kids that gets him to essentially put his life in the United States on hold permanently and also put himself on the line and in harm's way whenever he's there in Africa doing what he does, which is trying to create a safe environment where they can live and learn and survive and hopefully thrive. That's the basic idea of "The Keeper," which is, in a sense, a song that Sam Childers would write to these children and to the mothers and the families of the people who he's sticking his neck out for, and it's sort of an assertion of that and a little bit of a description of that. It's, in a sense, an emotional version of that--as much as I can write into the song, not being him and not having actually gone through it.

MR: Did they give you a screener as prep for the song?

CC: I read the script, and actually went on Angels Of East Africa, which is Sam's website for his charity and his orphanage. That's how I got started writing the song. The song was finished and demoed before I saw the movie, and was kind of in the movie when I saw the very first edit of it. I felt like they did a great job with the film. It's a very vivid story, as read from the script, and I thought the movie turned out fantastically. I also felt that the song coexists really well with particularly the African part of the story. That's where my creativity was coming from--really from looking at the actual photos of the orphanage and the children and Sam's website and watching some of the films that he's done there. Sam himself has a way of presenting himself sort of matter-of-factly, in a way that people who are so far away from it can't help but see it and go, "Oh, my god--this is their everyday life." This makes it obvious why he would do so much, but also begs the question, "Why don't more people do something?" or "Why don't people help him more?" for example. That, to me, was one of the pivotal moments of the movie, where you realize how much trouble he's having raising money just to keep children inside of a compound and keep them safe and give them a place to sleep and get them some food.

MR: Chris, what do you think about his transformation? There's certainly a beautiful element to it, isn't there?

CC: I think there is. I also think there's a lesson in it for everyone who might want to give up on themselves or might want to give up on someone else or who might want to put someone else in a box and decide that they don't necessarily have a positive role or can find a positive role in life somehow or be of use, in a sense, whether very significantly or even moderately significantly. This story sort of shows that there are almost some attributes that this guy has that are kind of scary, and in a strange way, those scarier attributes seem to be a big part of what's making this work. It help creates an environment where he's been able to be successful in building an orphanage, creating this non-profit, rallying people for the cause, and actually, literally, (getting) out in the fields dragging kids to safety. There are a lot of very good, kind-hearted people that might not have it in them--in their personality or in their DNA or whatever--to go out and do what he does to make it happen.

MR: Do you think that it's in human nature, when you're up against the wall in certain situations or your heart is opened to something like this--that it's part of what helps push someone over the edge and take on higher qualities?

CC: I certainly think that human beings in general--not everybody, but most of us--kind of see what's right in front of our faces, so we never really necessarily know what our desires or capabilities or passions are in the big picture. We know about them based on what our experiences have been. I think for Sam Childers, certainly something snapped when he saw some awful things that I have never seen happen in front of me, and most people haven't seen happen in front of them, certainly not in this country, and I think that can be a moment where somebody's better nature comes out. As we know, it can also be a moment where negative things can come out. Some people, on the other hand, just have something in them that drives them to find a place and a way and a time where they can be of help, and I think a little bit of it might be that too. Sam Childers was sort of, at some point in his life, driven to do better things and strived to find a role. I feel like when things cross our path--if our eyes are open--hopefully, we'll be aware enough to see our role in it.

MR: You mentioned earlier about the orphanage, and there's a connection with it and downloading the mp3 of "The Keeper." What are the details?

CC: Well, because I don't have a record label attached to this and I'm selling it myself, there's a "download to donate" program. I'm not sure what the percentage of the proceeds that go to Sam's orphanage is, but ultimately, at the end of this, I'm going to take all the proceeds derived from selling the song and funnel them back to his orphanage anyway. To me, this was not a for-profit project to do in the first place. This was something that was exciting from an artistic standpoint, and something that I felt I could contribute to. It's easy for me to sit in a room and read a script and write a song about characters--that's what I do and it's what I enjoy doing. I would be doing it anyway, even if it wasn't something I did for a living. So, I don't think I'm going very far out of my way to donate the proceeds of the song to it. Hopefully, I'll figure out ways where I can do more than that.

MR: Would you say that the way you create music has always kind of been from that perspective, always being in the moment as you're writing whatever the piece is?

CC: Well, I certainly try to be. I would definitely confess that if I'm not, no one's ever gonna here it. (laughs) I think that for me as a songwriter, it's somehow trying to emotionally be in the middle of it...of something. Now, when I'm out writing songs or music for my own album, if it's my own story or my own observations of something and I'm projecting what my idea of it is, it's a little different. It's, in a sense, less precious, because it can be more stream of consciousness, and whatever comes out of me creatively is fair enough. When it comes to something like writing a song for a movie like this, which is a story where it is actually biographical and about a real person, it is a challenge where I feel I have to do it more carefully because it's somebody else's story that I'm getting into on a few levels. Somebody has lived it, many people have lived it, and also, somebody has written it and somebody--Marc--has filmed it. So, it's not the same thing. It's not quite the same sort of "devil may care" freedom that I throw at writing a song that I might put on an album. There's a certain amount of responsibility to doing the right way, and being aware of everybody that's involved and interested. Having taken all of that into account, I then do try to sort of allow, creatively, the song to come out.

MR: I've admired your creative growth, be it with Soundgarden and Audioslave or in your solo albums, Euphoria Morning, Carry On, and Scream. Do you feel like "The Keeper" represents another growth spurt?

CC: Well, I definitely always felt that I probably have somewhat of a short attention span, and that's always worked well, for example, in the context of Soundgarden. But Soundgarden is also four people writing songs--there's so much going on, so that's pretty easy to do. As a solo artist, I felt like the whole definition really is "anything goes, do whatever you want to do whenever you feel like doing it," and that's kind of been my approach. I've, in a sense, kind of created obstacles for myself because of that, without a creative trajectory that's easy to follow or even understandable. At the same time, I've always sort of gone by the rule that if I'm inspired by something, other people will be as well. Sometimes, it'll be more people and sometimes it'll be less people, but there will always be an audience for it, and that has turned out to be true. I feel like "The Keeper" is something that, when I listen to it, it doesn't sound like anything I've ever done, and yet it seems to live authentically in the musical world that it's in. And that's exactly what I felt about Scream--"this is very different." But I guess, in a sense, I approached it with the same attitude.

MR: So you're seeing a kind of trajectory here?

CC: Not a straight one. (laughs) I don't see an arc across the sky--I think it meanders a little bit more. I was looking up, and I thought I saw this UFO--it was kind of blinking and it had a straight line and I realized at some point that it was probably man made. Somebody told me it was probably a satellite. About a month later, I was staring up and there was this shiny light that looked like a star. It was wiggling all over the place and shooting across the sky. I don't know what that one was, but it's a little bit more like me.

MR: (laughs) Chris, last year, I got back from a trip to Canada where I sang the anthems at a Red Sox/Blue Jays game. A friend who was traveling with me got out of the car and noticed a UFO like the one you described. We noticed how it wiggled and darted, and it looked like a star. We couldn't figure out what it was either.

CC: I don't know what they are and why they wiggle like that, but that's certainly something that qualifies as a UFO because it's certainly unidentified and kind of unexplainable. And kudos for singing the national anthem in front of people besides those in your classroom. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Thanks, man. Hey, back to you--what advice might you have for new artists?

CC: One of the things I already mentioned is do what inspires you, and, for sure, that will somehow translate to other people. It just will. If you're doing what you love to do and it makes you happy and you feel truly inspired by it, others will be too. That's kind of the main theme...that's my main theme. And also, it doesn't really matter where you do that. I don't think you have to run around to media centers or big cities or places where other people do it or places where the entertainment industry is based. If you do something that's inspiring to you and other people, it'll eventually break through. People will discover it and people will find you.

MR: I almost forgot, what was your reaction when you were asked to record the James Bond Casino Royale theme, "You Know My Name."

CC: Well, my first reaction was that I didn't think I wanted to do it--but that was because I didn't know that they had decided to switch James Bond and to reinvent it with Daniel Craig in what was almost like a British indie/ganger vibe film. Once they told me that and then showed me a very rough edit of the film--they weren't even finished shooting it--I was really excited about it. I just thought, "This is completely different." Daniel Craig's a brilliant actor. In a sense, he's overqualified for that role, but it lent itself really well to the story. I loved the fact that it was the first book by Ian Fleming that James Bond appears in, and it was the last book they could refer to. All those things made me really excited about doing it--I was very happy to do it. And working with David Arnold, who has done the score for the last several Bond films, was a great thing. We recorded at Air Studios in London, which was a really great experience, and I was the only non-British person working there. I just had a great time.

MR: I have one last question about "The Keeper," considering Sam Childers and his work. Do you feel that the American public, at this point--or even in a couple of years--will get what he's doing?

CC: I think some people will and some people won't. I also think some people will misinterpret what he's doing or misunderstand what he's doing. What people will hopefully take out of it is the sheer simplicity of it, that there doesn't have to be a bigger picture politically, and there doesn't have to be a bigger picture religiously. What is important about it and what strikes me about it is the simplicity of a guy, an American, who went somewhere--whether it's Africa or anywhere--and he saw a need to help some children, to save their lives, to give them a safe place to be, a safe place to sleep, some food to eat, and half a chance at survival...even surviving period. And if they are surviving, helping them to do so in a way where it's not 24 hours a day of terror. To me, that sort of transcends all of the political aspects that people might want to take away from the story or the religious ones, for that matter. And I haven't talked to Sam Childers about it. Maybe he would disagree with the religious point. But to me, it doesn't matter. What matters is that there's somebody who's taking care of these kids.

MR: Fabulous, that's beautiful, the perfect place to end. Chris, I really appreciate your time. This has been fantastic.

CC: Thank you very much.

Chris Cornell's Website: http://www.chriscornell.com

Transcribed by Claire Wellin

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A Conversation with Jon McLaughlin

Mike Ragogna: Jon, you well?

Jon McLaughlin: Doing very well, Mike. Yourself?

MR: I'm great thanks. Where are you calling in from?

JM: I'm at my house in the beautiful city of Indianapolis.

MR: Very nice. Let's talk about your new album, Forever If Ever. Can you tell us a little bit about what went into its creation?

JM: Well, you know, I put everything into this record. I know that you're supposed to say that you put everything into every record, but I've never done it to the extent that I did in this record, because this one has more of a story behind it, you know? Indiana was my first record with Island/Def Jam records, and OK Now was my second. I was so green on the first album that I had no idea what I was doing. (laughs)

MR: The songs on your new album seem very personal, and as far as your first album, it had "Human," "Industry," and "Beautiful Disaster," and the second album had the hit "Beating My Heart."

JM: The second was made so quickly that I basically wrote it on the road. This one was the complete opposite because it took me years to make it. For the first time I wrote all the songs and produced everything myself, which I actually wanted to do on the first record and the label wouldn't let me. But, I'm grateful for that because it would have been a horrible idea back then. But you're right, all of these songs are very, very personal--there are happy songs and sad songs. But all of them were really about the pain of getting this record made because it was years in the making.

MR: Can you give us a bit of insight into some of these new songs relative to what has happened to you personally throughout the years of making this album?

JM: Well, there's a song on this album called, "Promising Promises" that was the first song that I wrote for it. I wrote it about two years ago when I had just gotten off the road from our last tour, and I told my label that I wanted to take about a year off and just write, because, as I said, the last record was done so quickly and I wrote it while we were on the road between sound checks, basically. I knew that I wanted to do the complete opposite on this record and take a year and write a ton and make the greatest record ever. (laughs) So, I had taken a couple months at one point and wrote a bunch of songs and sent them to the label and waited about a week or two biting my nails, waiting to hear back from them. You always want your A&R guy to call back and say that those songs are the greatest songs that anybody has written, ever. (laughs) But, he called back and basically told me that he didn't like any of them and I had sent him tons of songs, and poured myself into every one. So, I was understandably a little mad at the time, and I wrote a couple more songs, and one of them was, "Promising Promises," which was basically about how mad I was at my A&R guy. (laughs) I didn't like him at the time. I sent those songs in after I finished them all and, of course, the one that he liked out of all of them was that one song. That kind of kicked off the whole record. Then I kind of kept writing and writing. The last track on the album is called, "These Crazy Times," which I wrote about a year ago when the Gulf Shore explosion happened. I had a cousin who was working on the oil rig who died in the explosion. While I was dealing with that, I wrote a song. As a songwriter, you always respond with a song, that's just the way it works. That song was very important and therapeutic for me to write, and it definitely had to be on this album.

MR: Jon, you are not the only "McLaughlin" on the music scene these days, at least phonetically speaking. (laughs) Does that sometimes make things a little confusing and crazy?

JM: Well, it did when I first started, especially a couple of years ago when I was starting to get out there and play shows. Every other show, there would be a couple of guys who would show up expecting the other John McLaughlin. Most of them were cool, and they would stay for the show--we got a couple of fans out of it. But there were a couple of guys that were irate. (laughs) Well, you know, the other John is a legendary fusion guitar player and he's got fans that'll drive hours and hours to see him. But when they drive all that way and they find me playing the piano, they get a little pissed off.

MR: Yikes. So, do you have any advice for new artists?

JM: I feel like the game has already changed a bit from when I started because when I started, there still wasn't a Facebook and Twitter trend. There was Myspace, but you didn't quite have the instant connection that you can have these days. Today, if you're a huge fan of Taylor Swift or Ben Folds, chances are you could get on your phone and interact with them that second, which is kind of crazy to me. But if you're a new artist, you have to be on board with stuff like that from the start, you know? I would also say that the sooner you figure out who you want to be as an artist, the better. It took me years to make this record, and I would like to think that if I was left in the studio alone years ago, I could have made this same record, but I don't think that I would have been able.

MR: How would you describe yourself as an artist?

JM: That question has always been really tough for me, and I don't think it'll ever change. When people ask me what kind of music I play, it's hard for me to describe it to them. probably because when you're listening to an artist, it's easier to classify them as a certain type. But if you're the one making the music, you can only hear all of the influences that went into making the song, you know? Ben Folds is, for instance, one of my idols along with Elton John and Billy Joel. I build my music off of them. So, first and foremost, I've always wanted people to say that I am a piano player. But if they say that they think I'm a singer, I think, "Well, I'm not really a singer, I'm a piano player." It all stems from that. I just always tell people that it's kind of "piano rock." I think the shows have always been a little more rock and the records have all been a little more pop, and I hope that this new album will bridge the gap between what you hear live and what is on the records. This one is definitely the best representation of my music that I've done yet, and I've never really been fully happy with any of the other records that I've put out to date. It's always been a little bit of a compromise with the songs that I put on each album that I've made, and this album was just me and my band in my house recording in my little studio on our own. We finally got a chance to do exactly what it is I've always wanted to do.

MR: Are there any songs on this record that have a different story behind them?

JM: Well, there's a song called, "Maybe It's Over," and it's the only duet on the album. It features Senya from The Voice. It's funny because I was sitting at home working on the record in my home studio, and I got a text from a number that I didn't recognize. It turned out to be Blake Shelton, who I've never met, and he told me that he had a girl from his show The Voice who was a big fan of mine and he wanted to set up a time for us to meet if I was in the LA area. I texted him back telling him that I, of course, knew about the show and that I was ironically flying out to LA that week to meet with someone else. Long story short, she ended up doing a song with me on the record and it's one of my favorite songs because her voice is just so amazing.

MR: Nice. You got a great attitude in "What I Want." Can you tell us the story behind that song?

JM: That is probably one of the more angry songs that I've written, and I definitely tap into my Ben Folds background on this one. (laughs) If you're a piano lover, you'll probably love this one because I am just beating the hell out of the piano the whole time. The song is basically about those people that completely disagree with everything you say--you just don't jive with them. Obviously, when you're working with a label for five and a half years, you are bound to have lots of instances when you don't agree. It's hard because there's nothing more personal for an artist than making a record, so when you're working with a label that has a different view on how the record should sound or how you should look, you take it very personally. This song kind of talks about my frustration with going through the whole record process and wanting to do one thing and being told to do another. This whole song is actually a really good representation of how I wanted this record to sound. I'm really happy with that song--it means a lot, and it comes from a really angry and emotional time. I love those kinds of dramatic songs.

MR: That's great. (laughs) My favorite song on this album has to be the opening track, "Without You Now." Can you give us the background on that song?

JM: Well, my whole life, I have loved the agonizing break-up songs. I don't know what it is about them. And, you know, I've been married for five years and couldn't be happier, but I can still and will continue to write heart-wrenching break-up songs. This one isn't as heart-wrenching as some others that I've written, but it's of that universal feeling of when you're out of a relationship and you feel that freedom and realize that you're miserable, you know? I don't know if it's universal elements that make me love those songs so much, but there's just something about songs like that one that everyone can relate to. I can't speak for everyone, but I pour a lot of energy into relationships and they tend to end rather abruptly, if they do end. It's hard for the heart to take, so you write a couple of songs about it.

MR: I know what you mean. Jon, since we're on the topic, can you also talk about the song "I'll Follow You"?

JM: Yeah. "Without You Now," is one of the break-up songs that I will always be writing, even though I am blissfully married and even when I have kids and a family. But at the same time, I am very happily married and wrote this song about my wife, Amy. Normally, when I write songs for records, there are 12 songs on the record and I write typically around 14 songs, so it's not like I have tons of songs that didn't make the album. But for this one, that was more the case. I wrote probably 60 songs for this record over the course of two years. So, you get to a point where you don't sleep anymore, you're just trying to dive deep into any situation that you're going through. And the goal is to not only figure out how you feel about the situation, but how do you express that through your music? "I'll Follow You," is kind of a song dedicated to Amy thanking her for everything that she's done for me, because going through this process wouldn't have been possible without her. That sounds so cliché, but it really does get tough when you're writing songs that people are analyzing and you have a record company that decides what's is and is not going to happen in your career. This song is me basically saying that I couldn't do any of this stuff without her, so whatever she's doing, I'm there with her.

MR: Beautifully said. Looking back on all of the work that you've done in your career thus far, how do you think you've grown?

JM: Well, it's interesting because I definitely feel like I've grown in a lot of ways. When I look back at some of those projects, especially the independent projects before I signed with Island, and now that I'm no longer with Island, musically, I feel like I have sort of come full circle. I think the people who hear this record that were fans in the beginning, and even on Indiana, will think that I'm coming back to my roots. It's interesting because I sent the album out to a couple of friends and so far, that's the most consistent feedback that I've gotten--that I've gone back to the way that I started out. I think that's kind of my story so far. It's been a whirlwind of music and touring over the past few years, and I think I've come back to what I started out to do. I believe that, in a way, I had a little more foresight and wisdom years ago and I kind of lost it a bit. Now, I've come back to it and it's kind of great.

MR: That's great. Hey, there's your cameo in Enchanted where you sang with Patrick Dempsey, right?

JM: You know, that was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. It was cool because I love it when I get a song on a commercial or in TV or movies--any artist loves to see their music synched-up to a video because it adds another dimension to your music and enables you to be a part of someone else's art, which is amazing. But the great thing with that movie and the song, "So Close," is that I was able to be a part of the film and and on the set a little bit--which, by the way, is a ton of work. I'm in the movie for a fraction of a second, but I was there for a week and it was work. All of those guys are working hard. Then the song got nominated for an Oscar, so we got to sing at the Academy Awards and it was all just ridiculous. It's funny because as a musician, you always think about the day when you get to the Grammys, so it was kind of weird for me to be at the Academy Awards pretty early on in my career. It was definitely not something I would ever be a part of.

MR: What was it like performing at the Academy Awards?

JM: Performing there was one of the most nerve wrecking and exciting experiences I've ever had. I remember standing backstage shaking, and we had had a ton of rehearsals throughout that week. But now it was show time. Before then, when you're rehearsing, obviously people like Jack Nicholson aren't there. (laughs) But in the audience, they have these cardboard cutouts of everyone's heads sitting on their chairs. (laughs) So, while we were rehearsing, I wanted to look at the front row at the very least to take note of who would be sitting there, because I was thinking that the night of the show, they would open the curtain and I would just be standing on stage and see Tom Hanks or someone and completely forget the words or forget where I am. So, anyway, I remember standing backstage with the mic in front of me and hearing Patrick Dempsey introduce the song and there was so much going through my head--I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life, and I couldn't really fathom how may people were watching it, and at the same time I had to be thinking the normal thing like, "I hope I remember all the chords and hit all the right notes," you know?

MR: That's great. And what was it like to be a part of the trio with Jason Mraz and Van Hunt for that Randy Jackson project?

JM: Man, Randy Jackson is one of the crazier guys I've ever met in my life. I love that guy. He's really inspiring to me because he's so entrepreneurial and he's been in the business for a long time, but still takes interest in guys like me who are young artists just trying to do their thing and he gets excited about putting artists like that together. I love that guy, he's an inspiration. I hope that when I'm his age, that I'm still doing it like he's doing it.

MR: Will you be touring soon to promote this album?

JM: I will, yeah. I'm doing a co-headliner tour with a dear friend of mine, Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers. We kick off the tour on my birthday, September 27th in Birmingham and we'll be playing all over the country. We'll be touring from September through December and all of the tour dates can be found on my website: www.jonmcl.com. I'm really excited. I've been working on this record for so long that it's been a while since I've been on tour, so I cannot wait to get back on the stage.

MR: Nice. Well, Jon, best of luck with the album and the tour. It was so great having you on the show.

JM: Thanks so much, Mike. Thank you for having me.

Tracks:
1. Without You Now
2. A Little Too Hard (And A Little Too Fast)
3. Summer Is Over
4. Promising Promises
5. If Only I
6. Maybe It's Over
7. What I Want
8. I'll Follow You
9. You Are What I'm Here For
10. I Brought This On Myself
11. My Girl Tonight
12. These Crazy Times

Transcribed by Evan Martin