The Soundgarden-Vicky Cornell back-and-forth continues. On Tuesday (4), the remaining members of Soundgarden (Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd) filed a motion against Chris Cornell’s widow over the ownership of seven unreleased recordings they claim the band was working on before the frontman’s untimely death, as well as for a dismissal or transfer of jurisdiction to a court in the state of Washington, where the band is from.
According to the suit, the band claims that they had been working on the unreleased tracks together as early as 2014. The band cites several interviews given by various members of the band about new music as evidence, in particular a February 2017 interview with MusicRadar where Chris Cornell says “we have a lot of interesting songs.” They also claim that they had been in the studio in April 2017 working on the songs before they took a break to go on tour. Of the seven songs, five are credited to Cornell and at least one other member of the band.
Following Cornell’s passing, all of his computers, which held copies of songs and recordings the band were working on in the studio, were handed over to Vicky. This included the only recordings of the seven songs in question. According to the motion, Vicky had initially said she would share the recordings with the band, but later went back on that promise.
Part of the motion also claims that the initial suit was filed in the wrong jurisdiction. The band claims that the suit being filed in Florida does not cover the band, who are all situated in the state of Washington. Furthermore, the band questions whether Vicky is a citizen of Florida or just resides there sometimes, as her legal domicile is in New York.
The issue started in December 2019 when Vicky Cornell filed a lawsuit in Miami Federal Court against Thayil, Cameron, Shepherd, business manager Rit Venerus and financial firm Cal Financial. In the suit, she claims that the band had been withholding royalties from the singer’s estate because they were trying to gain access to the aforementioned unreleased recordings recorded at his studio. Cornell maintains that the recordings were made without the band and were therefore the sole property of her late husband. Even so, she says that she offered to provide the recordings to the band if her husband’s producer was involved and they provided updates on the marketing of the music, but that the band refused the deal.
In their motion, the band responded to the “withholding of royalties” by saying that “[the Partnership] has not made distributions to any Partners, and will not legally be required to make distributions to Vicky Cornell (as the heir to Cornell’s share) until the Partnership, by vote of the Remaining Partners, formally elects to make such a distribution. When a Partnership distribution is made, Vicky Cornell will be entitled to her appropriate payment based on Cornell’s share.”
Back in January, it was reported that a deadline to respond to Vicky Cornell’s lawsuit would be extended from January 15 to February 3 in order to find a possible resolution to the issue.
Thayil has been talking fairly openly about unreleased music the band had been recording before the fateful 2017 tour. Just this past November he told SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation that a new Soundgarden album was “entirely possible,” saying: “We definitely have another record in us. Stuff that’s written, stuff that’s demoed and recorded — certainly. All it would need is to take the audio files that are available… We can get the producers we want to make it sound like a Soundgarden record.” When asked about obstacles to releasing that music, Thayil said “There shouldn’t be… other than the fact that we don’t have those files. I think that will happen. It would be ridiculous if it didn’t. But these are difficult things — partnerships and property.”
Aside from the unreleased recordings and jurisdiction of the case, the band also addresses Vicky’s claims that they were “uncaring following Cornell’s death,” saying they only became aware of their bandmate’s death through social media. Says the suit:
“The Band interrupted its April 2017 studio session in Seattle to begin a national tour starting on April 28, 2017. On May 14, 2017, the Band played in Kansas City, Missouri. After the show Cornell flew home to New York City. On May 17, he flew to Detroit, Michigan to join other Band Members for a SOUNDGARDENconcert that night at the Fox Theatre. Following the concert — as was customary — Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd made the late night trip in the Band’s tour buses to their next concert destination in Columbus, Ohio, where the Band had a concert on May 19. Cornell stayed behind at a Detroit hotel with the plan to fly on to Columbus, as was his normal practice because Cornell was unable to sleep on buses. As their buses were headed to Columbus in the early morning of May 18, the Surviving Band Members learned that Cornell had been found dead in his hotel room in Detroit after midnight (tragically, Cameron first saw a ‘RIP: Chris Cornell’ item on his Facebook page, called Thayil who was on the other bus, who then woke Shepherd, and they and their crew frantically searched news, social media and called friends and family, until they received the awful confirmation from their tour manager).”
The statement continues:
“Thayil, Cameron and Shepherd were utterly devastated to lose their beloved friend, brother, and comrade, and were in a state of shock. As they pulled their buses to the roadside, embraced each other, and struggled with what to do next, their tour manager advised them not to go back to Detroit as it would be swimming with police, press, and other media, and there was nothing positive that could be achieved. They also had a throng of highly-distraught crew and tour team members already in or headed to Columbus who needed support. So they organized a vigil in a conference room at their Columbus hotel, where they were accompanied by their crew, assistants and friends who hugged, wept and attempted to console each other for many hours.”
The band’s full suit can be read here.
A lawyer for Vicky Cornell responded to the band’s suit shortly after it was reported, saying:
“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.”
Chris Cornell passed away on May 18, 2017 from asphyxiation due to hanging. He was found in his Detroit hotel room following a show Soundgarden played in that city earlier that evening. He was 52. In January, Cornell was posthumously awarded a Grammy for Best Recording Package for his 2018 self-titled double LP.