The surviving members of Soundgarden and Chris Cornell’s widow are ensnared in an ugly legal dispute that threatens a possible final album by the Seattle grunge titans.
Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd asked a federal judge this week to dismiss or change the venue of Vicky Cornell’s Dec. 9 lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami. At stake are seven songs complete with Cornell’s vocals and other recordings that the other three members of the band would like to turn into the seventh and final Soundgarden album.
Vicky Cornell alleges in her lawsuit that her late husband’s Soundgarden bandmates and business manager “shamefully conspired to wrongfully withhold” royalties worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars” owed to his wife and children to compel them to turn over seven songs Chris created before his death.
Cornell died by suicide in the midst of the band’s 2017 U.S. tour. The former Soundgarden singer-guitarist, Audioslave singer and solo artist was working on new Soundgarden music at the time of his death, the filing says.
Vicky Cornell received those recordings when the band returned Cornell’s belongings to her following his death, not realizing other members of the band did not have current copies. She filed suit after band members sought out the recordings last summer and fall.
Vicky Cornell’s lawsuit alleges that the songs in question were “solely created by Chris, on his laptop at his personal recording studio.” The remaining members of the band say there is ample evidence they worked on the music together and ask for a dismissal or a change of venue to Seattle. And they say Vicky Cornell will receive her late husband’s royalties when the remaining partners in the band vote to disburse the money, which they have yet to do.
“Vicky Cornell’s complaint is an offensive recitation of false allegations and hurtful personal accusations,” the filing by attorneys for Thayil, Cameron and Shepherd reads. “Defendants categorically deny every material contention lobbed against them including, most callously, that they were uncaring following Cornell’s death in 2017. This action is premised on basic falsehoods.”
Attorneys for the band did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The band’s court filing, entered Monday, recounts the morning on May 18, 2017, when they found out about Cornell’s death. A member of the group found the news in a Facebook post while traveling from Columbus, Ohio, to Detroit.
The members of the band stopped their tour caravan and hugged alongside the road as they shared the news with each other and their crew. The remaining members have only played together once since, during a 2018 benefit concert for the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation.
They say Vicky Cornell has withheld the final work they created with their friend and bandmate for more than two years.
Vicky Cornell states in her suit that the Cornells resided in Florida and that is where the songs were recorded. The band’s filing says Vicky Cornell currently lives in New York, and not Florida where local laws favor her. The band also says Vicky Cornell has hijacked the band’s website and social media, and has issued statements and information they feel is contradictory to the other members’ wishes through those avenues.
By denying the band access to the songs, and further, making copies of them, the filing says Vicky Cornell has engaged in conversion (the act of dominion over another’s work), copyright infringement and is now open to counterclaims for unjust enrichment, among others.
“We obviously disagree with the band’s blatant mischaracterization of events, and stand by the truthful facts set forth in our complaint,” Marty Singer, attorney for Vicky Cornell and the estate of Chris Cornell, wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “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 moneys 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.”
Soundgarden is one of Seattle’s most well-known exports. Founded in 1984, the band helped define the grunge movement of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1990s along with contemporaries such as Nirvana, Mudhoney and Alice in Chains.
The band sold millions of albums, won Grammy Awards for songs “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” and was among the most famous music acts in the world. Cornell went on to a successful solo career and served as lead singer of Audioslave with former members of Rage Against the Machine.