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Soundgarden Respond to Lawsuit From Chris Cornell’s Widow, Claim Ownership Over Final Recordings

Band refutes Vicky Cornell’s claim that musician recorded seven unreleased tracks at Florida studio in 2017

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Jon Blistein Feb 05, 2020

Soundgarden rebuffed Chris Cornell's widow, claiming they own seven recordings made before the late singer's 2017 death. Photo: Brian Patterson/Shutterstock

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Soundgarden denied withholding royalties from Chris Cornell’s widow and rebuffed her claim that she is the sole owner of several recordings Cornell worked on before his death in a new court filing.

The motion, filed Tuesday and obtained by Rolling Stone, is a response to a lawsuit Vicky Cornell filed last December against her late husband’s former bandmates, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, and the band’s business manager, Rit Venerus. Vicky accused the band of withholding royalties from the Cornell family to force her to turn over a handful of recordings made before Cornell’s death.

Per Vicky’s suit, Vicky Cornell claimed Chris made seven recordings at his personal studio in Florida in 2017, and there was no explicit agreement that that they were for Soundgarden, making Cornell the exclusive owner. Vicky claimed that she agreed to share the unreleased recordings with Soundgarden, so long as they used one of Cornell’s “trusted producers” (revealed in a new court document to be veteran producer Brendan O’ Brien) and kept her informed about a possible album marketing strategy. She then claimed that Soundgarden eventually decided to bring in its own producer and told her that it wasn’t willing to go “through any type of approval process,” ostensibly in regards to the marketing strategy.

Additionally, Vicky accused the surviving members of Soundgarden of making false statements to the media about who owned the unreleased Cornell recordings, and the reason for the album holdup. She also alleged that Soundgarden was withholding money from her and her family “in an unlawful attempt to strong-arm” her into turning over the unreleased songs.

In the new filing, Soundgarden claimed that the unreleased recordings stem from writing and recording sessions that date back as far as 2015. The band also rebuffed Vicky’s claim that it’s purposely withholding money from her, with the motion stating that no one in the band is being paid at the moment, and won’t until “the Partnership, by vote of the Remaining Partners, formally elects to make such a distribution.” The motion also takes umbrage with Vicky’s decision to file her lawsuit in Florida, claiming she has no real connection to the state and that Washington would be a more appropriate jurisdiction.

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“We don’t have possession of our own creative work,” Soundgarden said in a terse statement to Rolling Stone.

Marty Singer, attorney for Vicky Cornell at the Cornell estate, said, “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.”

On Instagram, Vicky Cornell seemed to respond to the motion as well, posting a photo of a Jane Austen quote, “there is a stubbornness about me that can never bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

As far as ownership of the seven recordings, the motion notes public interviews with Cornell and Thayill that suggest Soundgarden was working on this material as early as 2015. It also details recording sessions over the next two years, up until April 2017, one month before Cornell’s death. The motion claims additional ownership evidence includes “emails between the band members (including Cornell) exchanging audio files and lyrics, file metadata through Dropbox, and other tangible evidence such as full ‘live’ audio recordings of the band working on and performing the songs at its Seattle studios.”

Per text exchanges cited in the motion, the band claims Vicky has referred to the unreleased recordings as the “SG files” on various occasions, while it also cites a March 2017 email from her in which she says that Cornell is traveling for the “SG record.” As for her claim that Cornell made the seven recordings at his studio in Florida in 2017, the band states that not only do many of the files “significantly predate 2017,” but that Cornell recorded much of his material not in Florida, but in Seattle and New York City and while touring.

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This last claim, in particular, plays into the jurisdictional issues Soundgarden raise, with the band claiming that neither they nor Vicky have any legitimate ties to Florida. The motion questions Vicky’s claim that she is a Florida resident, acknowledging that her family may rent a condo in Miami, but saying most evidence suggests that the Cornell family’s primary residence is New York City. Additionally, the band states that “the overwhelming number of relevant events occurred in Washington,” and that the “Defendants, most witnesses, and pertinent evidence are located in Washington.”

Though less legally consequential than some of the other issues, the Soundgarden motion also attempts to refute Vicky’s claim that the band was “uncaring following Cornell’s death” and includes a detailed breakdown of how the band learned of the singer’s death. Following Soundgarden’s May 17th show in Detroit, everyone except Cornell left for the next city, Columbus, Ohio, while Cornell stayed behind with plans to fly out the next day because he couldn’t sleep on the bus. The band reportedly learned of Cornell’s death after drummer Matt Cameron spotted an “RIP” post on Facebook.

Knowing they couldn’t go back to Detroit, where there would be hordes of press and police, the band continued to Columbus. There, 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.”

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