Three decades since its release, discover the story behind how a Grunge supergroup founded on tragedy went on to inspire two of the biggest bands in rock history.
Before the Seattle Grunge scene came to dominate the 1990s, there was a lesser-known, underground scene helping to pave the way. Pioneered by the founding father of Grunge, Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, it was only once tragedy struck that the bands in the scene unified, going on to create one of the most important movements in music.
Forming back in 1990, a Grunge supergroup entitled Temple of the Dog signified the beginning of this movement; bringing together the most renowned musicians across Seattle and eventually leading to the formation of Grunge legends, Pearl Jam and Audioslave.
Consisting of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Matt Cameron (Soundgarden), Jeff Ament (Mother Love Bone, Green River), Stone Gossard (Mother Love Bone, Green River) and Mike McCready, the supergroup was created in memory of the Grunge pioneer and vocalist, Andrew Wood.
A founding member of Mother Love Bone and roommate of Chris Cornell, the impact left by the flamboyant vocalist was unmissable throughout Seattle since 1988. Inspired by the outlandish personas of frontmen including Freddy Mercury and Paul Stanley, the larger-than-life image captured by Wood immediately drew eyes onto the Washington music scene for the first time since the 1960s heyday of Jimi Hendrix.
Granting exposure to the other, then-lesser-known bands around this same period, including Alice In Chains, Nirvana and Mudhoney, the momentum captured by Andrew Wood was immense, with Mother Love Bone’s debut album on course to become one of the biggest hits of the year. Yet, just weeks before the album was set to be released, the frontman was left comatose following an overdose on heroin, a moment that ultimately proved fatal for the singer and ended the band’s career before it had even begun.
Seeking a way to pay homage to the late singer and cope with the grief left by his passing, Cornell began writing new music in memory of Wood, exploring both the impact of his death and the abundance of emotion that followed. The result came in the form of two isolated tracks, ‘Reach Down’ and ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’, both of which would ultimately become part of an upcoming Grunge supergroup.
After news spread that Cornell had written this new material, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron and Ex-Mother Love Bone members, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament all reached out. All in search of a collaboration where they could pay homage to the frontman, the musicians came together under the name “Temple of the Dog”.
Initially toying with the idea of recreating the frontman’s solo work, the members ultimately decided to only focus on completely new and original material, as not to exploit the singer’s legacy nor steal the spotlight from the original recordings.
With their name stemming from one of Wood’s lyrics in ‘Man of Golden Words’, the band opted for an emotion-centred route; more melodic and melancholy than any of them had ever attempted before. A complete contrast from the aggression-fuelled energy of Soundgarden and the glam enthusiasm of Mother Love Bone, the new, desolate aura captured in the album helped formulate the basis of the upcoming Grunge scene.
Exploring themes of death, addiction and mental health, Temple of the Dog were the first to tackle issues that unified countless musicians from across Seattle- paving the way for the misery-drenched sound that the Grunge genre became most commonly associated with.
Going on to be their most famous track, the single, ‘Hunger Strike’, not only became the focal point of the album, but also helped bring someone who would become one of the greatest vocalists of all time into the spotlight.
Carrying the message of determination and perseverance in the song, it was only as Cornell was struggling with vocal melodies that a friend of the band offered to provide backing vocals- that vocalist being future Pearl Jam frontman, Eddie Vedder.
Relatively unknown in the Seattle music scene and having recently auditioned for upcoming band, Mookie Blaylock (which would later be renamed Pearl Jam), it was Vedder’s help with vocals throughout the album that helped the singer become a household name. Working alongside the supergroup and forming a close relationship with the members, it was Vedder’s work with Temple of the Dog which solidified the lineup of Pearl Jam.
With the self-titled album recorded in only 15 days and produced by the members themselves, the band rejected any expectations of financial or commercial gain- seeking only to preserve the memory of the man who reignited interest in Seattle’s music scene.
For the most part, this humble motivation was reflected on the charts, with the album receiving verbal acclaim, but failing to leave an impression on the Billboard. Only performing live a handful of times as an opening act for other bands, the impact of Temple of the Dog began to quickly fade, up until the summer of 1992.
Two years after the death of Andrew Wood, it was in 1992 that the Grunge Scene erupted into the spotlight, with bands involved becoming household names. Following the success of Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, and third studio album by Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, it was now that a new wave of interest arose for Temple of the Dog, with the release finally gathering recognition and sales- over a year after its debut.
This newfound intrigue in the group allowed the single, ‘Hunger Strike’, and the album as a whole to hit the charts. Becoming one of the 100 top-selling albums of the year and achieving a platinum certificate, for the first time, Temple of the Dog sold more than a million copies in 1992 alone.
Although never considering writing any further releases, the impact of the album became paramount. Over a decade since its release, Cornell continued to incorporate multiple tracks into his solo performances and even went on to admit that Temple of the Dog opened his mind to the idea of future collaborations- claiming it helped him make the decision to join supergroup, Audioslave, in 2001.
Briefly reforming for their only official tour, the band celebrated the 25th anniversary of the album back in 2016. Now, three decades since its initial release, Temple of the Dog still remains a staple album for any Grunge fan.
In a scene often overshadowed by tragedy and loss, Temple of the Dog instead offered a sense of gratitude for the musician that founded the movement. Initiating the melancholic, emotion-driven sound that came to dominate the genre, the album is still held in high regard by fans- credited with unifying Grunge bands together and responsible for the formation of both Pearl Jam and Audioslave.
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To find out more about Mother Love Bone- the band that inspired Temple of the Dog and began the Grunge Movement, check out our feature piece HERE!