Stillwater Black came together in 1991 when Chris Thayer met Ahmed and Sam Pierstorff while playing in the pit band for a high school musical production. Issac McCorkell was quickly recruited on drums and the band recorded its first EP, The Last Virtuous Lady of Athens.

In 1995 they signed with Cleaves Entertainment, a now-defunct independent label based out of Southern California's Inland Empire. Stillwater Black recorded their debut LP, Adam. They played frequently with local and national acts including Dishwalla, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, and IE punk/ska mainstays, The Skeletones.

In 1997 the members parted ways and the project lay dormant for two decades.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

That one time I was mistaken for Chris Cornell (1964-2017)

It was late at night, sometime around ’96 or ’97, I think. I was in my car, a beat-up 1970 Volkswagen Super Beetle and I was in a drive-thru line waiting for my food.

I pulled up to the window and the kid leans out to hand me my order and he just kind of froze. I looked at him, trying to figure out what he was trying to figure out and then he says, “Chris Cornell? Do you know Chris Cornell?

And I said, “Soundgarden?”

And he said, “Yeah. You look just like him.” He handed me my food. “Spitting image.”

His eyes wouldn’t leave mine and he had that look like he was hoping this would turn out to be an amazing story to tell his friends.

“Not him. But yeah. He’s great. That’s a compliment!”

The kid relaxed and smiled. “Wow. Cool, man. Well, you totally look like him. Goodnight!”

I don’t, really. We share a couple of features- dark, curly hair, light eyes. But he’s got this cologne-ad jaw line and I’m almost a full foot smaller. But it was dark and I was sitting down.


I was 17 the first time I heard Chris Cornell. I remember the exact moment, actually. I was at a friend’s house and I think she was cooking something. She was in the kitchen, anyway, and she had this big TV and it was on some music video channel. And it was just one bullshit song after another, just background noise. And then this voice just absolutely cut through the din and kicked my ass. It was the most powerful sound I’d ever heard.

The song was Outshined off the Badmotorfinger album. I looked at the screen and saw Chris for the first time, shirtless in his black shorts and combat boots, the essence of Seattle chic. Taut and lithe, he bounced around the flaming set, his voice relentlessly masculine, even at the highest pitches. And yet, there was an unmistakable femininity in his physical beauty, in his bluesy passion.

I wasn't a Soundgarden fan. I didn't actively follow Cornell’s work after their break-up. I know he did wonderful and amazing things with Audioslave and as a solo performer. In the end, his musical vision was not something that I could viscerally connect with.

But his voice is a singular and irreplaceable phenomenon that we lost. There were many, many late nights when I, lost in frustration or fantasy, would play him through my headphones, imagining how a man’s breath could be worked into such incredible sound. Where did it come from? How did he do it?

His death at 52 is being called a suicide, a lonely, desperate act undertaken in a hotel room immediately after a show in Detroit. I understand he was married and had three children. I found a video of him singing with one of his daughters.

We all have profound intrinsic value. That is true, and remains true despite whatever external circumstances we find ourselves in. But it’s not an easy truth to hold, and without constant and sincere reminders that we allow ourselves to internalize, it’s a perspective that is easily lost. It's hard to imagine that a man with his talent, so much external validation, and a family would have a difficult time recognizing his own value. But that's exactly what happens, and when we no longer sense our value, suicide begins to make real sense.

The Seattle rock scene exploded in the 90s and gave us incredible bands: Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. Their work was the sonic backdrop of our biggest musical dreams as Stillwater Black.

Those dreams have been tempered with the unfolding legacy of these musicians. Cornell’s death takes us back to the suicides of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. And also to the drug-related deaths of other 90s musicians, Scott Weiland, Shannon Hoon, and Bradley Nowell.

I want to learn from this. My hope is that Chris and Issac and I will develop a deep interest and concern for one another as we write and record. The best music is a distillation of our most cataclysmic moments, but we can’t stop there. There is room for processing beyond simply rolling tape.

Praying for Cornell’s children.