In anticipation of the looming month of May, we wanted to do something special for our photography post since we know the coming days bring about a whirlwind of emotions and feelings. We reached out to Paul Lorkowski, who has taken some memorable photographs of Soundgarden, to see if he would be willing to answer some questions and give us a bit of an exclusive.
He graciously did just so, and also hopped on a call and candidly chatted about some of his favorite memories and experiences while on the road with the boys. One thing was apparent right away: Paul wasn’t just a photographer on tour with the band; he is genuinely friends with the guys and values them as people, as well as artists. That’s what made this interview much more personal for us, and hopefully to all of our readers.
Most fans will recognize his work immediately but will be surprised to find that he hasn’t always necessarily considered himself a photographer per se, though he is clearly extremely talented. It’s likely that his knowledge of Soundgarden and the intricacies of their music that also enabled him to capture such stunning moments on stage.
Since the topic of the band and Chris are understandably still very difficult for him to open up about, we are truly grateful that he trusted us with this interview in order for fans to get to know a little bit more about the man who has taken so many incredible stage and candid snaps of our favorite people.
Lea: I really appreciate you talking to us because I’ve always wanted to interview someone who, you know, was on the road with them, but I hate bugging them because I know they’re getting spammed by fans and tagged in everything possible on social media, so I was trying to be low-key, but this is awesome, thank you.
Paul: Of course! So, I know you asked about this previously, about what I was doing before, and how this whole thing like kind of came to me. I grew up 10 minutes outside of Seattle, and right out of high school I joined the Air Force. I just retired after 24 years of active duty, so I was on serving the military the whole time that I was with the band. I would just take leave and vacation to go on tour, so the military was my whole life.
But of course, being around in the 90s I grew up with all of these bands, especially Soundgarden, and I continued to follow Chris’s solo career, you know and Pearl Jam and ...Chains, you know that whole thing was right in my wheelhouse.
In 2009, I met Chris. I did some side-gigs for him, and we just hit it off. A couple weeks later, he flew to Seattle, and he asked me to pick him up at the airport - I did that - and after that, we became friends and...so, when I picked him up at the airport, it was for the first Soundgarden reunion show, and after that it just took off.
Lea: So, you were a photographer before, when did you...
Paul: I was not a photographer; I’ve always been into the arts. I’m not an artist by any means, but at some point when the band started getting back together, and they were jamming, it seemed like...I always thought that in their past, there wasn’t this archive, so I felt that they weren’t represented as well as they could have been. So because I had the access, I just kind of like - obviously with their permissions - just took it upon myself to start taking pictures, just so they had it.
Lea: As fans, we thank you for that, because that’s been one of the biggest frustrations ever. All these like very extra in-depth documentaries on Pearl Jam, Nirvana...there’s a decent amount of Alice in Chains stuff out there, but somehow Soundgarden has habitually flown under the radar. I think Banger Films was starting a documentary, but then I think it was 2015 still that they decided to shelve it, so we were like “oh my god when are we finally going to get something?” so yeah, we thank you for your work.
Paul: Yeah, for me it was just like, one I thought I had the eye for it, and then two, I thought somebody just needs to be doing this. I wasn’t doing it for myself, at all. It’s not like I was doing it to get a job, I was already essentially Chris’s assistant, but I was doing it for them, not for me.
Lea: That’s fascinating, I really hadn’t thought that because your pictures are so professional and you really do have the eye, so I thought “ok, I need to find out where he started his photography career so I can make a timeline” but yeah, I had no idea!
Have you worked with a professional camera before, or was it like you just picked it up and learned the logistics of it pretty quickly?
Paul: Yeah, I just picked it up, learned…but there was a learning curve at the beginning, and I still don’t have extensive equipment that I use or anything. It just kind of generally works out.
I think I was able to capture stuff, and this goes back to being a fan, is like I know the music, and I know the setlist, so I know when Chris is going to throw his arms in the air, or when Kim is going to move his hips ha ha. I know the show, so I was able to put myself in positions to capture these moments.
Where somebody else - especially just doing the first 3 songs - might not get those moments. Just understanding the show, and the flow just let me get into those positions.
Lea: I think that’s a big reason why your photos, to me, personally stand out. You know how to catch that moment.
Was there a specific stop on the tour that stood out, for better or worse?
Paul: When we got to Memphis, Chris got out of the car, and I was waiting for him, and I had sent him all the pictures from the night before, and he was like “You are becoming an amazing photographer.” And then that night I took that photo that’s on the outside of the MoPop.
Australia was great. When you’re a tight-knit group like we were, that was super fun.
There was a show in Lake Tahoe, and it just didn’t seem like it was going to work for me, but then the crowd removed all the folding chairs, and they just rocked out, and it was amazing.
Lea: That’s awesome! That’s one of the things I really liked about Soundgarden shows. There was just kind of this understanding amongst the fans like we were all there, we kind of all had that same love for the band. The festival shows were a little different, but specific Soundgarden shows you felt that closeness with the other fans.
So, I know that a lot of photographers that worked with the band didn’t necessarily listen to the band before they started working together, especially in the early days, so it’s cool to talk to a photographer that actually was into the band, even when they first started out.
Do you have any specific favorite songs from any of the bands or Chris’s solo career?
Paul: Oh yeah I mean, obviously I really liked the older, heavy stuff. I mean I like it all, but I mean on tour, I like to hear “Incessant Mace” or “Beyond The Wheel,” you know the heavy stuff. And I also love when Chris is able to put the guitar down and free himself up a little bit to move around on stage and stuff like that.
With Chris’s solo stuff, if you remember the Sweden acoustic set, he did before he ever did Songbook shows…
Lea: One of my favorites!
Paul: When I heard that I was like “This is what he is meant to do. This guy can do this forever. This is what he should be doing”. I loved Euphoria Mourning and all that, but the acoustic stuff was something that was just right in his wheelhouse.
Lea: I can’t even count on my fingers how many Songbook shows, or solo shows I’ve seen live, because I went to a lot of them. We’re pretty lucky because I know there are a lot of recordings of his Songbook tours. I think we might be able to hold out for a Songbook 2.0 eventually because there are a lot of decent quality recordings out there.
I know you were friends with Chris, and we want to respect your privacy, and to keep your moments with him as yours, but if you did have a favorite memory or a favorite moment with him on the road that we can share with the fans, that would be cool to hear
Paul: Well one, I want to say, seeing other bands and their crews, the one thing I would want everyone to know, is that this band - the 4 band members - and the crew, it’s not like a band/crew thing, it’s like a family thing. The crew is really tight, and so that part to me was very special.
Whether we were going out after a show, or just the bus rides, the laughing, and the talking, and the joking, it was like any other group of friends just talking trash and joking around; it was like that every day.
And that was every member of the crew.
And then Chris, he brought me out on stage in New Zealand on my birthday, and that was awesome. We had an apartment just outside of Seattle, so instead of staying at a hotel, we would stay there. Growing up in Seattle, and then being able to sit with a guy like Chris that was so down to earth and normal, and just listen to him…
We would just sit outside on the deck and watch the traffic on the 405, and he would just tell stories about being a kid and growing up, we would talk about our kids, and so those are the things I look back on.
Lea: He always had that banter at his live shows. His acoustic shows especially. That was probably every fans’ favorite thing where he would just ad lib and talk about random stuff. It was just completely natural repartee with us, and I feel like that’s why a lot of people feel connected to him because he had that - he could just relate, like you said, he was very down to earth. I can just see that you two in your own moment just shooting the shit would be amazing.
Paul: Yeah, yeah totally.
Lea: The other thing I was going to ask you, I know a lot of people are very curious about you. You take such great pictures, and then recently you were posting some of the newer stuff. Do you have any future projects that you might be doing or do you have any ideas to do anything special with your photos like a book, a coffee table book, or anything like that?
Paul: Well anything I would do, would be in coordination with the band and family. I would never do something like that on my own, just out of respect to them. I don’t have anything in the works.
Obviously, the Tuscaloosa picture was the inspiration for the statue outside MoPop, and the Memphis picture is the one that’s on the outside of MoPop, and so that was cool for me. Just kind of bitter-sweet, but at least it wasn’t just somebody random.
Project wise, there’s nothing big. I believe I might have some photos or so hopefully that.
Speaking with Paul brought upon a familiar sense of comfort that we haven’t experienced in a while now that it’s been years since a show. That vibe you feel when you talk to someone who really understands that deep connection to Soundgarden’s music. We are tremendously appreciative of Paul’s openness and willingness to discuss some topics that are still very tender.
Paul was also generous enough to share some exclusive photos with our readers as he knows Soundgarden fans are always in search for the newest or never-before-seen snaps of the band.
Due to high demand, he has also begun to sell prints on his website, www.paullorkowski.com.
We look forward to hearing and seeing more from Paul now that we’ve gotten to know a little bit more about him and are eternally thankful that he took time out of his day to speak with some fellow fans and admirers of his work. From what we can tell, his photos from behind the scenes will be an instrumental part of keeping the legacy of this band alive.
Be sure to give him follow on social media to stay current on all his latest photo releases and updates.
Thank you Paul!