How to sing 90’s rock
Growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it was everything from Def Leppard, Metallica and Van Halen to a 70’s resurgence of Zeppelin and Sabbath, but most of all Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots – that 90s rock Grunge sound was huge, the rolled “Rs” of Layne Staley, gritty glam of Scott Weiland and Andrew Wood and the crazy range of Chris Cornell. But what were these classic 90’s rock singers really doing – did they know how to sing, or did they just yell and ‘yawl’ their way through everything and hope for the best? Lets take a look.
Monster range, grit that would strip paint from your walls and such a bright, piercing tone it could cut though the heaviest, most drudging doom rock. Along with being naturally gifted with a great sounding voice and powerful range, Cornell also knew how to sing well and use his full singing range with force and dynamics in so many different ways. Sure, some of the grit wasn’t the best thing you can do to your voice, but how else was he supposed to belt out Jesus Christ Pose?
The vowels, the compression – Chris Cornell was absolutely a well trained, well practice, super polished singer with excellent vocal technique, punctuated by a few grit techniques that weren’t the healthiest in the long run. Even the last Soundgarden album had some killer singing even after 30 years of road-wear, with a weary any worn tone but most of his youthful range still in tact and a ton of power still at his disposal even into his 50th year! Great singer. Keep in mind, that ‘rolled tone’ actually comes from being super open and focusing on a rounded, open vocal tract rather than ‘pronouncing’ a covered sound. Good technique? Totally.
How to sing like Chris Cornell:
- Build your middle register
- Develop the transition between your mix and head voice
- Stop belting and learn how to release into your high register
- Build your breath support
Being a tenor, Layne’s voice was pretty different in timbre and type to Cornell, but they both possessed the same powerful, gritty open delivery and had miles of power at their disposal. Again, that rounded sound came from keeping an open vocal tract and focussing on an open throat rather than pronunciation or consonant production. Absolutely amazing singer! There’s a few stylistic things here and there that suit his voice and range perfectly, but I probably wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re truly versed in open throat, resonant singing, modified vowels and strain management in your singing voice. For example, the more nasal “EE” sounds that work for a tenor like Staley simple aren’t created by a baritone voice such as mine, so there’s a few workarounds and techniques we have to use that may differ to singers who possess a different range or vocal type. Layne Staley was one of the greatest rock singers of his time, and one of my personal favourites.
How to sing like Layne Staley:
- Release your registers
- Twang like crazy
- Articulate your consonants the right way
The vocal chameleon – Scott’s voice was as much Bowie as it was the 90’s gritty powerhouse he was most known for. Songs like Atlanta and …And so I know showcase the best of Scott’s open, crooning and really show the depth of range and tone he had developed a little later in his singing life from STP’s debut Core in all it’s gritty growling and grunting. Obviously Plush, Interstate Love Song and Vasoline show both the gritty power and some of the range he was able to use, along with the more raspy 60’s sound of Big Bang Baby and Tiny Music in general. I think Weiland’s voice and the music of STP can be a personal taste sometimes, and probably not as accessible (or maybe MORE accessible) as the Pearl Jams and Soundgardens of the same era, but Scott’s voice was powerful, open and his delivery really was second to no other. Whether he was aware of the technique he often used, or it was a natural intuition, he was truly capable of some amazing singing and was in possession of an incredibly gifted range
How to sing like Scott Weiland:
- Bridge into middle voice early
- Use your belt register
- Sing with a ‘buzz’ resonance
What singing techniques were used in the 90’s?
There’s an ongoing theme here, super OPEN and controlled, powerful singing – even if you hear it as a ‘rolled’ and ‘covered’ sound sometimes with Layne Staley, quite often great singers like Chris Cornell, Layne or Jeff Buckley actually keep their voices open and develop their stylistic traits on top of the foundation of correct breathing, healthy resonance and properly placed grit and tone. Remember, a healthy voice comes first and any ‘tricks’ or tone like grit, distortion and stylistic delivery come after building your voice in a healthy, relaxed manner. If you’re ready to start building your own healthy, powerhouse of a voice using open technique and a proper vocal approach, book a session with me today!
Love the 90’s? Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.