It almost looked, in 2002, that the super-group of Audioslave â featuring the instrument-playing members of Rage Against The Machine and the distinctive vocals of Chris Cornell from Soundgarden â was doomed, less than a year after the musicians had first come together.
An album was recorded, but then Cornell abandoned the group and the legendary Ozzfest tour it had just signed on for.
The signs were not looking good. Were tales of Chris Cornellâs ego to be believed? Could there ever be a new Rage?
But the band did manage to pull itself back together and that is why Chris Cornell is being interviewed, to tell how Audioslave went from almost-never-rans to the eve of releasing its second album and a year set to be spent on the road in support.
âThis one is a lot different to the first album,â Cornell says.
âThere are probably 10 songs more than we really need so we havenât made the final decision what songs are gonna be on it, so I canât really give you an idea of what itâs going to be as a capsule…â
Although the final track listing hasnât been set, nor has a release date, what is known is that itâs been helmed by legendary producer Rick Rubin â whose credits include Slayer, Beastie Boys, System of a Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers – the first single will be called âBe Yourselfâ, and, Cornell says: âWeâre thinking about the name âTombâ, but I donât know yetâŚ I just know itâs different to the first album because the breadth of the material is just so much larger.â
Unlike most bands working on their ‘difficult’ second album, Cornell says record two has been a lot easier for Audioslave. The band is more comfortable not only with itself, but with the way it is perceived.
âItâs not like it was on the last record,â he says of the pressure and expectations.
âWe knew straight from the writing process on this one â it was about proving it to ourselves, right away it was like there was less pressure. We knew we were writing a great bunch of songs.â
First time around, though, Cornell says it wasnât the band putting any pressure on itself. âIt was in the press where there was speculation. They looked at it as two bands with strong history and strong integrity and the possibility that that would be compromised. But I was there in the room writing the songs and I knew no integrity was going to be tested,â he says.
But Audioslave has never been an easy ride.
Cornell, who sold millions of records as the frontman of Soundgarden between the mid-80s and 1997, when the band split, tells the story: âAfter Soundgarden broke up I just really wanted to do a solo record, for no other reason than Iâd been in bands my whole life,â he says.
âI just wanted to make a record where every decision was mine. If it was good it was my fault, if it was bad it was my fault. During that time I had a lot of phone calls from different musicians wanting to work with me but it just wasnât the right time for me.
âI did the solo record and toured it and that was a lot of fun. When I was getting ready to go back in and start working on new solo material I realised that I didnât really like it that much. It was a kind of lonely experience.
“Around that time Iâd met Tom (Morello), a couple of times, and heâd been interested in working with me, but more as a Tom solo idea or a movie ideaâŚ That was before the last Rage album because they didnât even know if Zack was coming back to do the vocals,â Cornell says.
The album in question, âThe Battle Of Los Angelesâ, went on to sell over two million copies, but was Rage Against The Machineâs final release of original material. The cover album âRenegadesâ followed in 2002.
âTom called me up in regard to starting a band and the memory of seeing Rage play live at Lollapalooza was one of the most impacting performances Iâve ever seen in my life. It just made sense right away,â he says.
âWhen we got together and started working together it was exactly what I thought it would be like â fun and fresh.â
As with all new bands, the members got the chance to flex their musical muscles and try something a bit different to what they had been doing, or been allowed to do, before.
âWe didnât really have a relationship as a band when we started on the first album,â Cornell explains.
âMe being in the band and starting to write music straight away changed a lot the way they (the Rage members) worked together as well. It was the three of them â guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Cummerford – working with me when they were used to just writing with the three of them, and not Zack.
âWe didnât really worry about sounding like our previous bands. Iâm not a rapper, Iâm a singer and I also write guitar parts and songs. No matter whatâŚ even if I took a Rage song and sang with my vocal on it, it wouldnât sound like Rage.
âWhen we first started writing for the (Audioslave debut) album there were a couple of songs that were a little bit reminiscent of Rage, but thatâs them doing what they do. But me singing over it, thatâs what Audioslave sounds like. They â we all â wanted to see what doing it with vocals had to offer.â
âI felt like my job was: Iâm looking at these guys with a historyâŚ Someone might start playing a part that has become an Audioslave song, but Rage wouldnât have made that into a song, so Iâve put forth a lot of attention to recognise those things and encourage that to progress, to pretty good success.â
But while the self-titled debut was received reasonably well by the critics, Rage Against The Machine and Soundgardenâs respective labels were not so easy to please.
âComing together as a band was not so simple because of a lot of business reasons. We had separate record companies, managers, lawyers, separate everything,â Cornell says.
âIt was two separate record companies fighting over some kind of ownership. They were approaching us as two separate entities. It became awful and we didnât see a clear road to the future. Everyone was fighting, literally, right in front of us.â
It was at this time in mid-2002; just as Audioslave had signed on to tour with Ozzfest in the US, that Cornell left the band.
âI just needed a hiatus. All the fighting – it wasnât what I agreed to do,â he says.
âIt was a very terrible part of my life, personally. Weâve all been in situations that are volatile and not very good.
âBut by leaving, I realised that I didnât want to be feeling like this anymore and that it was the music that came first â I wanted to be in a band, but I wanted to enjoy it. And I found out that we all felt the same way. So that set a different tone. We thought then: this is serious. We want to allow ourselves to try this band out. Then we re-convened, just the four of us, then approached our management…â
The rest, as they say, is history. Cornell was back in the fold, Audioslave became a band in the emotional as well as legal and business sense and ‘Audioslave’ the album could finally get the live support required.
But was Cornell ever worried that the people turning out to those gigs might have more of an axe â than their bodies â to grind?
âSome fans of each band are gonna be pissed off, thatâs inevitable,â Cornell says.
âBut once we started touring we played only Audioslave songs. It was fantastic. We didnât ever feel once that we had an audience that was there for any other reason than to see Audioslave. Because we successfully did it without playing our old songs we completely proved our point â weâre a new band and weâll be successful and people will like our music.â
It was that good response that put Audioslave in such high spirits to record their follow-up, which was finished at the beginning of this year.
âIt went really well on the first record and now weâve done this record, we are very much a band. We approached it exactly the same way as the first album â four of us in a room working out songs every day. The main difference was the music branched out a lot more because weâd been a band for a longer time.
âI think itâll go over well,â he says of the new record.
âThere are so many aspects to it â itâs simple, refreshing, energetic, straight-forward – covering areas that Iâve wanted to do before but just didnât quite get to.â
And what does Zack think of Audioslaveâs material?
âI donât think anyoneâs spoken to Zack. Iâm sure none of them have even spoken to him since the last (Rage) album came out,â Cornell says.
Picture by Amy Freeborn