After A Rough Start, Audioslave Prepares To Cruise
Excerpted and expanded from the magazine for Billboard.com.If someone were to draft a how-to manual on forming a rock supergroup, it might behoove them to take note of the lessons learned by Audioslave this year.
The in-your-wildest-dreams quartet comprising ex-Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and three-quarters of Rage Against the Machine -- guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk -- could pass along some advice on keeping your demos under wraps (and off the Internet) and preventing outside voices from causing a brief band break-up.
The members of Audioslave have weathered both this year: Cornell left in March only to return a short time later, and what Morello describes as "very incomplete, rough sketches" of 13 songs surfaced on the Web in May. It turns out that a copy was made at some point when the band was digitally sending demos from Los Angeles to Cornell in Seattle, and those leaked tracks bear little resemblance to the actual album that arrived yesterday (Nov. 19).
Of the Web leak, Morello says, "It was very unfortunate, 'cause we had recorded like 21 songs, and the number that were leaked happened to be about 13, about the correct number for an album [laughs]; So it was really frustrating. We know that they have about as much in common with the record as a lump of coal has in common with a diamond."
"A couple of weeks ago," he continues, "I was visiting my mom in Illinois, and three or four times a day, people would come up to me and say, 'Hey, I've heard your record.' And, I'm like, 'No you haven't!' [laughs]. 'I swear to you [that] you have not.' And they're trying to convince me, 'Oh, no, dude, I heard your record.' [Laughs]"
Despite the impression that Cornell's brief departure may have left, Morello insists, "This is not a one-off; it is as much a band as any to ever step into a studio and walk onto a stage." Noting that the band hopes to announce a tour soon, he attributes that episode to there being "too many managerial cooks in the kitchen." The band has now shed its separate management teams for one company -- the Firm, based in Los Angeles.
Cornell's exit, which arrived just a day after the band announced its (ultimately discarded) plans to appear on the summer's Ozzfest tour was the first speed bump in a union that had been, until that point, wonderfully compatible and surprisingly prolific.
After Rage frontman Zack de la Rocha finally exited the band (in October 2000) to embark on a solo career -- the threat of which Commerford says hung over the group like a dark cloud for most of its career -- the three ex-Ragers convened with Cornell at an L.A. rehearsal space at the urging of the record's eventual producer, Rick Rubin. "It was like when you read about that first Led Zeppelin rehearsal," Morello says, "where all of a sudden, you just can't believe what's coming out of the speakers."
Creating vocal melodies without any lyrics yet prepared, Cornell, Commerford says, "sounded like a saxophone, he sounded like a guy who was really bluesy who knows how to blow the saxophone."
Adds Morello, "We had this incredible chemistry with him. It was just unbelievable; it's like lightning not just striking twice, but it's like a huge bolt of lighting."
After the first day, "Cornell was like, I wanna be in this band," Commerford says, sounding still in disbelief. Adds Morello, "Tim and Brad can throw down a groove unlike anybody whose touched those instruments before, in my opinion, and I think Chris was pretty inspired by that."
Over the next few weeks, what transpired is was what Morello describes as "four good friends rocking properly." Every day, he says, a new song would come out, which was a complete turnaround to the way songs were developed in Rage.
"I think it was the first day, we wrote, it might have been 'Exploder,' something like that, and we finished writing that one, and I'm like, 'OK, let's write another one,'" Morello says. "Chris was like, 'Naw, we'll come back tomorrow and write another one.' And I'm like, 'Really?' He's like, 'Yeah.' and I'm like, 'Alright.'"
"We came in the next day, and they were falling from the trees; as we continued to work together, we felt this confidence, and we started branching off into different genres of music that we had never touched before; and I think the reason we were able to do that so confidently was that Chris' voice was very unifying. So, whether it's a song like, 'I am the Highway,' or whether it's a song like 'Hypnotize,' or an unapologetic riff-rocker like 'Set it Off,' they all sounded very much like Audioslave."
"One day Brad would come in with a Chemical Brothers beat, and we would play music on top of that and that became 'Hypnotize,' or one day I suggested what if we tried to get sort of a Portishead or Doves vibe for a song, what might that sound like? And that ended up being songs like 'Like a Stone' and 'The Last Remaining Light.' And we really felt like there was nothing that we couldn't do, because Chris' voice is so unifying that it all sounded like Audioslave but it could head in a lot of different directions."
With a laugh, Morello adds, "My way of thinking is, 'Let's strike when the iron's hot,' and I had not realized that the iron was just gonna stay hot." In eight months, he says, the Rage guys wrote more songs than they wrote in eight years with their former band.
"We're talking about years that we didn't do anything," Commerford seconds. "We just waited to make our next record." As a result, the bassist says he initially found himself doubting the new band and its new material. "It happened so easily that it felt like a cop-out. It was like, 'This is too easy to call this a band this quick.'"
After just the first week, Morello says, "Not only was there this energy and this spark of something new," says Morello, "but it also felt very comfortable, like we'd played with a Chris a long time, even though it had been a week."
Talk of the new project, including the new creative possibilities brought to the ex-Ragers by Cornell, finds Morello and Commerford nearly giddy at times. For example, Morello points out that with Cornell, they are working with melody for the first time in vocals -- stopping himself to point out, "But it's not just melody in the vocals, it's freakin' Chris Cornell!"
While de la Rocha's exit wasn't necessarily a shock, it did sting, Commerford says. The singer ended his relationship with Rage with phone calls to Morello and Commerford only, according to the bassist.
About 15 minutes after the news was announced on local radio, and other outlets, Commerford -- who grew up with de la Rocha in Irvine, Calif. -- was on his way into a vacuum cleaner repair shop when a fan stopped him, saying, "Dude, I heard the news. I'm sorry."
"That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing," the bassist says. "And if you think back and that's as hard as it gets, then f***in' bring it on... It was a moment where I learned right then and there what my response was and that's where I'm at right now, and that's, 'Don't worry about me, don't feel sorry for me, bro. I'm all good, you know what I'm saying? My life is great.'"
But both he and Morello say that they are, in many ways, better for the demise of Rage.
Though he says he, like the band's many followers, disappointed -- "I was let down. I was like, 'Yo, my favorite band is no more.'" -- Commerford adds that Cornell has proved a "breath of fresh air" for him and his bandmates. "I love Rage Against the Machine. But I felt that the music was definitely symbolic of another time in my life. I'm 34 years old, I'm not 24 anymore. And now, looking back, it's real easy for me to go, 'Yeah, I definitely needed to move on,' and I definitely needed to write music that was more musical and that was more melodic."
The band said last month that its debut tour was in the works. "I haven't seen the routing, but there's about 12 shows," Commerford said at the time. "It goes to the major cities, and they're all like 2,000-seaters, and I'm f***in' psyched out of my mind to start at that level." At this point, the band is confirmed to appear only at New York rock station the annual WXRK (K-Rock)-sponsored holdiay concert Dec. 12 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. alongside Billy Corgan's Zwan, Box Car Racer, Coldplay, Jimmy Fallon, Kelly Osbourne, New Found Glory, Ozzy Osbourne, Queens of the Stone Age, Stone Sour, Taproot, and the Vines.
Commerford says he hasn't seen de la Rocha since the singer left the band, but, right now, he says he's eager to run into him. "He and I grew up competing against each other playing basketball, skateboarding... and so there's a lot of that healthy competition in my relationship with Zack. And so I feel real good right now, [laughs]... I would like to see him just so I could look him in the eye and go, 'Yo, I feel good right now. I feel great right now.' He was a big part, and is a big part, you can't erase the 20 odd years of friendship that we've had. So, that's something I will not forget. But it's like he's on another team right now."
This feature is excerpted and expanded from the Nov. 23, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the original article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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