Formed from the remnants of two enormously successful 1990s bands, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave had a double-platinum debut album and five top ten rock singles, and was widely considered a "supergroup," and a sure commercial success. With the release of their second album, the band had weathered some managerial difficulties and proved that it could keep on rocking.
When Rage Against the Machine's lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, quit that band in 2000, guitarist Tom Morello called his friend, former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, and asked him to take de la Rocha's place. Cornell accepted, and with Rage bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, they renamed the band Audioslave. Before joining, Cornell told Morello that he would not be following in Rage's radical political footsteps. "I would be pretending," he told Brian Hiatt in Entertainment Weekly, "if I tried to write politically motivated lyrics all the time." In contrast to Rage, which burned an American flag at the 1999 Woodstock concert and played a protest concert outside the 2000 Democratic Convention, Cornell preferred to write what Hiatt called "haunted, existential poetry."
After the new band got together they experienced a surge of creativity, writing 21 songs in 18 days, and they struck deals with Rage and Cornell's record companies, Epic and Interscope Geffen A&M. When they hit the studio to record, Cornell unexpectedly quit.
According to Hiatt, all four members said the split was the result of problems with the record companies; as a result, they fired their managers and went with The Firm, a well-known management company. Another issue may have been the band's level of political commentary; although Morello was still interested in retaining Rage's leftist fervor, Cornell told Hiatt, "It didn't seem like the band as a whole wanted that focus." In response, Morello took his political fight to Axis of Justice, an advocacy group he founded, and agreed to keep it out of the band's music. Cornell returned, and the band went back to work on their first album.
The band's self-titled debut album, according to Josh Tyrangiel in Time, mixed "rage's heavy-metal funk with Cornell's Zeppelin wail and tortured lyrics. It tests the bass on your stereo—and it's catchy, too." In Entertainment Weekly, David Browne wrote, "The metal is as taut as a rubber band, avoiding the congested tangle of earlier Rage. The more contemplative songs ... are simultaneously open-aired and brooding." The album went double platinum and had five top ten rock singles.
Commerford, who is the youngest of five children and the son of an aerospace engineer father and a mathematician mother, began playing bass at San Joaquin Junior High in Irvine, California. He had noticed that at his school's annual rock show there were always kids who could play guitar and drums, but the janitor had to be called up to play bass, because none of the students did. Commerford told Bill Leigh in Bass Player, "I figured I could get into bands easier if I did." He began by copying Rush tunes, but then decided that his sound would feature distortion, an effect he still cultivates.
Morello was born in New York City, the son of a Kenyan revolutionary father and an activist mother. He earned a degree in social studies from Harvard University, and carries forward his family's interest in radical politics. Before playing with Rage Against the Machine, he was in a band called Electric Sheep. He is the cofounder, with Serk Tankian, of the activist group Axis of Justice, and its website, axisofjustice.org. On the website, he described the group's mission: "We aim to build a bridge between fans of music around the world and local political organizations to effectively organize around issues of peace, human rights, and economic justice."
Cornell's influence on the band takes place largely through his emphasis on melody. Commerford told Leigh that in Rage, "Tom [Morello] and I were the only ones who ever played any melody, so it didn't really matter if there was some sort of cacophony where the chord sounded wrong, as long as it repeated itself every time. When we started jamming with Cornell, there were a couple times when he'd say, 'There's something weird happening in this song.'" Cornell would make the band play the song until they found the sour notes and fixed them. Commerford noted, "We never had to worry about that before."
Wilk moved many times during his childhood, but eventually settled in California. He began playing drums when he was 13, got his first drum kit when he was 14, and decided to make drumming his career. Commerford told Leigh that Wilk has "that crazy triplet feel; he's always on the three. When I first met him, he would talk about the three, and I had no idea what he was talking about. At some point it became clear to me. The triplet [beat] gives him a signature feel, and I'm sure my feel has a lot to do with that."
In 2005 Audioslave went on a five-week tour of small venues in North America in order to promote their second album, Out of Exile. A single from the album, "Be Yourself," debuted at number 24 on both the Billboard Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks charts, and quickly rose to number one on both lists. Bill Gamble of the rock radio station WZZN Chicago told Brian Garrity in Billboard, "From a rock radio perspective, I don't know how much better something could fit. The single is a great pop song—probably one of the better songs we've had in the last year and a half."
For the Record . . .
Members include Tim Commerford (born in 1968), bass; Chris Cornell (born on July 20, 1964, in Seattle, WA), vocals; Tom Morello (born on May 30, 1964, in New York, NY), guitar; Brad Wilk (born on September 5, 1968, in Portland, OR), drums.
Group formed with ex-members of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine, 2000; released Audioslave, 2002; released Out of Exile, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Epic Records, 500 Madi son Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—Audioslave Official Website: http://www.audioslave.com.
Morello told Garrity that because the band had gotten over the business distractions that slowed the production of its first album, the members were "road tested and comfortable playing with each other, and it shows in the music." In a review in Billboard Bram Teitelman commented on this comfort level, noting that "Be Yourself" sounded like "a B-side" from the first album.
In May of 2005, the band went to Cuba to perform a free concert at Havana's Anti-Imperialist Tribunal. Morello told Melinda Newman in Billboard that the band didn't know "if it was going to be 70 people or 70,000." In fact, 70,000 fans did show up, many of them singing along and dancing to the music. The trip also included meetings between the band and Cuban musicians. Morello told Newman, "It was astonishing. Around every corner there were great musicians."
Throughout their career, the members have steadfastly refused to play any old songs from their former bands, Rage Against the Machine or Soundgarden. As Morello told Tyrangiel, "We're a new band, a new thing. And by God, we will rawwwwk!"
Audioslave, Epic, 2002.
Out of Exile, Polydor, 2005.
Bass Player, August 1, 2003, p. 50.
Billboard, November 23, 2002, p. 11; April 2, 2005, p. 30; April 9, 2005, p. 19; April 30, 2005, p. 39; May 14, 2005, p. 47; May 21, 2005, p. 38.
Entertainment Weekly, November 22, 2002, p. L2; November 22, 2003, p. 77.
GIG, June 1, 2003, p. 48.
Mother Jones, January-February 2003, p. 74.
Rolling Stone, November 20, 2002, p. 47; February 20, 2003, p. 31.
Time, November 18, 2002.
Axis of Justice, http://www.axisofjustice.org/ (June 27, 2004).
"Biography for Brad Wilk," IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0929014/bio (June 27, 2005).
"Biography for Tom Morello," IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0603780.bio (June 27, 2005).
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