20 years ago: Audioslave arrives with Powerhouse’s first album

The world was introduced to rock’s next powerhouse on Nov. 18, 2002, da Audio slave released their self-titled debut album.

The band began coming together two years earlier after singer Zack de la Rocha divorced Rage against the machine. The other members still wanted to make music but were unsure how to proceed. “Time [Commerford] and Brad [Wilk] and I knew we wanted to play together,” guitarist Tom Morello told Tuna on toast with Stryker podcast in 2021. “And there were some interesting offer from our record company. Okay, we have a great idea. You should be so-and-so’s backup band.”

Although they were dismayed by the suggestions of the label, an idea from the manufacturer Rick Rubin caught their attention.

“I think the first day Rick hit us with Cornell, we were at his house and we were all listening to it [the Soundgarden song] “Slavers and bulldozers” and we discussed how Cornell could just do anything,” Commerford later recounted Artist waves.

Morello and Rubin arranged to visit Cornell at his home in Ojai, a scenic, secluded town located about two hours north of Los Angeles. When the duo arrived at Cornell’s mansion, the meeting got off to an inauspicious start.

Watch Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’ video

“The super high front doors, they open like Addams Family style, like nobody’s opening the doors,” Morello shared Tuna on Toast,” and out walks Chris—6 feet 3 inches, lanky of frame and dark of decorum. And he starts running slowly down the stairs, and Rick turns to me and says, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here! Our soul is at stake.’”

However, Morello was not easily startled. After a positive introduction and discussion, Cornell agreed to join the rest of the band in Los Angeles to jam. The expectation for everyone involved: Let’s see what happens.

“We’re going to jam with Chris Cornell!” Commerford remembered thinking. “That in itself made my hair stand on end.”

“I got there and figured I’ll know within 10 minutes [if this will work]”, Cornell noted of the first session. “And within 10 minutes, I knew it was going to be great.”

The chemistry among the musicians was immediate. Cornell’s powerful, soulful voice proved a perfect match for the bombastic onslaught of the Rage alumni’s music. The first song they wrote together, “Light My Way,” set the stage for what was to come next.

Listen to Audioslave’s ‘Light My Way’

“I remember being a little nervous at first,” Commerford told Artist Waves. “We’d been playing with Zack for so many years and here’s another guy. It was a little nerve-wracking playing with another singer that I didn’t know. I’d met Chris a few times but I didn’t know him at all. At the time, he wasn’t exactly at his best. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but we wrote ‘Light My Way’ the first day and it ended up being on our first record. We left that day thinking, ‘ We did it. This is cool. We wrote a song and it sounds good.’ That was it. That little fire ignited it all. I think that’s how the best music works. You’re uncomfortable until you write a song that you like and that inspires you to write more.”

With the musical ice officially broken, song ideas quickly flowed out of the group.

“We wrote about 21 songs in 19 days. And it was the most fertile, creative period of our career,” explained Morello, though he admitted that he could not always measure Cornell’s reaction to the group’s ideas. “Chris would kind of sit there and look at the ground [while they played]. And at first we’d be like, ‘What’s he doing?’ And then he would stand at the microphone and sing the song.”

Listen to Audioslave’s ‘I Am the Highway’

Across 14 tracks, Audio slave delivered moments of aggression, poignancy and pure exhilaration. Album opener “Cochise” would be the lead single, an emphatic, arena-shaking introduction to the band. “Show Me How to Live” featured some of the album’s heaviest riffs, while “I Am the Highway” went in a different direction, with Cornell’s soaring, vulnerable vocals showing a certain fragility.

Still, the moving “Like a Stone” was arguably the album’s strongest track – although Commerford admitted he was initially confused by Cornell’s lyrics.

“He’s a poet. And he fooled me with a lot of songs. A song like ‘Like a Stone,’ I thought it was a love song,” Commerford argued. “The chorus is”I’m waiting for you there, like a stone, I’m waiting for you there alone.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, bro. What are you waiting for?’ And he says: ‘Waiting to die’. And I just said, ‘Oh, okay. It changes everything.’ I went back and looked at the song and I got a little sad about what he’s singing about. It’s like a guy waiting alone in a death house and all his friends die and he just waits there. And I imagine this man in a rocking chair waiting to die. It just changed everything for me.”

Watch Audioslave’s ‘Like a Stone’ video

Published Nov. 18, 2002, Audio slave eventually selling more than 3 million copies in the U.S. “Like a Stone” became the band’s most commercially successful track, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s rock and alternative charts, peaking at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100, and earning the group a Grammy- nomination.

Yet, in addition to sales figures and accolades, Audio slave proved that the band was unequivocally not Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine. Instead, it was a living, breathing beat, greater than the sum of its already famous parts.

“I see Audioslave as a more classic rock, singer, chord progression kind of thing. We never really did that kind of stuff with Rage,” Commerford told Artist Waves. “I think back on it and I love Rage, I love the way it feels and then Audioslave happens and it was so different. That’s what I’m most proud of. We didn’t just come back and do a lot of riff rock and put Cornell’s vocals on it. We did something really different.”

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