Almost as surprising as Rage Against the Machine announcing that they will reunite for April’s Coachella festival was last week’s statement by Chris Cornell that he’s leaving Audioslave (the band comprising Rage’s guitarist, drummer, and bass player with Cornell on vocals). The former Soundgarden frontman, who is readying his second solo release, Carry On (out May 1), cited ”irresolvable personality conflicts as well as musical differences” as the primary reason for his abrupt departure from the platinum-plus-selling band. In talking to EW.com, it seems Cornell has actually known for some time that he was ready to move on.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Chris, explain your decision to leave Audioslave.
CHRIS CORNELL: It comes down to this: We came from different bands that had pretty tumultuous existences. We agreed to do Audioslave under the premise that it was going to be harmonious and fun for everybody, and as soon as it wasn’t that way anymore, I didn’t want to do it. We started having problems from day one. There was, of course, this awkwardness where you have a 12-year relationship as a band and then an outsider comes in, particularly one that had a 15-year relationship with another band. For me, it was great creatively, but personally, it was like suddenly having stepparents. And as hard as we all worked at trying to respect different opinions and perspectives, when it came to the inner workings of the band, they had their way of doing things and I had mine. And they seemed to be at odds with one another, too.
The great thing about Audioslave was its downfall for me. Our songs came together like a band of 19-year-olds making music in a garage. We all wrote in one room, and it was really refreshing and exciting, which I think you hear on the record. But I’m not 19 and I’ve come to a place in my life where to be fully satisfied musically, I need to be able to do what I want.
Is democracy in a band impossible?
It depends on how you deal with it. If you can come to an agreement at some point, that’s good. But what usually ends up happening is the person with the most passionate opinion ends up winning. If there was a situation where three people didn’t want to do something and the fourth person was like, ”You guys don’t understand!” usually that person would get their way. But like any relationship, you don’t lie down on the tracks for everything. You choose your battles. Soundgarden’s democracy was pretty normal.
Do you miss the Soundgarden days?
I look back on those days with pride, and I miss the individuals, but there was a lot of band turmoil and a lot of sad things happened. The days of Soundgarden that I truly miss are when nobody really knew what was going to happen; we just knew we had a special scene going on in our city. The days when all the members of Soundgarden would be in the audience for all the other Seattle bands and [vice versa] and there was no end to the amazing creative output of all these different musicians. I miss the innocence of that scene, before everybody had stars in their eyes and people were coming from all over the world to start bands. Seattle became the new Hollywood, which was weird because we were so far away from that. I don’t know if it’s the weather or what, but I’m still shocked by the creativity that comes out of there. When I was working on ”You Know My Name” [for Casino Royale] there was a poster on the studio wall for the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. They’re a family from Seattle who go to garage sales, buy old vacation pictures, put them together as a slide show, and write music to it. That kind of naÏve creativity of ”let’s entertain ourselves,” that purity is still there.
What new bands are you feeling these days?
The Arcade Fire. I love the sound of their records. It’s lo-fi in a way that reminds me of the indie scene when Soundgarden started, where it’s really about the expression — the drums are just a distant hint at a rhythm and you’re not really sure what instruments are coming and going — and the mosaic and not trying to make everything discernable. I really like Wolfmother a lot, too. I hear them as combination of heavy metal and the White Stripes, which is cool. They won the same Grammy award that ”Black Hole Sun” got [in 1995] for Best Hard Rock Performance.
The music industry is changing, albums don’t sell the way they used to. How do you adapt?
There are upsides to everything. All you have to do is embrace the way things are going. Clearly, there isn’t a lack of enthusiasm toward rock music, but the demographic changed — it got to be younger, more Net-savvy MP3 downloaders. But there are positive aspects to that: Accessibility of your music will generate enthusiasm for your live performance, which narrows the field down to bands that deliver for real. Like, you have to be good at what you do. The other thing is it cuts out the fat of the record industry and weeds out people who are just coasting. It’s no longer a situation where people can get big fat checks to sit on their ass doing nothing. These days, if you’re not really into music, this isn’t a business that you’re going to want to be in. I think anything that benefits the listener, the person that pays for music, is good.
How much did Rage reforming spur your decision?
Not much, really. After the third Audioslave record was done, I started an album on my own and made a decision to spend time away from the band. And it was anybody’s guess what that time apart would create. But suddenly, my life was in order and I was enjoying every aspect of making music, especially being able to work at home with my family, without the constant give and take. Musically, I felt like I could go in any direction I wanted, and that brought me to the conclusion that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do anymore.
Did you talk to any of the guys before or after making the announcement?
They found out with everybody else, and I haven’t heard from them at all since.
You’ve often said that a Rage performance was one of the best live shows you’d ever seen…
Seeing Rage live was the reason that Audioslave existed! It’s why I wanted to get in a room with those guys because they were some of the best performances I’d ever seen. And a part of me thinks they should still be a band.
Would you go see them play Coachella this April?
Would you get on stage with them?
Now that’s a good idea…