Chris McKay: How’s the Audioslave tour going?


TC: We’ve played two shows so far. We went on a little European tour recently and we played some promotional shows and whatnot and we got into a kind of decent groove on tour. We took 3 weeks off between the last tour and this one and took a few steps backwards, but it’s coming back pretty quick. The autopilot comes back fairly quick and we’re definitely not on that autopilot mode just yet. We’re still reading the crowd and each other to try to figure out which parts of the songs are the most exciting parts to rock out to and it just takes a little time to find.


CM: Are the audiences responding as you expected?


TC: It’s pretty crazy! I mean, before going into it, I was telling my friends “We’re a different band than Rage. The songs have a slower tempo. There’s not as many spots in our set that you can jump to comfortably unless you’re Spud Webb and have like a 55-inch vertical leap. It’s just that there are no songs you can jump to.” But I was wrong (laughs)! We’ve picked up the tempo a little bit in some songs unintentionally and the crowd jumps and then we jump and the next thing you know, it’s the same thing as Rage! It feels the same! People are going nuts, y’know?


CM: So the musical still feel like Rage to you?


TC: When the kids jump in unison and there’s a whole crowd jumping, I feel like I’m in something that’s equally as powerful as Rage Against The Machine.


CM: How is Audioslave different from Rage Against The Machine?


TC: It’s different because Rage had one key and one gear. We played in E, B or F sharp. That’s it. That’s all we ever did. We just tried really hard to rock people with intense songs that would make people jump. That’s what it was all about. With Audioslave we’re realizing that there are other ways of rocking and that you can bring it down to a mellow song and people sing along. They may not jump in unison, but they sing in unison and it’s just as powerful. We’ve never experienced that. We’ve heard people rap; we’ve heard people screaming out the words, but never people singing. There’s been more than a few times when the crowd is as loud as the P.A. There was one time when I was like, “What’s that effect that our soundman is using? What is that? Get it off!” and it was the crowd singing along.


CM: How has it been melding that sonic devastation that Rage was so famous for with Chris Cornell’s melodies?


TC: It’s incredible how it works. For an example, we have a spot in our set where we had been putting in songs that didn’t make the record and we’d been trying to work up songs and it was kind of a lull in the set. It wasn’t hitting like it should. So we decided the other day that maybe we would go the opposite direction, that we would break it down to an acoustic guitar and Chris Cornell. So we figured out a version of one of our songs that was already mellow and broke it down even more. That made the people lose their ever loving minds! It’s incredible! So the dynamic of the set has changed in that way, but it’s just as exciting and gets just as gnarly of a crowd response.


CM: Do you think that album producer Rick Rubin had anything to do with the development of the band’s chops in the studio?


TC: Oh yeah. It was Rick’s idea for us to jam with Chris Cornell. We all have our little two-way pagers and Rick sends messages to all of us about different things. I just got a message within the last couple of months where he’s like, “I’m going to send you these Ramones videos. I want you to see them. They’re really cool. There’s stuff that you and Tom could be doing. Rick’s been coming to the shows and he gets people to videotape the shows and he’s been watching them and he comments, “I want you and Tom to both step forward on this spot where you’re rocking. It’ll look dope, you know?” He’s really involved like that and I dig that. He loves us. He’s more than just a producer. He’s someone who gave us his house to get to know each other. He gave us his house to do endless meetings in. He helps us on the drop of a hat. I can send him a message about anything and he’s ready to help out. He sent me a message the other day to tell me that the license plate SHTSTRM, shitstorm is available. He sent me a message on exactly what I could say. My name is Sharon Thompson and I was getting married. I mean, he broke it down. He’s like, “You should get the license plate SHTSTRM for your truck.”


CM: That gives post-production a whole other meaning, man.


TC: He’s an incredible guy. Rick was involved in every decision. He still is involved and his assistant Lindsey is sort of the surrogate mother of the band, y’know? The other day we got a package from Lindsey and it was mittens, because it’s cold here (laughs). I can’t say enough about Rick Rubin. One thing that people don’t realize is that he doesn’t wash his beard and that he keeps a lot of treasures in there. If you know him close enough, he’ll actually allow you to into his beard to pull things out. If you’re that lucky then you’re assured that you’ll have a hit because there’s more than one hit in there. I’m telling you. He let us all go in there a few times and just hang out and we came out of there with a bunch of hits.


CM: So how do you feel about the record when you see it across the room. Not the songs, not the band, not the producer, but the actual album itself?


TC: I think it looks good. I think it sticks out in its own sort of way. It’s a crazy cover. We went after this guy Storm (Thorgeson) that did all the classic Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records and we went after him to get that sort of record that you’d be able to look across the store and see and know that it was yours, you know? It’s exciting. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel. It’s not as much luck as I actually felt like it was when Rage Against The Machine was on top of the world. I was like, “God, I’m a lucky guy.” I kind of felt like I hung out and grew up with the right people at the right time and went to the right schools and it all worked out. Now I feel like there’s something else going on (laughs). There’s definitely a work ethic that the three of us, me, Tom and Brad have and Chris Cornell just jumped right into it and assumed the same ethic. Whenever we get together, we get work done. We’ve got a tour scheduled for a year and it’s no joke. I feel really comfortable that we’ll make a really great second album that’ll be even better than the first record because we’re a better band now. We’ve played more and we’ve been on more tours. We’re just better.


CM: I read a quote from you that said that when you’re 54, you’d rather turn on the radio and hear Audioslave than Rage. Why do you feel that way?


TC: I think what I had initially said was that I know I will be hearing Audioslave. I don’t feel the power of being 54 years old and turning on the radio and hearing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” (from Rage’s debut). I don’t think it’s going down like that. I could be wrong and I know there will always be fans of that, but I think my chances are a lot better with Audioslave. In Rage, our first record, when no one knew who we were, we sold records. Our record rose up the charts and hit, like, number seven and every record that we made after that debuted really high on the charts and slowly went down. This Audioslave record debuted high, went down and has just stayed in the top forty which is something that I have never experienced before. That’s because there’s more music on there for more people. My four sisters and brothers are various ages and they all enjoy Audioslave where all of them did not enjoy Rage Against The Machine. I just believe in a bigger audience for Audioslave and I’m really excited to look out in the audience and it’s a bunch of young kids who are digging it, too. It’s a whole bunch of different age groups that get off on it. (We’re) not going anywhere. We’re up to single number two and I feel quite confident that there’s quite a few singles on this record and if the first two don’t get you, the third one will. If that one doesn’t work, maybe the fourth or the fifth one will get you.


CM: Yeah, and you also throw in a few twists that play up your highlights at the same time. “Cochise” is just a brutal rocker, but “Hypnotize” could be Moby or the Chemical Brothers.


TC: We were into all of that. We were unafraid. We didn’t have any preconceived notions on the music and we just wrote whatever we wanted to. We still do that and it feels good. It’s the same thing in this band as it was with Rage where I feel like we’re the only band doing what we do right now. There’s no one to follow except for us. One thing I know is that the three of us, Tom, Brad and myself have the luxury of at least ten years of tone shaping. That’s the way I see it. We’ve had ten years of getting to know each others’ tone and experimenting with ways to not step on the other guys’ tones. Eventually, all the tones are there and everyone’s happy and everyone can be heard and it sounds like a big, stomping, riff-making machine. That’s what we do. We use the same gear and the same pickups and the same guitar and it’s all the same so we try to fine tune it with twisting the knobs one way or another or trying to hotwire something. A lot of bands aren’t used to being on the road or getting a sound through a P.A. system. I think we all feel it in terms of the P.A. system is just like a giant ghetto blaster. It’s just a huge stereo that you get to tweak the knobs on and make it sound killer. A lot of bands are just like, “God, I’m out here on the road and I’m at the mercy of these people and here’s my amp, here’s my sound” whereas we’re not like that.


CM: My take on the band is that the band is a lumbering monster and Chris is the wings.


TC: Yeah, I feel that because he brings so much to the table. Our songs would be a lot more like Rage Against The Machine if it weren’t for the fact that we have this guy who is so different than Zach. Where we might be riff-rocking and throwing hooks together, this guy’s singing this beautiful melody that links it together with a slippery glue over the top of something that’s really elemental. The guy’s got a killer vibrato and a killer, screaming AC/DC voice. He’s got a killer Peter Murphy low voice and an awesome mid-rangey real voice. It’s hard to put your finger on what is his real voice unless you’ve actually heard him talk.


CM: You can compare Chris Cornell to just about every great rock singer that has come before.


TC: There you go, but you can compare no one to him (laughs). There was one time that he actually told me about one guy that I went, “Wow! Trip out on that.” He’s like, “Terence Trent D’arby.” I was like, “he’s somewhat like you.” He screams and he’s bluesy. He’s got different voices. I liked both of (D’arby’s records), but his first record was sick, man.


CM: Do you miss any of Rage’s political slant?


TC: No, because I feel like Tom’s here. If it weren’t for Tom, I don’t know that I would care as much as I do about certain things. He teaches me. I’m not afraid to go, “Yo, what’s that mean” or “what’s that all about?” Now he’s got the Axis Of Justice which is more than just say, the Zapatistas. It’s all-inclusive. If you’re getting abused by your parents or if you’re a Zapatista or if you’re into European politics, there’s something there for you. I’m actually excited about that. Looking back on the whole thing, I can become more passionate about Tom Morello than any of the things that he’s totally into. Tom might be passionately into a whole lot of political things that I’m not into, but I’m just as passionate about Tom Morello as he is about the things that he picks up. So it just feels good for me able to be able to go, “Yo, here’s the guy that went to Harvard, graduated political science and is smart as hell, reads voraciously, he’s got it going on and he’s the man for the job. He’s not pigeonholed in any way. There’s no leash on him. We say, “You’re great at that; go do it.” I’m just psyched to be in a band with him. So I don’t feel like I’m missing the politics at all. I’m still learning more than ever before. And when those benefit shows come around and we’re big enough to play them, we’ll be like, “Hell yeah, let’s do benefits and raise money for people.”


CM: And the whole band is okay with all of that?


TC: Everyone’s okay with it. That’s the thing. From day one, Cornell was like, “I’m not looking to be the singer for Rage. I don’t want to be in a political band, but I will play any benefits that you guys ever want to play.” I think that’s cool, and I believe in that more than anything else. You can talk the talk, but walking the walk is when you hand the check down to the grass roots organization.


CM: Is there anything that you regret about the way that Rage ended?


TC: No, I feel like it all worked out in the end. I feel like right now I’m in a better spot than I’ve been in my whole career. The only thing that I regret is that we didn’t get it done a little quicker and that we weren’t out here doing this two years ago.


CM: Any final word on the upcoming reborn Lollapalooza?


TC: It’s going to be a great tour. Queens Of The Stone Age, Incubus, Jane’s Addiction, Jurassic 5 and Audioslave seems like a good show to me. There’s some talk of having The Donnas and a few other bands. There’ll be a side stage that’ll have a lot of cool smaller bands. It’s just going to be cool, man. So this tour that we’re on now is warming us up for that tour.

 (Chris McKay/