Audioslave knew how to blow your hair back.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Fronted by singer Chris Cornell and backed by an all-star group of musicians, including legendary guitarist Tom Morello, the band was like a series of power punches from a fighter at the peak of his game.
Today, movies like The Avengers are all the rage, but more than two decades ago, Audioslave was showcasing the skill that a collection of superheroes could provide.
But what was the band’s origin? And how did they get their name?
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It all began in Glendale, California, in 2001.
Fresh off taking a step away from his iconic grunge band, Soundgarden, vocalist, and songwriter Cornell joined up with three musicians who would soon form Audioslave in earnest.
The group was comprised of Cornell, Morello (of Rage Against the Machine fame), along with Rage bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. Rage frontman, Zack de la Rocha, had left to pursue solo efforts at the time and the musical members, sans de la Rocha, were in the market for a new lead singer. At first, comparisons between the new group and Cornell’s and Morello’s former bands were impossible to avoid. But soon, the group began to create their own sound.
With slices of heavy metal, grunge, funk, and soul, Audioslave dominated the airwaves in the early part of the century, lasting for some six years before other projects and responsibilities forced the band to stop. Together, the quartet released three albums, garnered the same number of Grammy nominations, sold about 10 million albums, and even performed a concert in Cuba.
The group officially broke up in early 2007, with Cornell saying he was leaving the band. Cornell put out a solo album and Morello, Commerford, and Wilk, all of which performed in Rage, got back with de la Rocha for a Rage Against the Machine reunion tour.
Sadly, Cornell died about a decade later, meaning the group would never get back together for another LP. Though, shortly before he died, they did perform at a Prophets of Rage show as a quartet.
What’s in a Name? Civilian or Audioslave?
Originally, the band was going to go with the name Civilian as its stage moniker, but that thought was quickly dashed when the members found out the name was already taken by another musical outfit. Though, if you ask Morello, that name was never in serious contention. Said the iconic six-string player to interviewer Paul Cashmere, “The band has only ever had one name, and that is Audioslave.”
“That was Chris’ suggestion that sort of came to him in a vision,” Morello said of the band’s actual name, Audioslave, in an interview with LAUNCHcast. “We’re all on the two-way pagers, and Chris one night said, ‘I got it. It’s Audioslave.’ We were all, like, ‘All right, fantastic.’ … To paraphrase Elvis Costello, talking about band names is like dancing about architecture—there’s just no point in it because the band name becomes the music and the people.”
As with Civilian, the name Audioslave was also being used by another band, this time one from Liverpool in England. But because the quartet was so into it and because it seemed to fit their vibe, they contacted the band and worked out a settlement.
The group, led by Morello and Cornell, paid the Liverpool band $30,000 in a deal that left open both bands being able to use the name. Later, the Liverpool group changed its name to The Most Terrifying Thing.
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Today, the name rings out in memorable ways. Audioslave is a moniker that is remembered and largely beloved.
But at first, it was met with derision and criticism. Music outlet Pitchfork called it “the most asinine brand name of the year” and Spin called it “one of the dumbest band names in recent rock history.”
Those takes, though, haven’t aged very well, given the oomph and power the moniker has today.
In truth, for four musicians who were devoted to rock music and music in general, the idea of being slaves to their audio loves is quite the ode. And it’s worked out, given the band has garnered billions of streams in its short stint together.
Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage