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— by Chris Harris

Listening to Audioslave's 2002 self-titled debut disc, it was evident that the band was something of a rock-and-roll experiment that Dr. Frankenstein would've sanctioned. Take the body of Rage Against the Machine, affix the head of Soundgarden somewhere between those broad shoulders, sit back and see what happens.

Although it was a solid record, one was left with the sense that this was a group trying to find itself, its members longing to leave the past in the past and set a course for uncharted waters, feeling each other out along the way. Even frontman Chris Cornell admits there were some growing pains initially, but now says that after three years together, Audioslave have finally arrived at a comfortable place.

MTV News recently caught up with Cornell to talk about Audioslave's upcoming tour, the band's second album, Out of Exile (due May 17), and how this time around, the recording process proved to be a more cohesive experience, thanks to the soothing calm of familiarity. And oh yeah, he also said a little something about Soundgarden ...

MTV: Are you excited to get back out there on the road, or do you view touring as a necessary evil?

Chris Cornell: With Audioslave, I really started to like the road a lot. There is a certain dedication and work ethic that the band has. Their dedication to the show — whatever day that it's on, that is the most important thing that we do that day. Whatever else takes a second place, and that makes for a very safe experience. To know that I can just go out onstage and get lost in the music and get lost in whatever it is I am doing, and it becomes transcendent. And it is kind of addictive now. It's an experience that very few get to have, and it is such a positive one now, day by day — that, you know, it's exciting.

MTV: The first single from Out of Exile, "Be Yourself," is kind of mid-tempo. The last time around, Audioslave came out with guns blazing with "Cochise." Why not do the same thing again?

Cornell: We kind of looked at it like, as opposed to it being the first single of the second record, it's just the next single in the career of Audioslave. "Like a Stone" — which is the only song slightly similar to this that was a single — was a long, long time ago. I think that on the new record, every single song could be a single. We're looking at kind of opening that up a little more, like rock bands used to, instead of doing four-month campaigns on a single song. We have album-oriented records, and there's a lot of songs to hear on them.

MTV: The single seems to suggest that Audioslave have come to some sort of acceptance about who you are. What happened to get you to that place?

Cornell: A lot of things happened. We came together as a band, and we knew one thing and one thing only: The four of us could write great songs, and we could make a great band. As far as how we would get along, what it would be like to tour together, to write music together, to conduct business together — all of those things had yet to be discovered. And over the course of a couple of years, we did that.

Most importantly, I think, in 10 months of touring, we did nothing but play Audioslave songs. Even though we have vast career catalogs, we didn't touch on that. We carved out, I believe, a spot for Audioslave on its own terms and by itself. That was pretty huge in terms of how we felt coming back into songwriting for this record. It was clear that, on every level, we worked great, and it was also clear that the openness of the creative process the first time really helped. So we went right back to that.

MTV: What do you feel is the main difference between Out of Exile and the first Audioslave record?

Cornell: We knew that me singing over Tom [Morello's guitar] and Tim [Commerford's bass] and Brad [Wilk's drums] doing whatever they want to do — whether it's riff-oriented or kind of funk rock — it would sound great. And when we first started playing, just in ad-lib situations, when we were doing that, it was great. So we went there and it was a comfortable place to go, and we had never done it as a group. And then we started to move in other areas too, in different directions when we made that record. On this record, I don't think we considered that in any way. Every song was just sort of its own song, we didn't talk about direction, and yet, we went in a lot of different directions musically that I haven't done in my career before. So it really feels fresh.

MTV: Given that Out of Exile was written and recorded during this past election year — as well as your bandmates' political background — can we expect this album to be more political?

Cornell: I think you'll have to ask someone else in the band, because when I write songs that apparently have political content, I don't ever seem to notice it. When I write, I just get out of my own way, and whatever comes out comes out. And sometimes that comes out and sometimes not.

For me, it's more a phrase here, a thought there. It's not like I'm charging toward a specific idea. I have had a lot of positive changes in my life personally — a new marriage, a new family, a fantastic support system that I've never had before — and that's all over the lyrics, and then they're also dealing with some of the issues that involve the world around me. But the way that I work is, to some degree, kind of an ethereal stream of consciousness, and whatever comes out comes out and I don't question it. The band often points out those things that I don't notice when it comes to something that might be more social or politically involved.

MTV: How important was it for Audioslave to get Rick Rubin back in the producer's chair to helm this album?

Cornell: It was comfortable. I actually personally learned more from him as a producer than I have from anyone else I've worked with. Oftentimes, I feel like there's sort of smoke and mirrors involved with a producer, and that really, if you have any kind of self-confidence and know your band, you don't need one. It's a sales job that producers do more to record companies than they effectively do to bands. The way Audioslave works, where we write songs in a room live and can immediately play them live, Rick's whole focus is you should be a rock band that can write great songs and be able to play them live, and that is your record. That is his whole philosophy. So for me, he's the perfect choice. Having said that, I think we learned so much from him last time that this time, he wasn't as involved.

MTV: Any plans for you, as a solo artist, to release anything somewhere down the road?

Cornell: I haven't really been thinking about it. To me, to do a solo record, I would have to be having songs written that Audioslave won't do or that don't fit with Audioslave, and I don't have that. Anything I come up with gets introduced into the band, and becomes part of that. So I am perfectly happy doing just that.

MTV: Is Soundgarden something you consider to be part of your past, or might there be a reunion somewhere down the road?

Cornell: The way I see and feel about Soundgarden — I think it's the same for Matt [Cameron] and Ben [Shepherd] and Kim [Thayil] — is that it was something that had a beginning, a middle and an end. And if we look at that period in its capsule, it had its own life span and it could not be improved upon. It's something that we're all very proud of, and I can't imagine re-approaching it in any way that wouldn't risk somehow harming that. Right now, I can look back and just think, "Thank God all the things that can go wrong, the things that would really truly bother me in hindsight, they didn't happen. We avoided them." So, having said that, you know, I'm not going to be one of those guys that shows up at 60 and says, "Well, I don't know what I was talking about when I was 35." You never know. From this standpoint, I would hope that nothing would change where it is now, which is, I think, a great achievement.

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