NUVO Interview: Tom Morello


It’s been a busy year for guitarist-cum-singer–songwriter Tom Morello, who is set to hit the Vogue stage on Nov. 13 in support of his latest solo album, The Fabled City. Morello, known foremost for his unique guitar style that at times sounds louder than an army, tours as a solo artist under the alias The Nightwatchman.

After disbanding his most recent rock ’n’ roll project, Audioslave, in 2007, Morello made some serious plans for 2008. After years of silence, Morello and his name-making band, Rage Against the Machine, started playing together again in late 2007, including a headline-making visit to the Republican National Convention. Morello, hailed as one of the “30 Best Guitarists of All Time” by Rolling Stone, could have been exhausted after the Rage tour.

“Focusing on The Fabled City after a busy year has been easier now that the Rage shows are done for the year and I can focus exclusively about getting the live performances ready in support of the album,” Morello told NUVO. “The live show is going to be half acoustic, half electric; the template is 50 percent Dylan, 50 percent Hendrix, combining the acoustic ‘three chords and the truth’ vibe of the new album with a full-on Marshall-stack-attack of guitar heroism.

“I’ve grown exponentially as a singer and solo performer since my first solo album. I played hundreds — probably thousands — of shows as an electric guitar player and hadn’t really performed as a solo singer–songwriter. Touring with great artists like Billy Bragg and Steve Earle — seeing those who are best at it — taught me a fearlessness. I’m willing to perform any time, any place. Whether it’s a protest with tear gas flying or huge festivals like Bonnaroo, there’s really not much that you can throw at me now that will surprise me.”

While Audioslave didn’t dabble much into the serious, Rage was a politically engaged band, churning out anti-corporate polemics, playing provocative shows on Saturday Night Live and outside of the New York Stock Exchange. Thus Morello’s turn as a political singer–songwriter really isn’t all that surprising.

“There are a lot of links in the political songwriter chain, be it Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie, or early Dylan or Springsteen,” Morello said. “I think it goes beyond singer–songwriters as well, bands like The Clash, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. Rebel music comes in a lot of different flavors. I’m very pleased to count myself as one of the links in that chain.”

In support of his new record, produced by Brendan O’Brien (Springsteen, Rage, Pearl Jam, etc.), Morello promises a diverse show aimed at connecting with the audience.

“There is a backing band on this tour called The Freedom Fighter Orchestra, comprised of friends I’ve jammed with for years in Los Angeles,” Morello said. “I love the opportunity this new material allows me to really go for broke on the electric guitar in a way that is not constricted by any song structure. I don’t have to worry about keeping things within the span of a radio hit, so I can always do what I want.”

Looking back on his two-decade career after such a busy year, Morello had much to offer about how he came to be the artist he is today.

“The biggest success I’ve had as an artist is that I’ve been able to maintain a connection to an audience while writing and performing material that is very honest. The band I was in before Rage, called Lock Up, saw every music industry cliché in the history of music industry clichés. Up until that point I was trying to write hit songs and make hit records; that was my dream. When that fell apart I vowed that I was never going to play another note of music that I didn’t believe in. That’s when Rage formed.

“From that day in 1991 to this day, with the new record, that has been my North Star, making music that I believe in and having the good fortune to maintain an audience. Feeling like every show and every record matters along the way.”


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