Tom Morello Talks Justice Tour, Rage Against the Machine, And More
We were lucky enough to chat with virtuosic rock guitarist/freedom fighter Tom Morello last Friday about his upcoming Justice Tour. We also talked about his new Nightwatchman record, Bruce Springsteen, his new comic book ‘Orchid’, Audioslave, and of course Rage Against the Machine:
You’ll be here in Flint in just a couple of weeks with The Justice Tour, tell us a little bit about how that came together:
The Justice Tour is myself, Wayne Kramer of the mighty MC5, and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and we are traveling throughout the Midwest to some of the big union battlegrounds where the working class folks are under siege and were playing these benefit shows. All the money from the shows will go toward the Nation Institute, which promotes independent media and news outlets that are of the people, by the people, and for the people. So we’re very much looking forward to these shows and coming to Flint.
What made you choose Flint specifically for a show as oppose to say…Detroit?
Part of it was I’ve been friends with Michael Moore for a long time and he’s told me a lot of inside stories about Flint and why it is a city in need. We played with Incubus just the other day outside of Detroit but I thought for The Justice Tour — we really wanted to go somewhere that was gonna appreciate us stopping by and also a place that is in need. Where the working class people are under siege. These right wing governors across the Midwest right now are trying to destroy a century of social progress that was fought for by the unions. I don’t think it’s right and so we’re coming there to see what we can do about it.
‘World Wide Rebel Songs’ is out this Tuesday (Aug. 30th), which marks your 14th studio album — you’re a busy dude.
Now I’ve made as many Nightwatchman records as Rage Against The Machine records. This is not some sort of vanity project or side project, it’s something that I’ve really put my heart and soul into and ‘World Wide Rebel Songs’ is pretty distinctly different than all the previous Nightwatchman records in that I have a full back up band on this one called the Freedom Fighter Orchestra. It’s the first Nightwatchman record where I’ve really made extensive use of electric guitar. It’s riffs and it’s solos mixed in with the darker Nightwatchman material.
All your other stuff as Nightwatchman has been mostly stripped down, acoustic — what made you decide to change it up this time around?
Well it was a couple of years ago I played an electric version of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ with Bruce Springsteen. It was the first time I ever sang while holding an electric guitar and I realized I could do it you know. I could bridge what I do in Rage and Audioslave without losing the integrity of the folk music stuff. So it’s this kind of punk folk now [laughs] with Morellian shredding on top.
People were surprised to see you at this year’s Comic-Con to promote your new comic ‘Orchid’, how involved are you in the creative process of the comic?
It’s 100%. I’m not the artist but the story is mine, I oversee every detail of it — I’m the one that writes every word of the comic. It was about 3 years ago I had a vision for this story I wanted to tell — it was to combine the epic sweep of stories like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars but infused with a class consciousness. That was something I always kinda felt was missing from those stories. ‘Orchid’ is a story about a 16 year old street prostitute who — sort of part suicide girl, part Joan of Arc — in a dystopian future where humans are no longer top of the food chain. It’s got a lot of class politics but it’s also got a lot of cool monsters [laughs].
And you recorded a soundtrack for each issue?
Yeah that’s right. There’s a musical score for each issue so if you get the comic book, you’ll get free streaming of the music that comes with it. I’ve done a lot of work scoring movies — I worked on the ‘Iron Man’ movies and a bunch of other movies and I wanted to take that skill set and bring it in to the unique concept of doing a soundtrack for a comic book.
Over the years you’ve worked with so many great vocalist, Zach de la Rocha to Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Maynard, Serj Tankian, most recently Ben Harper. On a single song basis, what was your favorite recording experience?
Oh geez –I mean that’s hard to say. All those that you mentioned are spectacular vocalists. Ben Harper sings a great…we wrote a song together on the ‘World Wide Rebel Songs’ record called ‘Save the Hammer for the Man’ and Ben Harper is tremendously talented as a guitarist and a singer/songwriter. So that’s the one most recently that I’ve been listening to and we’ve been playing on tour. The entire Rage catalog — I just think Zack is a tremendous passionate voice for the causes that we believe in. If I had to pick one song, it’s hard to argue with ‘Killing in the Name’. That profanity laced refrain at the end is one that’s become a battle cry around the globe. Chris Cornell is a melodic [vocalist], someone who can compose a great melody and sing his butt off. It’s hard to pick a song, [but] I love the ‘Cochise’ because it’s really raw and rocking. I could go on, but Serj…the entire Serj catalog is awesome [laughs].
Now you mentioned Rage, there were rumors flying and you addressed them saying ‘there’s nothing going on right now’ but is it ever going to happen again? Is it just not the right time, are you worried about disappointing fans, what’s the issue?
[laughs] No nothing to do with that. I completely understand [that] people want to hear that we’re in the studio making a record — we are not, I’m sorry. Everybody in the band gets along great, we just played the L.A. Rising festival this year that was super fun and a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first time we were in a room. But I promise you, if there is going to be Rage music or a Rage tour — we’ll let you know. It’s not gonna be kept secret, it will be announced. Right now, there is nothing so there’s nothing to announce.
You guys have to talk about it, how does the conversation go?
You know right now I’ve got a record coming out on August 30th and a world tour following that. Zach has been working on One Day as a Lion for some time now. It’s not a band that operates according to album cycles or anything like that. We did that back in the nineties and it made everybody crazy and we didn’t get along because of it. Now when we want to do something — we do it. When we want to do a tour or play a show or write a song — we’ll do it…and we’ll let you know [laughs].
Audioslave is another band that you were in that split…right after my favorite record too. I was really looking forward to seeing you tour on that one. Do you think there’s a chance you and the guys might work with Chris again sometime in the future?
Yeah, me too. I like that record a lot too and was looking forward to touring behind that one. Again, that’s nothing that we’ve…Chris is very busy with Soundgarden, I’m in three bands and writing a comic book and raising two kids right now [laughs]. My plate is pretty full right now. Though I greatly enjoyed my time in Audioslave and Chris, we remain friends. He’s a talent. I missed Soundgarden when they came through but I hope I get to see them sometime.
You mentioned Rage’s 20th anniversary, Pearl Jam is celebrating theirs as well. I noticed you’ll be in Wisconsin the day after the PJ20 Festival, any chance you’re going to make an appearance there?
I hope to go see it. I actually have a day off on the day of — I think they’re playing two shows at Alpine Valley. It’s a venue that I used to see shows at when I was a kid. So it’d be great to see Pearl Jam there. I hope to go see them play, thats all I know right now. I haven’t contacted them or anything.
You’re bringing Tim McIlrath (Rise Against) to The Machine Shop for The Justice Tour, will the two of you be sharing the stage at all?
Not just him but Wayne Kramer as well from the mighty MC5 and we will certainly be sharing the stage. Tim’s on tour right now I think in Europe and he just texted me the other day saying ‘What songs are we gonna play together?’. So I sent him a list of some suggestions and we’ll see what we get together.
The Justice Tour Dates
September 5th – Madison, Wisconsin @ The Barrymore Theatre
September 6th – Cleveland, Ohio @ Grog Shop
September 7th – Flint, Michigan @ The Machine Shop