Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage) recently sat down with Metal Wani’s Carl Rourke to discuss his new album, The Atlas Underground Fire. The pair also talked about how Kanye West influenced the guitarist’s methodology on the new record, where he stands on what makes a song a hit versus what makes a song a classic, and what about the guitar he finds sacred as well much more.
After learning that Kanye West recorded two albums worth of vocals using the voice memo app on his phone, Tom explained how this influenced him on The Atlas Underground Fire.
“I have to give thanks to Kanye West who I’ve never met in person but that quote, I went four months without ever touching a guitar, you know? Like, I have a studio at my house, but I don’t know how to work it. Normally there is an engineer, but there was no engineer coming for the foreseeable future, maybe ever, who knew at the time? And so, the idea, I read that article, and I immediately just started recording some riffs. I put my phone, this phone, this is the phone on which the record was recorded on a folding chair in front of my amp. I don’t know does go six inches away? Does it go two feet? I don’t know! [Laugh]
“There’s no manual for that, right? So we just recorded a few riffs into it and I think the first batch I sent to Bloody Beatroots, the Italian, kind of punk, EDM guy, and within twenty minutes he sent me back a video of him working on a track that sounded fucking fantastic and I was like ‘Oh! okay, there might be a way here,’ you know? And so I started amassing tracks and sending them to like, Refused in Sweden, and Bring Me The Horizon in Brazil, and Sama’ Abdulhadi in Palestine, and Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey and this cloistered isolation started to feel a little less lonely. It was like this global, kind of, rock n’ roll pen pal team started to form and that was the basis for the Atlas Underground Fire record.”
In his high school, drama club band ‘The Electric Sheep’, in which Tool’s Adam Jones also featured, Tom spoke about the moment in which the spirit of rock n’ roll saved their performance and potentially altered the course for him as a musician.
While I loved rock n’ roll at the time very much, sort of punk rock, that could have been a shattering experience. It was sort of a battle of the bands, as a school show, we were the worst and the band also featured Adam Jones from Tool. Adam was on that stage that night, too, also not knowing ‘Born to be Wild’ that well. [Laughs] He was the best musician in the band! But we didn’t really know it so well. But yeah, it really, it was the first time it went from ‘Oh, I like the idea of standing there with a guitar because it’s reminiscent of Jimmy Page,’ to having a connective experience. You know what I mean? not just a connection, but it really felt like a smelled blood in the water.”
While discussing how the guitar came into his life and what he considers sacred about the instrument, Tom also shared his thoughts on how he tries to use his vocation for good.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse, in a way. Because now it’s in my DNA, it’s in my blood, it’s now my responsibility to use that vocation as a way to express everything. Do you know what I mean? It’s not sitting back like ‘How might I best overthrow the government?’ or ‘How might I best feed the hungry in Los Angeles?” it’s like, I’m a guitar player! Okay, so that’s a given. Now given that, how do I make the world a more just and humane place with that blessing and with that burden?”