|basement tapes||concert reviews||cd reviews||interviews||ticket swap||music news|
By Phil Bonyata
Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - |
From fit of rage to fabled city
Oct. 24, 2008
Tom Morello wasn't born with just ordinary arms - but vessels that have created some of the most imaginative and incendiary guitar work the world has ever known. Mixing deeply felt political convictions and a fiery guitar that has most likely pleased the devil himself, Morello continues to break down creative barriers. Having his roots set in the wildly popular and explosive Rage Against the Machine and planting the rich melodies in Audioslave one could only wonder where Morello would lay his artistic hat next. On his second album The Fabled City, Morello is exploring the hidden valleys of a deeply personal and dark landscape of protest folk music. His vocal delivery has a wonderfully deep and monotone resonance similar to the likes of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. Morello's political stance is one of challenge, revolt and tear down the failed system. You might not agree with everything Morello says, but he will surely challenge your own preconceived notions and dare I say help you become a critical thinker.
Livewire's Phil Bonyata recently conducted an interview with the guitar hero and here he will challenge you as well.
Livewire: Why did you add your name to the bands' name The Nightwatchman?
TOM: WELL THE BANDS NAME IS NOT "THE NIGHTWATCHMAN," MY NAME IS "THE NIGHTWATCHMAN." OR AT LEAST THE NAME I HAVE BEEN USING TO PERFORM SOLO ACOUSTIC FOLK MUSIC. ON THIS RECORD I ADDED MY OTHER NAME, TOM MORELLO, BECAUSE THIS ALBUM BRIDGES THE GAP BETWEEN MY ACOUSTIC PLAYING AND MY ROCK BAND PLAYING.
Livewire: What is the musical evolution from Rage to The Nightwatchman?
TOM: IT'S CURIOUS YOU'VE LEFT OUT AUDIOSLAVE IN THOSE EVOLUTIONARY STEPS. I BELIEVE THAT RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE AND THE NIGHTWATCHMAN ARE TWO LINKS IN THE SAME CHAIN. A CHAIN THAT ENCOMPASSES WOODY GUTHRIE, THE MC5, THE CLASH, PUBLIC ENEMY, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, SYSTEM OF A DOWN, BOB MARLEY AND OTHERS WHO COMBINE RIGHTEOUS ZEAL WITH PHAT JAMS.
Livewire: If you could describe each of your bands in 2 or 3 words, how would you describe each?
TOM: RAGE: ROCKSPLOSIVE
THE NIGHTWATCHMAN: BENT ON REVENGE
Livewire: You said on your MySpace page that "You don't have to be loud, son, to be heavy as shit." Can you elaborate?
TOM: I DON'T THINK THAT IT REQUIRES WALLS OF MARSHALL STACKS OR LES PAUL GUITARS TO MAKE MUSIC THAT IS HEAVY AND IMPACTFUL. COMPARE, FOR EXAMPLE, BOB DYLANS "A HARD RAINS A GONNA FALL" WITH ANY NUMBER OF NOISY POINTLESS EMO BANDS. SOMETIMES WHEN THE VOLUME IS TURNED DOWN THE HEAVINESS IS AMPLIFIED.
Livewire: Rolling Stone called you one of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." What words of wisdom would you share with any young and talented guitarist today?
TOM: I WOULD SHARE TWO QUICK NUGGETS OF WISDOM. ONE IS PRACTICE EVERY DAY WITHOUT FAIL. I BEGAN PRACTICING AN HOUR A DAY THEN TWO THEN FOUR AND FINALLY EIGHT HOURS A DAY EVERY SINGLE DAY WHETHER I WAS SICK OR HAD AN EXAM THE NEXT MORNING AND I REALLY NOTICED MY ABILITIES EXPAND EXPONENTIALLY. ALSO I WOULD SAY THAT YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION WHETHER YOU ARE GOING TO BE A GUITARIST OR AN ARIST. A TALENTED GUITARIST CAN PLAY THE MUSIC OF OTHER GUITAR PLAYERS AND HAS TECHNICAL ABILITY ON THE INSTRUMENT. AN ARTIST IS SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WHERE YOU ATTEMPT NEW SOUNDS AND NEW SONGS USING THE GUITAR AS A VEHICLE.
Livewire: How are the press embracing The Nightwatchman?
TOM: THE PRESS ARE EMBRACING THE NIGHTWATCHMAN WITH A VICE LIKE GRIP.
Livewire: Do you feel like The Nightwatchman have a long artistic run ahead of them?
TOM: FIRST OF ALL IS NOT THE NIGHTWATCHMEN IT'S THE NIGHTWATCHMAN, IT'S ME. SO I'M NOT SURE WHO YOU MEAN BY THEM. THOUGH ON THIS UPCOMING TOUR FOR THE FABLED CITY ALBUM I WILL BE BRINGING A BACKUP BAND ON TOUR BUT THEY'RE CALLED THE FREEDOM FIGHTER ORCHESTRA. AND YES I BELIEVE THE NIGHTWATCHMAN AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTER ORCHESTRA HAVE A VERY ARTISTIC RUN AHEAD OF US.
Livewire: What's your feelings on the sometimes violent message in Rage's music and how the testosterone level can reach dangerous levels at many of your shows like last summer's Lollapalloza? (I was there by the way as well as The Tibetan Freedom concert in Wisconsin a decade ago).
TOM: I HAVE MUCH MORE CONCERN WITH THE VIOLENT MESSAGES SENT OUT BY THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE TESTOSTERONE LEVEL AT THE PENTAGON THAN I AM BY THE MUSIC OR FANS OF RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.
Livewire: You graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Political Science...was it your plan at the time to let your music be the primary spokesman for your views?
TOM: I MADE THE DECISION WHEN I WAS 19 YEARS OLD THAT I WOULD PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER. I DIDN'T REALLY CHOOSE TO PLAY THE GUITAR IT CHOSE ME AND FROM THAT POINT ON I WAS STUCK WITH IT. MY OTHER PASSION HAS ALWAYS BEEN RADICAL POLITICS THAT I'VE TRIED TO WEAVE THE TWO TOGETHER THROUGHOUT MY CAREER.
Livewire: On your latest release The Fabled City I hear the distant ghosts of Nick Cave and The Pogues. Who have been some of your greatest musical muses?
TOM: AS IT RELATES TO MY ACOUSTIC SINGER/SONGWRITING DEFINITELY BOB DYLAN, WOODY GUTHRIE, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, PHIL OAKS, JOE STRUMMER AND CHUCK D HAVE ALL BEEN BIG INFLUENCES. JOHNNY CASH AND LEONARD COHEN AS WELL. I ALSO CONSIDER PEOPLE LIKE MALCOM X, CHE GUEVARA, THE BLACK PANTHERS, CESAR CHAVEZ AND YES EVEN BILL AYERS' THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND AS IMPORTANT MUSES.
Livewire: Your father was a guerilla in the Mau-Mau uprising that freed Kenya from British rule. Is he the main reason for your socially activist lifestyle?
TOM: NOT REALLY. I DIDN'T GROW UP WITH MY DAD BUT I DID GROW UP WITH THE STORIES OF THE MAU-MAU INSURRECTION AND KENYA'S INDEPENDENT STRUGGLE. CERTAINLY THE INFLUENCE OF MY MOM WHO IS VERY ACTIVE IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND ALWAYS STOOD FOR THE UNDERDOG ON THE PLAYGROUND OR IN POLITICS. THAT INSTILLED IN ME A MORAL COMPASS WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE CONSERVATIVE SUBURB I GREW UP IN AND I THINK THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TWO DEFININTELY PUSHED ME TOWARDS ACTIVISM.
Livewire: Growing up in Libertyville, IL had to offer a busload of suburban conformity and lack of new ideas...tell me something that moved you artistically and intellectually while living there.
TOM: THERE ARE ACTUALLY A TREMENDOUS NUMBER OF NEW IDEAS I WAS EXPOSED TO LIVING IN LIBERTYVILLE NOT FROM THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE BUT FROM THE SMALL CADRE OF CLOSE FRIENDS WHO FASHIONED OURSELVES ANARCHISTS WHO WERE DETERMINED TO BRING REVOLT AND REBELLION TO THE NORTHERN SUBURBS OF ILLINOIS. WE CEASELESSLY AND RUTHLESSLY CHALLENGED OUR TEACHERS ON EVERY POINT. PUT OUT AN UNDERGROUND NEWPAPER CALLED THE STUDENT PULSE, WHICH REPORTED ON ISSUES FROM APARTHEID TO THE FACT THAT THE DEAN OF STUDENTS WAS A REAL DICK. I DISCOVERED FROM A CLASSMATE GROUPS LIKE THE CLASH AND DEVO AND IN THE LOCAL DRAMA CLUB FOUND LIKEMINDED RADICALS AND MUSICIANS WHO FORMED MY FIRST BAND THE ELECTRIC SHEEP.
Livewire: Having worked with Michael Moore (who directed the RATM video 'Sleep Now In The Fire', nominated for a VMA in 2000) do you think he distorts the truth (as many critics have asserted)?
TOM: I THINK WHAT MICHAEL MOORE DOES IS SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF HIS RIGHT WING CRITICS THAT THEY WILL STOOP TO THE LOWEST LEVELS OF LYING AND SLANDOR BECAUSE MICHAEL MOORE REACHES TENS OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS AND PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD WITH A MESSAGE THAT PUTS HUMAN RIGHTS AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE AT THE FOREFRONT RATHER THAN GREED, WAR AND PROFIT. HE IS POSSIBLY THE SINGLE MOST HONEST FILM MAKER IN HISTORY.
Livewire: How long have you been a vegetarian? How do you curb the temptation to eat meat?
TOM: I'VE BEEN A VEGETARIAN ON AND OFF SINCE I ENTERED COLLEGE AND READ A BOOK CALLED "ANIMAL LIBERATION" BY AN AUTHOR WHO'S LAST NAME IS SINGER. IT CONVINCED ME OF THE IMMORALITY OF PARTICIPATING IN EATING MEAT THAT CAME THROUGH THE HORRIFIC FACTORY FARM SYSTEM. WHEN I FIRST BECAME A VEGETARIAN I HAD NEVER MET ANOTHER VEGETARIAN AND DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO DO IT SO IT BASICALLY LEFT ME WITH SALAD AND CHOCOLATE AND FRENCH FRIES AS THE ONLY THINGS LEFT ON THE MENU. I BECAME VERY SICK. KIND OF WENT BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN EATING MEAT AND NOT EATING MEAT OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT FEW YEARS. I STILL EAT FISH REGULARILY AND ON THANKSGIVING CAN BE LURED TO EAT TURKEY.
Livewire: How important is this Presidential election and what's at stake?
TOM: THERE'S AN OLD CYNICAL SAYING THAT "IF VOTING REALLY MATTERED, THEY'D MAKE IT ILLEGAL." AND TO A CERTAIN EXTENT THAT MAY BE TRUE. AS GORE VIDAL SAID - "WE HAVE ONE CORPORATE PARTY IN THIS COUNTRY WITH TWO RIGHT WINGS. ONE OF THEM MORE IGNORANT AND HONEST ABOUT ITS BARBARISM, THE OTHER TENDING TO BE MORE CORRUPT AND SPINELESS." IT'S MY HOPE THAT IN THIS ELECTION THE UNITED STATES CAN TAKE A DRAMATIC STEP AWAY FROM ITS UGLY HISTORY OF RACISM AND TOWARDS CIVILIZATION BY ELECTING BARACK OBAMA. BUT I BELIEVE THAT FOR THOSE OF US WHO PRIZE HUMAN RIGHTS, PEACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE THAT WE WILL HAVE TO WORK HARDER THAN EVER TO HOLD THIS ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNTABLE AND CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR THE KIND OF WORLD THAT WE'D LIKE TO SEE.
Livewire: Tell me one of the most bizarre experiences of your life?
TOM: ONE OF THE MOST BIZARRE EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE IS RECOUNTED IN THE SONG "LAZARUS ON DOWN." IT WAS IN THE SUMMERTIME DURING A PERIOD WHEN I WAS PRACTICING GUITAR EIGHT HOURS A DAY AND I WOULD NORMALLY FINISH PRACTICING AROUND 3AM. I WAS STAYING AT MY MOM'S HOUSE IN ILLINOIS. AND WHEN I WOULD FINISH PRACTICING I WOULD GO OUTSIDE TO LOOK AT THE STARS AND BREATHE THE CLEAR WARM NIGHT AIR. ON THIS PARTICULAR NIGHT ONE OF THE STREET LAMPS DOWN THE BLOCK WAS BURNED OUT AND I WAS STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET GAZING UP AT THE HEAVENS WHEN I LOOKED OVER AND SAW A BIG DARK OBJECT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. IT WAS LARGER THAN A MAN AND AT FIRST I THOUGHT IT MUST BE SOME TRASH BINS OR BAGS OF TRASH BUT IT WAS DIRECTLY UNDER THE BURNED OUT STREET LAMP SO I COULDN'T SEE IT CLEARLY. I ALLOWED MY EYES TO ADJUST TO THE DARK BUT STILL COULDN'T MAKE SENSE OF IT. WAS IT AN OVERWEIGHT DRUNK WHO HAD FALLEN ON DOWN ON HIS WAY HOME FROM THE BAR? NOT LIKELY. IT WAS TOO BIG. WAS IT A BUNCH OF BAGS FILLED WITH TRASH OR LEAVES? NOPE, WRONG SHAPE. I THOUGHT ABOUT GOING TO INVESTIGATE WHAT IT WAS BUT THEN REMEMBERED ALL THE SCARY MOVIES I HAD SEEN WHERE SOME IDIOT AT THREE IN THE MORNING GOES TO INVESTIGATE SOMETHING THAT HE THINKS IS A BAG OF LEAVES OR A DRUNK AND ENDS UP BEING HACKED TO BITS OR CHEWED TO PIECES. SO AS I SQUINTED MY EYES TO TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THIS BIG DARK BULK WAS ALL OF A SUDDEN IT SHIFTED VIOLENTLY AND MOVED. I RAN LIKE HELL FOR THE SCREEN DOOR OF MY MOM'S HOUSE LOCKING IN BEHIND ME, CLOSING THE DOOR TIGHT AND BREATHING HARD AND SWEATING PROFUSELY. I WAITED AND LISTENED BUT THERE WAS NO SOUND AND NO SIGHT OF ANYTHING. THE NEXT MORNING I EXAMINED THE SPOT ON THE STREET AND THERE WAS NO SIGN THAT ANYTHING OR ANYONE HAD BEEN THERE. THAT WAS A BIZARRE EXPERIENCE.
Livewire: What's next on Tom's plate?
TOM: NEXT ON TOM'S PLATE IS THE FABLED CITY WORLD TOUR WHICH I'M VERY EXCITED ABOUT AS IT'S GOING TO BE HALF ACOUSTIC AND HALF ELECTRIC. THE TEMPLATE FOR THIS TOUR IS ONE PART DYLAN AND ONE PART HENDRIX. I CAN PLAY MY SPOOKY ACOUSTIC SONGS WITH A BARRITONE WHISPER AND THEN ALL HELL'S GONNA BREAK LOOSE ON ELECTRIC GUITAR AS I SHRED WILDLY AND ATTEMPT TO TAKE THOSE SIX STRINGS INTO THE MUSICAL STRATOSPHERE.
Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman appears Wednesday, November 4th at Milwaukee's Turner Hall.