Tom Morello: Fight The Power

By Team JamBase Nov 4, 2008 9:12 am PST

By: Andrew Bruss

Tom Morello by Sean Ricigliano
Throughout the 2008 election season, major media outlets may have clouded their sense of duty with issues like Bill Ayers‘ loose connection to Barack Obama, and John McCain’s role in the infamous Keating 5 scandal. But for Tom Morello, the big issue is “Why isn’t anyone talking about poverty?” In a recent interview with JamBase to discuss the release of his sophomore solo album, The Fabled City (released September 30 on Red Int/Red Ink), Morello commented on the focus of this presidential campaign.

“Neither candidate would even say the word ‘poverty’ or mention the poor. [Poverty] is a crime that causes more deaths every week, and on a world scale, more deaths every day than [the loss of life on] 9/11. The fact that they can snap their fingers to raise $700 billion of taxpayer money to bail out the wealthiest corporations in the world, when we have people living in the street, I think that’s pretty shameful,” Morello says. “So, in The Nightwatchman administration, we would be tackling poverty.”

Following the breakup of Audioslave, and the part-time reunion of Rage Against The machine, Morello, lead guitarist for both groups, began putting the majority of his efforts into The Nightwatchman, his folk/rock troubadour alias that channels Woody Guthrie’s drive for social justice and Joe Strummer’s minimalist-yet-driven guitar riffage. Needless to say, giving any Nightwatchman album a spin is bound to be a very different listening experience than anything Morello has worked on with Zach de la Rocha or Chris Cornell. “It’s music made with the same honesty and integrity that I’ve attempted to make throughout my career,” says Morello of his solo work. “This record, The Fabled City, is the bridge between my ‘acoustic, three chords and the truth’ songwriting and my work with live rock bands. It’s got more fleshed out arrangements and riffs and guitar solos, as well as the darker acoustic stuff.”

As for the differences between One Man Revolution, The Nightwatchman’s 2007 debut, and his current solo material, Morello says, with a sense of well-earned confidence, “The tour will be half acoustic and half electric. The template is fifty percent Dylan and fifty percent Hendrix. I’m going to bring a backup band on tour called The Freedom Fighter Orchestra and I plan on playing some of the craziest electric guitar that I’ve played in my entire career.”

Tom Morello
In recent months, celebrities from every walk of life have come out to endorse one presidential candidate or another. Everyone from Wilco and Bruce Springsteen to the Beastie Boys have been playing shows in support of the Obama/Biden ticket. And we even saw Chuck Norris come out in support of former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Morello is one of the most consistently political voices in the music industry, and although his music is seeping with messages of social justice and accountability, he doesn’t feel that preaching politics is necessarily the responsibility of any specific musician or artist.

“I think that a musician only has one responsibility and that is to be honest in the music they make,” states Morello. “If you have convictions about human rights and justice, but don’t sing about them or write about them or act on them, then that’s no good. But, by no means should someone pretend to have political convictions because we’re in turbulent times. I think your only responsibility is to be honest in the things you write.”

When it comes to Morello’s politics, he has never come out in support of one candidate or another. In fact, Morello feels as though the system itself is broken and a vote for either Obama or McCain can’t fix all of our problems.

“I don’t support either party because neither of them represents the values I have,” he offers. “There is no party that is for peace. There is no party that is going to guarantee universal heath care. There is no party that will vigorously fight poverty. We don’t have that party on the ticket. Until we do, I’m going to stand on the other side of the barbed wire fence and continue to fight for social justice.”

Continue reading for more on Tom Morello…

It’s interesting that either Barack Obama stole my bio or I stole his, because there are a lot of similarities. There are a lot of eerie similarities. We were both at Harvard at the same time. He was in law school while I was an undergrad. I was a few years younger than him, so it’s pretty crazy. The only thing I’m glad [about] is that he can’t shred on the guitar, and that I was on the cover of Rolling Stone first.

Tom Morello

Photo by: Sean Ricigliano

Tom Morello by Sean Ricigliano
For a man un-represented by any major party, Morello says, “The case is that it’s not the lesser of two evils as much as the evil of two lessers. In this case, there are some very important differences between the candidates that can be a life or death determination for maybe millions of people around the world. That doesn’t mean that the system isn’t broken. If you’re in favor of human rights, peace, economic rights and a sane environmental policy, you can’t do that without us keeping the pressure on and organizing.”

However cynical of Beltway politics as Morello may be, the historic nature of this election has clearly hit home for him. “The fact that we may elect a somewhat progressive African American to the highest office in the land would definitely be a big step towards civilization for the United States given our shameful history of racism,” says Morello.

As for Barack Obama, Morello wouldn’t come out and endorse him, but given their similarities as half-Kenyan Harvard graduates with history in Chicago, Morello didn’t exactly cringe at the comparison.

“It’s interesting that either Barack Obama stole my bio or I stole his, because there are a lot of similarities. There are a lot of eerie similarities,” he observes. “We were both at Harvard at the same time. He was in law school while I was an undergrad. I was a few years younger than him, so it’s pretty crazy. The only thing I’m glad [about] is that he can’t shred on the guitar, and that I was on the cover of Rolling Stone first.”

Although Morello refused to “support” or endorse either presidential candidate, given the shared background with Barack Obama and his comments about John McCain, it seems to make his personal preference quiet clear. “I definitely think there are important differences between the candidates,” he says. “I think that a McCain/Palin presidency might lead down a slippery slope [back] into the Dark Ages.”

Tom Morello by Sean Ricigliano
As for the future, regardless of this elections outcome, Morello says, “There will be more Nightwatchman albums and tours. I’ve got a pretty large catalog of songs to record that I’m proud of. I want to continue synthesizing the two things I do, which is the acoustic singer-songwriting and the electric guitar mayhem, and to tour the world with both of those elements. I’m sure there are more Rage Against The Machine shows in the future. We had a great time playing shows over the last year and a half, so I’m sure there will be more of those coming.”

But beyond album releases, tours, and interviews, Morello spoke of the future in more infinite terms.

“The most you can hope for is to be known as someone who walked it like you talked it. I didn’t choose to be a guitar player. That chose me. That’s a given. So, to be known as someone who used the thing he was meant to do in life to fight the power and stand up to the powers that be and always stood on the side of the underdog, that may not fit on a tombstone, but that’s the goal.”

Tom Morello is on tour now as The Nightwatchman; his next show is tomorrow night (11/5) in Vancouver, BC. Complete tour dates available here.

Tom Morello – “Whatever It Takes”

Tom Morello – “The Road I Must Travel”

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