IT’S A LITTLE BIT OF A STRETCH TO SAY
that Tom Morello has reinvented himself. After
all, he’s playing “the same crappy old 50-watt
Marshall and 4x12 Peavey cab and those same
five pedals” that he’s always played. And his new
band, Street Sweeper Social Club, is a return to
the huge rock riffs/rap vocals formula that made
him famous. Despite all that,
somehow the only thing that
is predictable about Morello is
his ability to remain exciting
and vital. —Matt Blackett
What goes through your head when you launch a new
musical endeavor, whether it’s Rage, Audioslave, the
Nightwatchman, or Street Sweeper Social Club?
In each of those instances, the principle
impulse has been fearlessness. When Rage
formed, it was out of the ashes of my previous
band Lock Up, which had been summarily
dumped from Geffen records and I was pretty
sure that my “career” was over. At that point,
I just vowed to play music that I loved, without
any care or concern for record deals or
radio or anything like that. That is a muse
that I followed for the next two decades. When
Rage went away, a lot of people counted Tim,
Brad, and me out. At one point, the record
company suggested that we become Macy
Gray’s backup band. We said, “No we’ve got
another idea,” and we got together with Chris
Cornell and made Audioslave.
Out of the ashes
of Audioslave, I made the audacious decision
to become a folk musician, this political singersongwriter.
I adopted this Nightwatchman
persona, which felt perfectly natural to me.
Over the past few years, I’ve felt comfortable
whether I’ve been playing more Rage shows,
doing Nightwatchman shows, or forming
Street Sweeper Social Club. I’ve tried to
approach this with the same fearlessness as
I have my other projects.
At this point in your career, what are the pressures
from both a business and a musical standpoint?
That initial experience with Lock Up was
so jarring and disturbing that I’ve felt pretty
impervious to outside business pressures. The
pressures I feel are the ones I put on myself to
try to play some good guitar, to make great
records, and to make sure the songs kick my
ass before they kick your ass. All the pressure
I feel is internal, not external.
It’s tough for a lot of guitarists to not act out
For me the two crossroads were when I
discovered the toggle-switch thing and I
decided to stop practicing eight hours a day
on scales and start trying to find my own voice
on the instrument for eight hours a day. The
second thing was the shedding of the commercial
ambitions. Looking back now, I can
see that it was really sort of a burning away
of the artifice of “trying to be a rock star” and
really finding the artist within. It took me
abandoning my Hit Parader dreams in order
to end up on the cover of Hit Parader.