Guerilla Journalism with Tom Morello: Part Three

My time with Morello was quickly escaping as Pete ever so dutifully kept eying me like a night-time prowler stranded in a heaping cactus bush. I wasn’t quite ready to go so I kept Morello occupied by asking him questions I knew he’d have intriguing answers to, below are his jovial replies.

On commercialism and the decline of the modern music industry:

I don’t feel pushed to produce a certain type of music but I feel the industry, as a whole, has changed dramatically due to improper use of downloading. Also, the major labels and even the indie labels, are being bought by different, larger entities. So, it’s changed pretty dramatically. Even when I signed my first record deal in 1988 and with Rage in 1992 it was very different than it is now. The people that work in the record industry are just trying to hold onto their jobs for one more month. It has nothing to do with career development, career artists or developing material a bit left of center.

Just a couple days ago I was sitting around with the lovely Cleveland Sony rep, a very nice lady. She was taking me around and playing me her new releases, the one’s she’s trying to get on the radio. Every single song was completely horrible and totally derivative. One sounded like Daughtry, one sounded like a hundred other punk-pop bands.  I was like, “is there anything on this label that’s remotely interesting?” She named Matisyahu, Modest Mouse and The Nightwatchman as the only bands that were left of center.

On independent bands he’s into:

Unknown bands? Sure. There’s Outer National who just signed with Warner Brothers. I’m going to produce their record I like them so much. They’re from New York City. It’s kind of like a world music Rage Against The Machine. The thing that I thought was most interesting and barrier-breaking about Rage Against The Machine was that it was band of such mixed ethnicity’s playing rock and roll music. That did not exist before except with, maybe, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, even then, it was two white dudes and a black guy (laughs), which is great but that was 20 years before we played. Outer National is a band of very different ethnicity’s playing music from around the world but it’s a great rock and roll band that is committed to a political mission. It’s very cool so I’m going to make their record. Other than that, frankly my ear is not quite to the pavement like it might have been years ago.

On peers of note:

That make records? I love Arcade Fire, their music is phenomenal and different. It’s so beautiful and inspiring. I love Bright Eyes, their album is great. Those are the two records recently that I’ve really just loved and gone, “this is fantastic.” Casa Dega is the Bright Eyes album and Neon Bible the Arcade Fire release.

On music publications: (I brought up my favorite, Uncut and he elaborated)

I love Uncut too, ever read Classic Rock? (which of course I had and we chatted on that for a moment). What do you think of Spin? (to which I responded with a resounding disinterest as I feel the publication caters to the commercial musicians). He agrees and adds: Spin has always been very judgmental like, I mean…TV On The Radio…I’m going to raise my hand and say I really don’t know them and the fact that that’s the band of the year? Maybe.Maybe (laughs).

On learning to play the guitar:

It’s not easy to do; it took me a very, very long time. I started playing when I was 17. At first when people begin to play music it’s because they love music, so…you try to play music like the people you love, you know what I mean? And I think there’s a real difference between musicians and artists. For the first, maybe ten years, of my playing guitar I was a musician. I practiced eight hours a day and I could shred and play Eddie Van Halen solos and Randy Rhoads solos good but I couldn’t write a song that mattered to anybody. It was around the beginning of Rage that I started to find my own voice on the instruments. The next creative leap was doing this. There’s a line that Perry Ferrell sings, “if you’ve got such a big fuckin’ secret why don’t you sing me a song.” I feel like I’ve got one or two big fuckin’ secrets, I’m gonna let him know (laughing).

The rest of the interview was comprised of laughing, a chat about Greg Kot (my mentor of sorts) and the sharing of spicy catfish nuggets between Morello, myself and the ever so lovable Pete, tour manager of note. I can finally throw the term, “sir, you are a gentleman and a scholar,” out and mean it as Morello is just that. It was a grand interview and I hope to scam one again in the very near future.

-Holly Jones, Editor, On Tour Magazine