Tom Morello has been a constant source of sonic and political inspiration for decades now. His long-standing career has seen him cement a legacy as one of the most iconic guitarists operating right now, known most notably for his time in Rage Against the Machine.
Thirty years in the hot seat equips you with a plethora of experience on how to navigate your way not only in music, but life. However, nothing could prepare Morello for the stark realities of a global pandemic that significantly impacted his personal life and creative output.
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Morello was confined to isolating at home with his children and elderly mother, a wholly isolating experience that left him riddled with anxiety and initially void of enthusiasm for his work. But then came a spark, a desire to momentarily alleviate the humdrum reality of day-to-day life. Tom got to work on his most ambitious album yet, ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’. The sonic tone, world-class collaborations, and contextual backdrop of the album makes it a truly unique offering that leave a memorable mark on the two-time Grammy winner’s blistering discography.
“For the first time I wrote a record not as a creative endeavour, but as an antidepressant,” he tells Clash. “This album was literally a way of getting up in the morning, getting through those incredible lows we all felt”.
The guitarist employed his recent album as a tool to create a truly inspiring paradox, even in the most isolating times of our lives, he found a way to be more connected than ever with his music. “I just kept picking up my phone, calling up friends whose music I loved and asking if they’d want to work together on music, the results were truly amazing”.
Amazing is somewhat of an understatement; Morello welcomed an acclaimed list of collaborators including Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Bring Me The Horizon, Phem, Damian Marley, Mike Posner and more. “Overnight we’d built a creative community, contributing to what I felt was one of the most exciting and ambitious recording periods of my life,” he adds.
Morello took on far more responsibility with this album, setting to task on managing aspects of a record he’d never previously focused on. “I recall hearing a Kanye West interview where he was proudly noting just how much of his music he recorded on his phone, so I thought let’s give it a go… usually I don’t even come close to turning the knobs in a studio, but this time round I was able take on so much more responsibility.”
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The results are spectacular. Highlights include the beautifully brooding ‘Driving To Texas’, as well as ‘Let’s Get The Party Started’ that sees Morello collaborate with Bring Me The Horizon. Perhaps the most notable collaboration is with the legendary Bruce Springsteen, without doubt one of the most influential musicians of all time. When discussing his relationship with Springsteen, Morello laughs, “Bruce is the only person I’m friends with, whilst being subscribed to his fanzine! The opportunity to work with him simply couldn’t be missed”.
The pair worked on reinterpretation of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’. “I remember covering it out in Perth, Australia, Bon Scott’s hometown. That song is like the national anthem over there, it was one of the most amazing reactions I’ve ever had to a song… recreating that feeling in a studio felt like a no-brainer.”
In the wake of the pandemic, many of us want to run as far away from it as possible, to be awash with a truly miserable couple of years. But in the wake of such suffering comes a plethora of overhauling experiences that have shaped us as stronger individuals. It’s an attitude Morello gets across in his enthusiasm for the record. “I feel like after this experience I’ll be keeping certain things the same, I’ve learnt so much about collaboration and the recording process that is without doubt here to stay”.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Morello not only sustains but enriches his reputation as a person we can admire for their creative output, political activity and open dialogue about mental health.
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'The Atlas Underground Fire' is out now.
Words: Josh Crowe
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