Interview: Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

posted October 15, 2008

by Corinne

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

How are you?

I am fine. How are you?

Great, thanks. Acoustic guitar is really the driving force, instrumentally, of “The Fabled City.” What makes you decide to go acoustic versus electric?

I’ve always played acoustic guitar and even written a lot of my electric guitar riffs on acoustic guitar in both RAGE and Audioslave. What made me pursue the direction of solo acoustic music was my belief that sometimes three chords and the truth can be just as heavy as a wall of marshall stacks. Though on The Fabled City I’ve attempted to bridge the gap between my acoustic playing and my rock ‘n roll playing.

Do you approach writing for yourself, for your Nightwatchman project, differently than for a band?

Definitely. In a band my contributions are absorbed into the groups chemistry and often flower into ideas I’d never would’ve imagined myself. Doing solo work I like the purity and the control I have over all aspects from the lyrics to the music to the recording. Both of them can yield great results but it’s a very different process.

You recently worked with Bruce Springsteen. How did you get involved with that and can you talk about your experience working with him?

I first met Bruce Springsteen after Rage Against The Machine recorded a version of his song “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. We had to get his approval for our radically reworked version and because I’m a big Springsteen fan I was scared he wouldn’t like it. I think that he was surprised that a band like Rage Against The Machine knew who he was and was familiar with his acoustic work. We have been friends since then and I’ve attended many Bruce Springsteen shows. It was a great honor to share the stage with him and play his electric arrangement of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” two nights in Anaheim. It really was a career highlight.

How do you think working with Springsteen influenced the new album? I can hear some similarities.

The album was recorded before I performed with Bruce in Anaheim though his work, especially on the “Nebraska” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” records, is very influential. It showed me that sometimes a quiet minor key guitar accompaniment can help bring out the power of a song just as much or more than screaming guitars.

How have you been feeling about the recent Rage Against The Machine “reunion” shows?

I’ve been feeling great about them. We’ve had an amazing time rocking huge venues around the world and I think the music of Rage Against The Machine is more timely than ever. It’s a band that stands up for the people and given the many difficulties we face now it’s great that we’ve been playing shows.

Your bio makes note of the similarities between yourself and Barack Obama. Do you have any memories of him during your time at Harvard?

We actually went to Harvard at the same time but he was attending Harvard law school while I was in Harvard undergrad. So we never met during that time. My impression of the law students was they always looked very overworked and even when they were playing Frisbee they seemed to have dour expressions on their faces.

What is your favorite guitar effects pedal?

I don’t really have a favorite guitar effects pedal, though I do make ample use of the wah wah pedal, delay pedal and of course the digitech whammy pedal.

Who are some underrated bands that you think deserve more attention?

I just produced an album by a band called Outernational from Brooklyn. Their record will be coming out on Warner Brothers in the new year and I think they’re a very exciting combination of styles of music. They’re politically driven and have an insanely exciting live show.

What have you been listening to recently?

I’m very much enjoying the new “Clash Live at Shea Stadium” record, which documents them during a very exciting period. I very much like the new “Bob Dylan Vol. 8” of the bootleg series. It’s amazing how many great songs he’s able to leave off his records. Just incredible.

If you could have written any song what song do you wish you had written and why?

I wish I would have written “Money Ain’t A Thing” by Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z ‘cause it’s a dance floor ass shaker. Check it out.

Anything you would like to add?

Just that I’m very excited to embark on the second chapter of Nightwatchman touring. The shows will be half acoustic and half electric. The idea is to stylistically combine Dylan and Hendrix for a very exciting evening of music. I’ll be bringing a backup band called the “Freedom Fighter Orchestra” on tour and I expect a lot of rebellious party nights ahead.

Thanks very much for your time!