Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tom Morello Interview

Rebel Music
Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello on rock 'n' roll, politics and kicking ass
Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate October 27, 2005

Tom Morello has brought avant hip-hop punk metal guitar style to two of the mightiest bands of the last 20 years, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. While Audioslave -- composed of the instrumentalists from Rage, and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell -- are less political lyrically than Rage, they still rock truth to power.

Advocate: How did Audioslave get together?

TM: When Zack [de la Rocha, former lead vocalist] left Rage Against the Machine, Tim [Commorford, bass] and Brad [Wilk, drums] and I spent a lot of time at [legendary producer] Rick Rubin's house, scheming about what we were going to do. The name that Rick brought up, again and again, was Chris Cornell. Actually, the fellows in Rage had all been huge fans of Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger particularly. So we called Chris and asked if he was interested in meeting.

I told him I wanted the next band I'm in to be the best band I've ever been in. I didn't want to do a project, a one-time, super group collaboration or anything. We want this to be the real thing. If you're up for that, jam. He was up for that. We got together and in the first 19 rehearsals, we wrote 21 songs.

A: I read that Chris Cornell opposed Audioslave being as political as Rage.

TM: That's misstated. Chris was not interested in being the singer of Rage Against the Machine. Which we did not want him to be. Chris had a long history of writing lyrics before he became acquainted with us. We've always been a fan of his lyrical work as well as his great voice. My twin passions are political activism and rock 'n' roll music. They intersect in various ways. And with Audioslave, while the band may be lyrically less political, we do things like go to Cuba, go to Live 8, play for hurricane relief. A portion of every ticket from this tour goes to various charities and activist organizations. We may do less talking the talk, but we do a lot more walking the walk.

A: Are you guys still playing Rage and Soundgarden songs at your shows?

TM: Very much so. We're going deeper into the catalogs of both Rage and Soundgarden. It's really exciting for us to play them and the room just explodes. When we decided to look at the material from our past bands, we didn't just decide to do it -- it had to sound great. Chris really owns those songs that we've chosen to do. It's not the least bit strange. It's just awesome. Every night when we make up a set list, we're able to draw from 11 multi-platinum albums. Very few bands can do that.

Chris also does a really cool acoustic set that he does all by himself. It changes pretty dramatically every night. It's some Audioslave songs, some Soundgarden songs, even some Temple of the Dog songs.

A: Audioslave played in Cuba in May. How was that?

TM: It was unbelievable. It was an incredible honor to be the first American rock band to play in Cuba. The performance, to 60,000 to 70,000 fans on a beautiful Havana night, it wasn't something we'll soon forget. We had wanted to do it for some time. Even back in the Rage days we had talked about it, but we hadn't been able to get it together. As you probably know, there's an embargo against Cuba. U.S. citizens can't travel there, let alone bring a rock band with a PA system and all that. It took a lot of perseverance. Finally, the U.S. Treasury Department and Castro himself had to sign off on it. It was billed as a cultural exchange. Before the concert, we were treated to seeing some amazing experiences. We saw Cuban artists, amazing musicians just jamming on the street. We went to this free music school that used to be an elitist country club before the revolution where there were these jaw-dropping jazz musicians. It really humbled us and made us want to give our all when we played.

A: Could you describe Axis of Justice and tell me what you've been doing lately?

TM: Sure. Axis of Justice is a non-profit, political organization founded by me and Serj Tankian, the lead singer of System of a Down. It does a number of things, from education to agitation. We're trying to answer the question that fans have been asking us for years, which is 'How can I get involved?' If you go, no matter where you live in the country, you can find Axis of Justice-endorsed local grassroots organizations that are fighting the power today.

It's easy to look at problems that confront communities and the country as big monolithic things that you have no chance of overturning. But the way progressive change always happens is when average, ordinary people stand up for their rights where they live, where they work, where they go to school. That's our motto: think globally, act locally.

A: I'm guessing you were disappointed with the results of the 2004 election.

TM: I was disappointed with the result, but not surprised. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I didn't hold out a great deal of hope that either of the millionaire candidates could take the country in a direction that would necessarily be agreeable. I was supportive of third-party candidates, but worked for the defeat of Bush. As I'm sure a lot of Americans now wish they had.

A: Right now, people seem mad at Bush and Republicans in general, but there's a perception that the Left is too fractured to be effective.

TM: I think that's an accurate perception. Even during the election there was little support for the Democratic candidate, but a tremendous amount of anger towards Bush. There was little alternative presented aside from "this guy is not Bush." And that's not exactly the most rousing rallying cry.

But that's not the way things change. If you're going to sit around and wait for the president or the government to come along and make your life or your country better, you're going to be waiting a long time, no matter who's in office. Democratic administrations have taken us into immoral wars as well. The way that things change is people standing up for their rights no matter where they are, not waiting for the president or the Supreme Court or whoever to wave a magic wand.

A: Do you mind when people call Audioslave and [Guns n' Roses/Stone Temple Pilots amalgam] Velvet Revolver super groups?

TM: I love those dudes in Velvet Revolver. Those guys were very frustrated by the situation. They just wanted to play music and couldn't with the guy from their previous band. So they brought in another guy who would show up. I think they were able to help him, too.

A: Who would win in a fight, Audioslave or Velvet Revolver?

TM: [Audioslave bassist] Tim [Commerford] alone could not only take Velvet Revolver but the entire staff of your paper.

A: We'll see about that. Were you really on Star Trek?

TM: More than once. I'm a super fan of Star Trek, and it just so happens that the executive producer's son happens to be a super fan of my band. That helped to build a bridge. I was on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and then I was in one of the Next Generation movies.

A: Any word on Zack de la Rocha?

TM: No, you know about as much as I do. The five-year anniversary of Zack's departure from Rage was yesterday. He left to do a solo career.

A: Which seemed to have never happened.

TM: Like I said, you know about as much about it as I do.