Tom Morello was once quoted, posing the question: āIs it just a coincidence that America has turned to such shit since Rage Against The Machine split-up?ā
So Morello, not one to just sit back (what member of āRage ever was?!), broke out his acoustic guitar and his Johhny Cash-Woody Guthrie-cross voice and hit his local open mic nights and played any protest or charity gig he was offered, as The Nightwatchman.
āIt was a humble beginning,ā Morello explains. āI started attending open mic nights, signing up anonymously, because I didnāt want there to be an expectation of a greatest hits set. I started out playing shows in front of 20 people and a latte machine.
āBut it felt as important as any show Iāve played. I was really nervous at first. I was totally confident playing in a field to hundreds and thousands of people, but playing in front of just a few, with me on guitar and vocals, was really, really terrifying.
“But the more I played the more I started to feel like a musician and I found my vioce and felt confident in conveying my feelings and emotions, the easier it got.
āI also made it clear I was available for political events and charity shows and I found myseslf in all these very unusual situations and shows. I played hundreds of shows without being paid a dime. Like, Iād have some radical political friends who needed some bail money, so Iād play a show. The freedom of picking up your guitar and just playing a gig is amazing, itās an amazing freedom,ā he says.
āAt the time (I started thinking about The Nightwatchman) Rage Against The Machine was spent. There were no records coming, no tour coming… Thatās the frailty of rock bands ā we werenāt made up of hardened political committee members, we were made up of musicians that didnāt get along all the time,ā he admits.
āThe aftermath of that was that I would put my political energies into something real. I formed the Axis of Justice (a social justice organisation he formed with Serj Tankian from System Of A Down) to do real educational stuff, get my hands dirty doing some grass roots work. But it wasnāt enough. I needed more.
āPolitically, I grew up with Malcom X, Ghandi, Martin Luthor King Jnr, Che Guevera… Itās people that have lived their ideals that I find inspiring. In most of our lives we will never live entirely what we believe. Itās easy to say ‘just do it’, but itās a matter of actually doing it. For years, in my music and my activism, I encouraged the audience to raise their voices and speak in an unflinching way.
(With the Nightwatchman) I took my own advice,ā Morello says.
āThe Nightwatchman is five years in, but it was the day after the 2004 election when George Bush was elected for a second time – I knew then that there would be a record. I needed an anitdote to more arena rock and the Axis of Justice. Music is inspiration. Organisations organise but music can really inspire.ā
And inspire is exactly what Tom Morello wants to do ā his debut solo album, which coudlnāt be more aptly titled, ‘One Man Revolution’, is 13 songs of protest, ābitterness and revengeā.
āThe tracks are woven with personal experience. The lyrics didnāt come from a conscious place, I just left myself open to write what I wanted and then tried to make it rhyme. Itās not something I try to over-intellectulise, because it has to come easy. Iāve got a huge catalogue of songs Iāve written…
āA couple of songs on the album I can tell you about: āUnion Songā ā I played a lot of union gigs on picket lines… thereās lots of old songs about union battles but we needed songs for now. Iāve been arrested at union rallies, thatās now, so I say put that into a song.
“āNo One Leftā ā I kept waiting for something else to write this song, but no one did. It has the audacity to equate the lives of civilians in the US with those being killed in Baghdad.ā
Morello is hoping that ‘One Man Revolution’ will be just the antidote needed to get more young people out there and politically active.
āOne thing Iām pleased about is the age of the audience coming to see the Nightwatchman. Itās not just 30-something Rage Against The Machine fans, itās 16 to 18-year-olds; people that have the energy to change things and itās in their hands,ā he says.
And just for the record – āIām alright with playing Rage Against The Machine songs at my gigs, but if I am going to do a track, I give it The Nightwatchman treatment (ie: turns it into a folk version). But (at the London anti-war gig on June 4th) the crowd was particularly good so I gave them a blast of āBombtrackā (in proper Rage-style).ā
Picture by Amy Freeborn