"Hearing it was my punk rock revelation, the moment where the skies open and you go, Oh, a lot of that music which I’ve liked up until now isn’t so important anymore": Tom Morello on the album without which Rage Against The Machine would not exist

Tom Morello
(Image credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

"I was swept away with the majesty of rock – as a kid I had Kiss and Led Zeppelin posters on my bedroom wall – and I couldn’t believe that there was something as exciting and moving as rock ’n’ roll in existence. In 1976, when I was 12 years old, I saw Kiss in Chicago, and that gig was the most exciting two hours of my life. But the majesty of it was beyond me. I was a kid in a basement in Illinois, and these people were fabulous and spectacular. I wasn’t spectacular.

"Then I read about the Sex Pistols in Creem magazine. And I started playing guitar in a band within 48 hours of after hearing Never Mind The Bollocks

"I remember that moment so perfectly. I was in my mom’s Honda Accord at a friend’s house and I’d bought the cassette and once I put it in the deck I didn’t leave the car until it finished. It was my punk rock revelation, the moment where the skies open and you go, ‘Oh, a lot of that music which I’ve liked up until now isn’t so important anymore.’ And it also made it accessible. I couldn’t play like Jimmy Page and I’d no hope of living in a castle on a Scottish loch, but I could do <this> later today… and I did. I went to my theatre club and announced that a band was forming, and I was the guitar player – because I had a guitar in my closet for four years which I’d never played – and my journey in rock ’n’ roll began right there.

"That was in 1981. The band was called Electric Sheep. Adam Jones of Tool was also in the band, playing guitar. There were three bands in our school. One was a pretty-boy pop band, the second was a bad-boy metal band, and then there was us. The others were covers bands, but we did our own stuff. To be honest, we weren’t good enough to do covers! We sounded like a cross between Devo, The Clash and the Pistols. But it didn’t last long. I do recall that we had song titles like Salvador Death Squad and Five Buck Whore. Even in those days [I was] mixing up politics with more earthy ideas!

"In 1986, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my rock n' roll dreams. It was horrible. I was entirely unprepared for the world and living on my own. My degree amounted to nothing – I couldn’t even get a job selling Iron Maiden T-shirts on Hollywood Boulevard – so I had no money and I was hungry. I sold garbage bags over the phone, I was an exotic dancer… Brickhouse [by The Commodores] was the money-making jam.

"I imagined LA was going to be a mecca for brilliant musician, an island of Steve Vais, but it was an island of Faster Pussycats, and no-one wanted me in their band. I’d answer ads and the first question would be ‘How long is your hair?’ It was massively disheartening. I’d stand in the Whisky-A-Go-Go watching these hair metal bands and think ‘All my practising has been for nothing, there is no room for me in this world.’ But eventually I discovered that there was another scene in Los Angeles - the Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers scene – and the rules were entirely different there. That was a world of oddballs into which I was welcomed with open arms. And that was a road which eventually led to Rage Against The Machine."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.