Tom Morello: "If you’re a white supremacist this music isn’t for you"

Tom Morello
(Image credit: Travis Shinn/Press)

Tom Morello wears many hats, figuratively speaking: as well as being the guitarist with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Bruce Springsteen and his ongoing The Atlas Underground solo project, he’s an activist, agitator, comic book author and occasional actor. He also wears many hats, literally speaking, because, well, he owns a lot of hats. Either way, there is going to be plenty to talk about as he faces down your questions. “I’ll answer to the best of my ability… or to the degree of which I’m willing,” he warns us before we begin the grilling.

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You’ve been on Star Trek and in Iron Man. What TV shows or movies would you love to be involved in? 

Jason Charlton (email)

“Yeah, I’ve blown my chances to be on the really big ones – Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars would really round out the nerd profile. JJ Abrams is a friendly acquaintance of mine, and I texted him and said, ‘I would like to be one of the Knights of Ren’ – this is before there was even a script! He told me I didn’t even have to audition and I should just give him a call when I was around. It kills me to say it, but I was never around at that time, so it didn’t happen.”

How do you feel about some fans telling you to stay away from politics when you rage on social media? 

@ZainaArekat (Twitter)

“I have a number of thoughts. One is that you don’t trigger a free speech exemption when you pick up a guitar, that right remains intact. Secondly, people who are offended by my politics on Twitter or Instagram, please know it’s because you weren’t intelligent enough to know what the music that you were listening to all these years was about. For the music, you’re welcome, but if you’re a white supremacist or a proto-fascist, that music isn’t written for you – it’s written against you.”

Who’s the most challenging person you’ve ever worked with in the studio?

Jeanette Simons (email)

“The producer for the first record I ever made, nice guy, Matt Wallace. Very talented producer, but his vision for my playing was stifling. I had all these toggle noises and effects, and he was like, ‘This doesn’t sound right in songs’ and I had to say, ‘Well, these are new songs.’ I felt like that was a challenge, he wanted keyboards! I was 22 and he was an expert producer, I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to be my best self.”

What is the one piece of advice you gave your son Roman about entering the music business? 

Iain Leef (email)

“Don’t, ha ha! I’ve given him zero advice on the industry of the music business, and just advice on enjoying playing and shredding his butt off. That’s the totality of the advice I’ve given him.”

What’s the most unusual compliment you’ve ever been given? 

@leperwitch (Twitter)

“In the early days of touring, in Germany, there was always a guy in the front row who was very enthusiastic and he’d always shout, ‘Kill me with your music, Tony!’ at me. I guess that’s kind of a compliment… and a request to be slain, which is pretty metal!”

Who do you see carrying Rage’s torch forwards? Who are the young rock activists we need to support? 

Violetta Dunford (email)

“There’s a great artist called Grandson, who I recently collaborated with on
my recent Atlas Underground record. There’s another artist called K.Flay, who I also worked with; Nandi Bushell the drummer prodigy, who worked with my son Roman on the song The Children Will Rise Up, I have to put the pair of them on that list as well. The under-12 age group are really flying the flag!”

What is the greatest guitar solo of all time? 

Paul Cullis (Facebook)

“There are a number of candidates! At number three it’s Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower – it’s symphonically composed and incredible. Number two is Jimmy Page’s Stairway To Heaven – you can go with the Led Zep IV version or the live version from The Song Remains The Same. Number one A and number one B are the solos on Mr Crowley by Randy Rhoads. You could teach those on a college level musicology course or bang your head in a heavy metal parking lot!”

How much of an honour was it playing with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band? 

Tom Mears (Facebook)

“Some would call it a lifelong dream, but I never dared to dream something like that up. I am not a casual Bruce Springsteen fan – I am one of those super-weirdo, obsessed Bruce Springsteen fans, so to be part of the mix and be a voice in the room – I’m actually the only other lead vocalist on any Bruce Springsteen album – was unreal. I’d give myself 20 seconds every night on the tour, usually during Born To Run, to give myself a moment and really enjoy it, like, ‘I’m playing Born To Run with Bruce Springsteen in a stadium in South Africa!’ That’s when I’d lap it up.”

Who is your favourite US presidential candidate from your lifetime? 

Tom Stephens (Facebook)

“Imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. He ran for president, he was a candidate I could get behind. There are a lot of presidents that deserve to be behind bars, but electing someone who is behind bars but doesn’t deserve to be there, that’s the way that we should be going.”

Who was more fun to tour with: U2 or Wu-Tang Clan? 

Euan Manson (email)

“I enjoyed every minute with Wu-Tang, but I didn’t see them as much I saw the U2 guys. They would come and go, but I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with them, especially [Wu-Tang linchpin] RZA, who is a lifelong friend. I’m gonna go with U2 on that one just because I spent more time with them. They were the kindest band I’ve toured with – one of my favourite all-time bands, but just the kindest people you can imagine.”

Rage Against The Machine

(Image credit: Press)

From your perspective, how toxic was the atmosphere at Woodstock ’99? 

Colin Bromley (Facebook)

“My perspective was that I was only there for 90 minutes, while I played the show. I was at the hotel when it burnt to the ground. My take was that the kids, leaving aside the sexual predators, got a bad rap; they were being exploited and taken advantage of. They were being charged $5 to $10 for a bottle of water; it was antithetical to the original spirit of Woodstock. 

It was an ocean of gasoline waiting for a match. It also laid bare the worst of the Lollapalooza nation; it began as this diverse group of bands – Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Pearl Jam – and it merged into the worst of the hair metal and frat boy nonsense.”

What is your favourite memory of Chris Cornell? 

Joseph Arnold (Facebook)

“When Rage broke up, Brad [Wilk, drums], Tim [Commerford, bass] and
I still wanted to play together, and we kept listening to Badmotorfinger. Chris had an amazing voice, but he had a dark, Edgar Allan Poe poetry to him, we wondered what he was really like, so we decided to go talk to him. Rick Rubin came with us and he doesn’t leave the house for anything, unless it’s in a Rolls Royce inside another Rolls Royce, but he’s in my van. 

Chris lived in LA at the top of the last and loneliest mountain, it was dusk and the sunlight was going and this mansion he lived in was creepy as hell, the gates just opened like Addams Family style, and we drove in and there is Chris, 6’2 and a half, lanky of frame, dark of countenance, and he starts slowly walking towards us and Rick freaked out and goes, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here!’ We stayed, he was the most loving and generous guy and we were in a band for six years together. That’s my first memory of him.”

Do you think Trump will run in 2024? 

Christy George (email)

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t. And I’d be surprised if he didn’t lose again and claim that he had won. I think there is a possibility that the results of that will be even worse than it was this time. He’s a sociopath; his dad thought he was such a disappointing loser that he can never publicly admit to losing.”

Who’d be your dream guest for any future Atlas Underground Projects? 

Darren Hutchins (Facebook)

“I like the idea of my guitar finding its way into other areas, so I’d say Post Malone. You know what his first ever show was? His dad took him to see Korn! I quite like the idea of Post Malone unleashing his inner Korn over my guitar tone.” 

The Atlas Underground Flood is out now via Mom + Pop Music

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.