Tom Morello – the masterly multi-hyphenate whose slew of recording credits include seminal positions with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Prophets of Rage – spoke to STACK about the future of electric guitar, and how new album The Atlas Underground Fire kept the demons at bay.
Words | Sosefina Fuamoli
Musicians have been forced into some uneasy confrontations since the onset of the pandemic wiped out their livelihoods in 2020. Questions were raised: Is music worth it anymore? How can we survive? When will I be able to connect with music again?
Tom Morello was not above these feelings of worry, anxiety and depression during this time. Forced off-road and unable to write and record the way he was used to properly for the first time since he was a teenager, Morello found himself at a creative crossroads. With the world falling apart, and social and political chaos becoming more and more suffocating to endure, music would normally stand out as a way for Morello to fluidly channel feelings of anger, fear and protest. But without his usual creative environment available to immerse himself in, how could he find a calm within this unique storm?
The answer, he says, was found in an unlikely source: Kanye West.
“I read an interview where he said he had recorded the vocals for a couple of his albums into the voice memos of his iPhone,” Morello tells us over Zoom. “I started recording guitars into my iPhone, that’s how the record started.”
We’re talking about The Atlas Underground Fire, a solo record with a curatorial feel. The album is very much a Tom Morello project, yet features a cast of collaborators from across musical genres, and across the globe.
“All of a sudden, there were stars shining above the cloud cover; there was a way to be a musician,” Morello explains. “There was a way to connect with other musicians. To have friendships and collaborations, to feel alive as a musician, when every day was exactly the same anxious bullsh-t. I was able to make these rock ‘n’ roll penpals all over the world.”
The album – featuring artists including Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes, Phantogram, Damian Marley, Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen – speaks to Morello on a personal level. It was a saviour to him, he explains, as much as it is a new album to satiate the masses. This “plague record” (as he dubs it) also served as an antidepressant. There was no structure to it, no plan beyond making music to reinvigorate himself creatively, and hopefully, offer that sense of reinvigoration to others too. “It was a record that was made in response to lockdown,” he says, “as a way to save my emotional state.”
The Atlas Underground Fire by Tom Morello is out now on CD, and available on orange splatter vinyl (pictured above right) on April 1 of 2022 (pre-order available now), via Mom + Pop Music.
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