Members: Tom Morello
Active: 1980 - Present
Thomas Baptist Morello or Tom Morello (born May 30, 1964) is an American guitarist who played in Rage Against the Machine. He performs as a solo acoustic artist under the pseudonym The Nightwatchman, and was a member of Audioslave. He is acclaimed for his unique guitar style and is noted for his outspoken socialist politics.
Morello was born in Harlem, New York. His mother, Mary Morello, who is part Irish and part Italian, is a founder of Parents For Rock And Rap, an anti-censorship group. She was also a teacher at Libertyville High School. His father, Ngethe Njoroge, was a Mau Mau guerrilla and revolutionary. Morello's great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president in Kenya.
Morello grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, at the time a virtually all-white suburb of Chicago. There he attended Libertyville High School. He played French horn in the school band, sang in the chorus, and was active in speech and drama club. (One prominent role was Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.)
He showed his political leanings early; in the 1980 mock elections at LHS, he campaigned for a fictitious anarchist "candidate" named Hubie Maxwell, who came in fourth place after Jimmy Carter at the overwhelmingly Republican school. Ronald Reagan won the mock election. He also wrote a piece headlined "South Africa: Racist Fascism That We Support" for the school's alternative paper, The Student Pulse.
At age 13, Morello purchased his first guitar at Rigoni Music in Libertyville. He wanted a solid-body Ovation guitar, but he didn't have the money to buy one. Instead, he purchased a Kay guitar. Wanting to learn how to play "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, he took two guitar lessons, but instead was taught the C-major scale. He decided that playing the guitar was a waste of his time, so he placed it in his closet for the next four years.
Around 1980, Morello first started studying the guitar seriously. He had formed a band in the same year called the Electric Sheep which featured future Tool guitarist Adam Jones on bass. Jones wasn't originally in the band; he was a replacement for a member who quit because he felt his musical skills were far superior to those of the other Sheep. Few if any of the Sheep could really play an instrument at first (Most of their songs consisted of a single chord), but the band was an impetus for Morello to start honing his skills. Instead of performing cover songs, the Sheep wrote original material that included politically charged lyrics. None of the songs composed by the Sheep contained solos; soloing was a skill that Morello began learning in college.
At the time Morello's musical tastes lay in the direction of heavy metal, particularly Kiss, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Morello developed his own unique sound through the electric guitar. Later his music--and musical politics--were greatly influenced by punk rock bands like The Clash, the Sex Pistols and Devo. Interestingly, an example of his affection for The Clash was the setlist for the first ever Rage Against the Machine gig on the 23rd of October 1991. It featured a rough performance of Clampdown.
Morello graduated in 1982 and began attending Harvard University. There he made a point of practicing every day for up to eight hours without fail, no matter how much studying he had to do. He graduated in 1986 with an honors degree in political science. He moved to L.A., where he briefly worked as an aide to Senator Alan Cranston as he set about trying to join or start a band. (Adam Jones moved to L.A. as well; Morello introduced Jones to some of his future bandmates.)
In 1988 Morello joined Lock Up, a glam rock band that released one album through Geffen Records before splitting up. This record was called Something Bitchin' This Way Comes, which enjoyed only slight success
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Morello had been crushed by the lack of success he experienced in Lock Up. He visited a club in Los Angeles where Zack de la Rocha was rapping. After viewing de la Rocha's lyric books, Tom asked him to front a band. Morello drafted Brad Wilk, a drummer who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up, and de la Rocha introduced the two to his friend Tim Commerford. The four formed a new band, Rage Against the Machine.
Rage had great success, especially in North America and Europe. Their first, self-titled album, was recognized by fans for Morello's innovative guitar as well as its originality (being one of the first records to combine rock and hip-hop). Morello expressed his attitude toward songwriting during this period as overtly political:
A good song should make you wanna tap your feet and get with your girl. A great song should destroy cops and set fire to the suburbs. I?m only interested in writing great songs.
After four years of silence and rumors of break-ups, the band released its second album, Evil Empire. The album moved away from the traditional metal guitar work of the first album; it was experimental in nature and demonstrated Morello's ability to use the guitar in strange ways, showcasing his abilities with the "kill switch".
In 1999, the band released The Battle of Los Angeles, their most commercially successful record. In late 2000, they released another album entitled Renegades. Shortly before the release, de la Rocha left Rage, and the band's instrumentalists said they wanted to continue making music together.
Billboard reported on January 19, 2007 that there were rumors that Rage Against the Machine could reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. These rumors were confirmed in a Los Angeles Times article on January 22 and later on the band's official website. The band are billed to headline the final day of Coachella 2007 on Sunday, April 29. Billboard reported that sources suggest this will likely be a one-off, although it was later announced that three more performances are planned as part of Rock the Bells with the Wu-Tang Clan.Because Audioslave have now broken up, there are rumours that Rage Against the Machine will permanently reunite.
After de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the remaining bandmates started jamming with former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin. The new group was first called Civilian, but changed their name to Audioslave before their first album was released.
The band released their eponymous debut album on November 19, 2002. It was a massive critical and commercial success, attaining triple-platinum status.
The band released their sophomore album,Out of Exile, on May 24, 2005. It debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts and attained platinum status. In the same year, they released a DVD documenting their trip as the first American rock band to play a free show in Cuba. Morello recently stated he has made a commitment to Audioslave and is "in it for the long haul." The band's third album, Revelations, was released in the fall of 2006. As of February 15th 2007, Audioslave are on hiatus due to the departure of frontman Cornell. The band is expected to reunite with Zack de la Rocha and resume their previous band, Rage Against The Machine.
Morello is less known for his folk music, which he plays under the alias The Nightwatchman. He has explained:
The Nightwatchman is my political folk alter ego. I've been writing these songs and playing them at open mic nights with friends for some time. This is the first time I've toured with it. When I play open mic nights, it's announced as The Nightwatchman. There will be kids there who are fans of my electric guitar playing, and you see them there scratching their heads. But it's something that I enjoy doing. I look at it more as an extension of my politics. Then again, some of the songs are not explicitly political. It really helped me grow as an artist and songwriter. Once you prick the vein you never know what is going to come out. You could aim for all union songs and you find yourself in other territory.
One of his many songs, "No One Left," which compares the aftermath of September 11 to that of a U.S. attack on Iraq, appears on the album Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Nightwatchman also appeared on the album/DVD Axis Of Justice: Concert Series Volume 1, contributing the songs Until the End, The Road I Must Travel, and Union Song.
The Nightwatchman released their first debut album, One Man Revolution, on April 24th.
OTHER SIDE PROJECTS
Morello and Wilk joined with Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Billy Gould of Faith No More to record the song "Calling Dr Love" for the 1994 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass. The lineup was billed as Shandi's Addiction.
In August 1995 Morello contacted former Articles of Faith frontman Vic Bondi and asked him if he wanted to work on a Rage side project. Tentatively titled Weatherman, the short-lived group featured Bondi on vocals, Morello on guitar, Matt Johnson on bass, and Abe Van Eyck on drums. The recorded demos in September 1995. Bondi wrote all the lyrics, while Morello wrote all the music. One track, "Enola Gay", was recorded by Brett Eliason in fall 1996. Tom re-used the main riff of the song for the Audioslave single "Cochise."
Morello also played lead guitar on three tracks of Primus' 1999 studio album Antipop.
Morello worked with The Crystal Method on their 2001 album Tweekend. He co-produced and played guitars on the smash single "Name of the Game" and "Wild, Sweet and Cool".
Morello played guitar in the score for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006).
Morello played the guitar riff heard in the final battle scene of the film Dodgeball.
Morello played guitar in the single "One Man Army" by The Prodigy.
In July 2006, TheNewsTribune.com reported that Morello and Boots Riley, front man of The Coup, would collaborate on a project called Street Sweepers. Riley has often performed alongside Morello's alter ego The Nightwatchman, and Morello produced and performed on a few tracks for The Coup's 2006 release Pick a Bigger Weapon.
Morello is famed for his guitar style, which consists of punk/funk hybrid riffs and hip hop-inspired sounds. His guitar playing is also characterized by heavy use of guitar effects, such as delay, modulation, harmonizers, distortion, pitch shifters, feedback, and others in unique ways and combinations.
Critically acclaimed, he is said to use the guitar in a unique and imaginative way; rather than just plucking the strings, his maneuvers include toggling between two pickups - one on and one off - while fretting notes to mimic the sound of a DJ's crossfader, using feedback from the amp and the Digitech Whammy to create a solo, and creating sounds in the strings using innovative techniques utilizing the guitar's jack and an allen wrench. He is still a very accomplished traditional metal guitarist, as heard on some of his earlier recordings such as "Know Your Enemy" and "Take the Power Back", which both have very fast fret work.
To assist in his alien guitar sounds, Morello chooses various effects pedals. During his tenure in RATM, he used a Dunlop Cry Baby, a Digitech WH-1 Whammy, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a DOD EQ pedal (used to boost the volume during guitar solos), and an Ibanez DFL Flanger. For his work with Audioslave, Morello added a Boss TR-2 Tremolo pedal (which can be heard on "Like a Stone" and "Gasoline") and replaced the Ibanez Flanger with a MXR Phase 90. His amplifier of choice has always been a 50-watt Marshall JCM 800 2205 and a Peavey 4x12 cabinet. While the amplifier has two channels, he only uses the overdrive channel, and simply turns down the volume on his guitar to get cleaner sounds.
In the studio, Tom uses the same setup for the bulk of the guitar tracks. For The Battle of Los Angeles, he also used a few other amps, such as a Line 6 as heard on the clean, spacey intro of "Mic Check," plus a Pignose mini-amp and a MusicMan "Twin" style amp. The MusicMan has a built-in phaser and has made its way onto several tracks as overdubs. It also appears in the "Show Me How To Live" video. In an interview with Guitar World Magazine Morello stated that he occasionally used a Vox amp that was in the studio for the making of Out of Exile.
1989 - Something Bitchin' This Way Comes
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
1992 - Rage Against the Machine
1996 - Evil Empire
1997 - Live & Rare
1999 - The Battle of Los Angeles
2000 - Renegades
2003 - Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium
2002 - Audioslave
2005 - Out of Exile
2006 - Revelations
2007 - One Man Revolution