Tom Morello’s got impeccable moral-lo’s

Tom Morello had us scared there for a moment. After the explosive rupture of Rage Against the Machine in 2000, Morello, who is ranked 26th on Rolling StoneâÄôs list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, went rogue. Joining the supergroup Audioslave and seemingly abandoning his activist roots, more than a few fans believed he had sold out. Turns out we were all wrong; Morello was secretly working on building up his repertoire as a solo act called The Nightwatchman. His debut album, somewhat boastfully titled âÄúOne Man Revolution,âÄù held little weight musically, and with only an acoustic guitar on his side, the Harvard-trained activist didnâÄôt seem to be able to back up the weight of his words. But it seems as if with the release of his second album, âÄúThe Fabled City ,âÄù Morello has smoothed out what, at first appeared a rocky start, and found his voice. âÄúThe Fabled CityâÄù corrects many of the missteps Morello took with his first album. His lyrics retain their potency, but there is more substance present in the arrangements. MorelloâÄôs having more fun and it shows. A&E got the chance to chat with Morello about the processes and priorities of his new album. This project kind of marks a return for you, going from something that seemed kind of apolitical or commercial with Audioslave back to something that is politically charged. Did you have some kind of realization that brought you back? Well, actually I have been writing and performing songs like this, under the name The Nightwatchman, since 2002. And it really did begin around the time that it dawned on me that in order for Audioslave to be an honest and true band, it was not going to be shoehorned into the political boots of Rage Against the Machine. I wanted to find a way to be free to express my worldview in my music. So I just started playing at open mic nights at coffeehouses on nights off from Audioslave arena. Was it difficult for you to have to kind of, I donâÄôt want to say âÄòdownplay your guitar skills,âÄô but certainly use a more subtle approach towards playing? No. I mean I donâÄôt think it was difficult because in both genres the guitar serves the music well. ItâÄôs not tempting for me when playing the acoustic guitar to play wild effect-laden solos [laughter] because I think that in order for the music to be at its rebellious heaviest, it needs to be sparse; and conversely with the electric guitar playing it needs to be as over-the-top crazy as anything youâÄôve ever heard. ThatâÄôs why on this tour itâÄôs going to be 50 percent acoustic and 50 percent electric. And you have a backup band now too right? Yeah, the template is half Dylan half Hendrix. So, itâÄôs like that moment at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan plugged in? [laughter] Exactly! DylanâÄôs a much better songwriter than I am, but I am a much better lead guitar player than he is. Yeah he is often looking down at his fingers to make sure âĦ Yeah making sure heâÄôs on the right dots âĦ To take nothing away from him as an artist. [We both knock on wood.] You were just here for the RNC about a month ago and youâÄôre coming back in a few weeks. What do you think about âÄúThe RNC [8],âÄù the protesters who are facing hard jail time because of their actions at the RNC? Well first of all, 100 percent of the proceeds of the Rage Against the Machine concert and from the merchandise at that show went to the defense of those who were arrested at the RNC. The proceeds from the show we played at the DNC went to Iraq Veterans Against the War and the proceeds from the show at the RNC âĦ There were so many arrests even before we got onstage during the preceding three days that, ya know, thatâÄôs where the money went. YouâÄôre probably familiar with the Rage a cappella performance the day before [at the RNC]. The story of what happened in the half hour before that show was that we got out of our van to play a show and we were surrounded by riot police, who told us that if we approached the stage, that weâÄôd be arrested. Now imagine if that had happened in China during the Beijing Olympics, if a musical group who was critical of the government was told they would be arrested if they sang their songs; I mean that would have been an international human rights incident. OK, I have been skirting around this, but letâÄôs just get right to it. What do you think of Barack Obama? Well you know, I have two thoughts. IâÄôll give you the pluses and the minuses, how about that? The pluses are that this countryâÄôs DNA is inextricably wound up with racism from its inception. And the fact that the United States of America could elect a somewhat progressive African American to the highest office is a big step towards civilization. I believe it would be recognized as such around the world, which may help to un-tarnish our tremendously tarnished image from the Bush torture years. On the other hand, I worked for a United States senator for two years; I worked for Sen. Alan Cranston as his scheduling secretary and he was very progressive politically, but I got to see the internal workings of what a high ranking Washington official does and he spent 80 percent of the time I was with him asking rich guys for money. There are gatekeepers along the way and you canâÄôt get through those gates without [dealing with them] âĦ You canâÄôt run for president and be against war. You canâÄôt run for president and be for universal health care. There will be constraints on whoever is in office. My take at the end of the day is that no matter whoâÄôs elected, that those of us who believe in human rights, who believe in social and economic justice, who believe in peace and a sane environmental policy are going to have to continue to struggle as hard as ever no matter whether it is Republicans or Democrats in the White House or in Congress.