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Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman – Transcript

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Tom Morello interview about his new album ‘The Fabled City’ under The Nightwatchman banner. The full article from this interview will appear on Subba Cultcha.


Hi Tom, thank you very much for doing this.

No problem

How’s your day been so far?

Oh not so bad…just a long day of doing press really. (Laughs) So if you can ask me some new questions maybe?

New questions huh? Well I will do my best.

No, I’m only joking I am at your disposal.

Cool, well thank you. I wanted to ask you about the politics of the record but I wanted to cover the music first. With this record you have changed your name officially to ‘Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman’, what was the motivation for that why the need for that distinction?

Well initially…initially when I was playing in these small coffeehouses through the ‘One Man Revolution’ tour er, it was very important for me to have a clear separation between my acoustic singer/song writing and my work as an electric guitar player. Um, on this record I feel much more comfortable bridging that gap and it’s reflected in the music, and it will be reflected  the live show on this tour. Brendan O’Brien produced on this record, and, you know musically it’s a lot more expansive, it includes a lot more instrumentation and the arrangements of the songs are fleshed out, and on the upcoming tour it’s going to be half acoustic and half electric.

Ok, cool.

The template is half Dylan and half Hendrix, and to be able to both maintain the integrity of the 3 chords and the truth folk music with the thing I do best, which is play electric guitar, and to really kick out the jams, to really take all the fenders off and really go for broke with the electric guitar in ways that I don’t even do in Rage Against the Machine or Audioslave.

The one thing that struck me from what I’ve heard on this record is that the vocals are so much stronger and your voice has so much more confidence, is that something that you’d agree with and how did that come about?

Well there’s no doubt about it. The experience of touring the world on the ‘One Man Revolution’ tour helped tremendously, I mean I’ve had the opportunity to play literally thousands of shows as an electric guitar player, but the number of shows as a singer …I guess it really began in 2002 but it really began as a sidebar and where it began as definitely the side dish it’s become much more of the main course over the last couple of years and I think that’s really shown in the improvement of the vocals. Because you know  I’m a big fan of singers like Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash  people who may not be able to, people like Nick Cave, people who may not be able to hit the high notes but are able to convey the gravity of the songs.

Cool, Ok, because obviously with the bands you’ve played with you’ve had the chance to work with not only some brilliant lyricists but also some amazing singers Chris and Zack and Serj, with your own voice did you want to keep it as a journey of self discovery or did you discuss it with them at all did you get any tips?

Ah that’s interesting, I actually have discussed it with Serj about the tricks of the trade and how to keep your voice going with a lengthy tour. So he’s been really helpful with that but probably the biggest help has come from opening up for Billy Bragg and Steve Earle on tour and talking with them about how best to perform as solo artists and really learning the tricks of that trade, and that’s really a whole different skill set than being in a rock band, and when every note is your responsibility, you can’t hide behind a big rock band if you’re having an off night, and I learnt a great deal from those guys.

With ‘The Fabled City’, compared to the first album where you were talking about the NightWatchman as the outlet for your political folk music, but now as you’re merging styles with the acoustic and electric music are the themes predominantly politicised again has that carried through to ‘The Fabled City’?

Well I think that actually the themes are political with a lower case ‘p’ and the stories on this record are potentially much more personal and the characters are either from drawn from my own experience or from people I’ve know or have known, and I think that’s partly because over the last few years I’ve been through some tremendous losses, and family members passing away and losing friends and a lot of that you can’t help but let it seep into the music and this record for me it really seemed that upon its completion…I played shows you know before during and after the making of the record and it really became obvious to me that this music and these shows and the connections I have with this audience, which is, you know…it’s alternate family, and it’s the connection that I make with them that has provided the spark of hope and redemption during some dark times.

Definitely, and it seems with some songs like, ‘Whatever It Takes’, for example it seems like it’s a very strong statement, but a very positive and hopeful message like you know ‘ I won’t be beaten down, whatever I have to go through’, so is that something that’s a common theme that carries through the record?

Yea, it’s a quest for this redemption through music and through fighting injustice, you know and it’s…you know life is a temporary thing but the struggle for justice is eternal. And being one…I want my life and my music to be one of the links on that chain, and that’s something that I didn’t discover playing big arenas with a rock band it’s actually something I discovered playing very small halls with these songs.

I was going to ask you about doing something like videos for The night watchman, because of the nature of the process it’s obviously something that you have to promote and you have to go through the same processes as when you would be in a bigger production bands like Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, is it still something that you enjoy when you have to do it for The Nightwatchman or do you kind of associate it with a set of obligations that you maybe feels detracts from the music? And do you approach it any differently than maybe you would have in the past?

Well I enjoy it 10 times more. There’s a saying that, ‘the things you do best are the things you do for free’. Um, and let me tell you I do this for free, you know I’ve been doing this since 2002 and it might get to the point where I might make a dollar but that point hasn’t come yet. (Laughs) and um, so yeah it really is a labour of love, this is my lifes work, this, and so when it comes to something like the video I did for the song, ‘Whatever It Takes’, it was as opposed to the big production where you drive out to the desert and you spend two days with catering and everything you know I call up a friend of mine who’s an aspiring Director and we spend an afternoon, we get our friends and a whole bunch of cameras and we head down to
Olvera Street and we shot the video in 4 hours. And that just felt to me so much what it should be like, you know, every element of it should be good and real and honest like that.

Cool, one question  I was going to ask you actually was who is the accordian girl at the start of that video and where did the accordian bit come from?

(Laughs…a lot!) Well the accordian girl is actually my darling fiance and I believe she somehow got snookered into being a part of the crew and then wound up in the video…against her wishes.

Obviously you’ve talked about the live show splitting between Dylan and Hendrix and I’ve read a few quotes where you’ve said on this record you were thinking about things like ‘Nebraska’ by Springsteen and Woody Guthrie things like that, I was going to say obviously there’s this real legacy that you’re tapping into with this kind of music but is there anyone, are there any new people who are taking up the mantle, like you are yourself as well, any modern voices that you are listening too and impressed by?

Oh definitely I mean Conor Oberst both with his solo work and Bright Eyes is great, and I would say Eddie Vedder in a way is, you know both with Pearl Jam and when he does his solo stuff, a believe the continuing work of Springsteen and Dylan is vital now, you know and those off the top of my head are records I’ve been listening too, new records, but I don’t necessarily disentangle this tradition of the solo troubadour from groups like the Clash, Public Enemy, Rage, The Damned, I think those are all links in the same chain and it’s just sometimes it’s with Marshall stacks and sometimes its acoustic guitar and harmonica.

OK, I was looking at an interview where you were talking about your time working for Alan Cranston and you were stating that having seen the inside track of how the country is run that you are so glad to be operating from the other side of the fence now trying to change things from outside of the system, and I was wondering with everything that is going on now do you think that the process itself can ever actually work or is it too fundamentally flawed, and can your faith ever be restored in it?

Yea, well it is, there is no doubt that it is fundamentally flawed and the fact that it er…I mean this election is an anomaly in a way because it does provide a particular glimmer of hope, but not the kind a lot of people think…the particular kind of hope in this election is tackling head on  this countries horrendous dance that it has done with racism since its inception  and if we were actually to elect a somewhat progressive African-american to the highest office in the land that seems like a big step towards civilisation for a country that has in the issue of race been…uncivilised.  But the notion that this is a democracy where you have to rasise $300million to run for president and you have to go through the narrowest of channels to achieve higher office in the the two mainstream parties, I mean as Gore Vidal said, ‘we are a one party state, we have one corporate party with two right wings and the difference between them is the velocity with which they please their corporate masters’, and it’s true, you can’t argue it. Again those of us…that’s why I feel that fighting for Human Rights, social justice, environmental policies, saving the planet from global warming and struggling for peace and against torture, those are important issues that you have to fight for no matter who’s in office. I mean you just can’t trust any elected official who at the end of the day who is going to beholden to those who can help them raise $300million for next time.

Ok, well finally then I notice that you are playing in Canada the day after the election and I wondered if that was like a deliberate escape plan if there was another  stolen election?

(Laughs) It was not it was literally just an anomaly but you never know. I was joking with some friends that they were saying that they would move to Canada if McCain and Palin won and I was saying but you know Canada may not be safe! McCain and Palin may very well invade Canada to defeat the evils of their universal healthcare system! So that’s something the should prepare for!

Well you know she can see Canada just like she can see Russia…so who knows.

Haha, yeah exactly. I’ll be in Vancouver so she’ll definitely be able to see me!

I’d be scared. Thanks very much for chatting and have a great day.

Alright, thank you for the questions. Good bye.


One Response

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  1. Tom rocks! And a very nice interview indeed!


    November 17, 2008 at 4:59 am

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