What is it about “rock stars?” They are a different species. Why is it when someone wields a guitar and plays it like an extension of their body, the world gasps a collective intake. Sexy, powerful, vibratory. They are masters of their own universe and musical language. Tom Morello (the Prophets of Rage/ Rage Against the Machine/ Audioslave/ The Nightwatchman guitarist/singer/songwriter) is one of these and he is reinventing sound. He is resuscitating the role of rock as a platform for revolution. His collaborative powerhouse of an album, The Atlas Underground, has just released on October 12th. Morello is a sonic steward. Pioneering the field of guitar communication, he takes guitar riffs from from one to multidimensional.
Now, he is adding the technology of 2018 to analog, merging his sound-splitting vibrations of Marshall stack guitar amplification with a myriad of the NOW vocalists of rap and EDM. He is expanding horizons, his own along with ours. Listen up, wake up he shouts, “NOW!” Our world is tilted and artists have a responsibility to use their voices and instruments to break down boundaries, harness the power of the people and right the wrong directions of the powers that be. If he wasn’t a rockstar? Tom is convincing when he says he “would likely be a revolutionary guerilla or an animal rights activist.” His lifestyle and music are about the potential we have to open our eyes and come together to stop the oblivion, the destruction, the inequality, the numbing. He is determined to “forge this new path.” The Atlas Underground hosts “a diverse ethnicity brought together in harmony and solidarity. I’m using my guitar as a weapon for change.”
Tom taught himself to play guitar, starting late in the game, at age 17. He practiced techniques 8 hours a day in hopes of catching up with his guitar heroes. This became a game of follow-and-surpass-the-leader as he was forced to excel by stretching and innovating outside of guitar norms. “We Don’t Need You” (featuring Vic Mensa), “Lucky One” (featuring K.Flay) and “Rabbit’s Revenge” (featuring Bassnectar, Big Boi and Killer Mike) are the first tastes of this album’s new signature sound and territory fusing together analog, EDM and rap. It’s no basic amuse bouche. These tracks say it all. The lyric, “Don’t lie to me!” rages and repeats through, “We Don’t Need You.” The message and power of the music will not be ignored. Tom wants all these voices brought together the same way he taught himself to yoke disparate sounds with his first guitar. Co-founder of Rage Against the Machine, current Prophets of Rage guitarist, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (as well as committee member dedicated to giving metal its rightful place), Morello has many notches in his belt from that of activist to comic creator, from voice of the people to little league father and husband in his favorite down-time moments. He has played and created with the best over the years from Springsteen to Chris Cornell.
The music world awaits and braces for this latest solo album, but it is far from a solo effort. He wants it to represent the urgency for the planet to come together, to fight for what is right and reveal with a gritty, honest lens what is going on behind doors, on the streets and across the board of world politics. Morello sent out his riffs to a fittingly elite and eclectic crew from Chicago rapper Vic Mensa, Knife party, Bassnectar, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Portugal the Man, Steve Aoki, Gary Clark Jr. and Pretty Lights, to name a few. He fires out his intention, “to create a sonic conspiracy with musicians from diverse backgrounds and genres but with a common purpose. Shredding fury merged with the electronic wizardry of 2018.” It is time to wake up he is telling us. Again. This is not his first attempt to raise the troops for the battle cry of our own salvation. The Atlas Underground represents a brand new tactic. “Social justice ghost stories. Heroes and martyrs of the past can speak” through this mix of past and present sound curation. Tom chooses to control his non-linear path to purpose. It is no coincidence that he is making sure this album is happening now.
Does he read? “Oh you bet I read.” No surprise, there’s a diverse stack of lit on this eloquent guitar legend’s bedside. Tom Morello, guitarist of the apocalypse, believes in a future that is out of this world. He has to. Using his guitar riffs as synthesizer, he is splitting sound in the hopes of uniting us. Harvard grad, husband, little league dad, activist and axe-wielding rockstar. Get ready for The Atlas Underground. A futuristic battle cry to connect past and present. Tom Morello pushes himself; he pushes us. His unique sound bends, pulls, tears, tugs, scratches. Chains and unchains the listener with handcuffs of barbed wire to get our attention. The Atlas Underground has just enough seductive rhythm and lyrics to get us to sit down at the table and refuse to drink the sterilized water of current events before the sirens wail.
On his playlist: Grandson, Vic Mensa, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes
On his bedside table: Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer, Orchid (graphic novel/manga) - Tom Morello, Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
— Olivia is a painter (known for her butterfly series begun in 2008), art consultant, songwriter, wordsmith, mom and delegate to the GES. A full time Aspenite since 1997, she spends as much time as she can in the mountains and taking in all the enriching programs Aspen has to offer.