Tom Morello: Science Friction
GW The difference between you and someone like, say, the Edge is that he formulated his sound to compensate for his technical limitations, whereas you could play shred guitar but chose not to.
MORELLO Part of that, like I said before, was the result of the failure of the band Lock Up. I felt like my dream of being a rock guitarist had died. I was never going to be in Guitar World. By practicing eight hours a day and shredding, it still didn’t work out for me. So I simply said to myself “Okay, now I’m going to do what I want to do.” [laughs] I knew I was on the right path when I started alienating band members and producers. If they said, “What the hell are you doing?” I knew it was an idea worth pursuing. Even recently, when we were cutting “Original Fire,” I remember Brendan O’Brien saying, “All right, when are you going to play the real guitar solo?” And I was like, “Dude, I just did.” [laughs]
GW Okay, let’s talk about the new album. Brendan O’Brien, whom you had worked with in Rage, produced Revelations. What are the main differences between him and Rick Rubin, who produced Audioslave’s first two records?
MORELLO Well, I should point out that Brendan mixed Out of Exile. As for the main differences: Rick is an all-encompassing producer, meaning he’ll tell you if you’re wearing the wrong pants! [laughs] During preproduction, he spends enormous amounts of time with the band working on songs, and then he kind of goes away until it’s time to record. While tracking, he’s a harsh taskmaster when it comes to getting the right takes. Then he disappears again until it’s time to mix. When he’s mixing, he puts everything under a microscope. The guy doesn’t cut one corner. He makes sure every song is perfect.
Brendan, on the other hand, works at a very accelerated pace, and his emphasis is on the sound. He’s a great engineer; you’ll never spend 10 days tweaking the snare drum or five days trying out Strats. You go in the studio, nail a take, and you just know it’s going to sound amazing. His energy gets results, too: we made this record in five weeks, from beginning to end.
GW Did those five weeks include the writing?
MORELLO No. We took about a month to actually write the songs. After coming off a really rocking European festival tour, we wrote about 20 songs. Then we went on a North American tour and rocked quite a few of those songs in arenas. We had never had that kind of experience before, where every night would be a world premiere of another new song. That tour was a blast, so our confidence going into making this record was quite high.
GW In the song “Revelations,” are you manipulating the guitar’s volume control knob while you play the solo, or are you using a volume pedal?
MORELLO [smiles] Neither. That’s me playing with the toggle switch. It’s really amazing what you can do with the toggle switch. So many players never touch it in a musical way, and it offers so many possibilities. The other thing that made that solo sound cool was the amp combination I used, which was my regular setup—a 50-watt Marshall 2205 head and a 4x12 Peavey cabinet—doubled with a 100- watt Fender Bassman head and an Orange cabinet. There’s a delay sent to one while the other is dry, so the sound is being ping-ponged between them. Actually, that was a Noise Chart solo.
GW In “One and the Same,” you go from a dreamy, Cream-like solo section, very reminiscent of “I Feel Free,” to a pretty nutty Eighties metal shred run. You’re becoming known for such skylarking juxtapositions.
MORELLO On that song, I wanted to lull you into submission and then give you a nice jolt. We gave that song quite a road test in arenas across America. The second part of the solo was a blast to play—just full-on, Chopsville, “Hello, Randy Rhoads” metal.
GW On “Sound of a Gun,” what kind of acoustic are you playing in the verses?
MORELLO That was one of Brendan’s nice old Martins he let me use. I have this crummy old acoustic, but nobody ever lets me use it in the studio. And I couldn’t argue with Brendan: his Martin sounded amazing.
GW How are you doing that crazy solo in the song? It doesn’t sound so much like scratching as it does…
MORELLO …like squawking. That’s a ring modulator, which makes a kind of squawking sound. I liked it because it sounds like a duck. [imitates a duck, rather uncannily]
GW Is Chris Cornell playing guitar on the new album?
MORELLO No. He just wants to concentrate on singing.
GW In the studio, did the band lay down the basic tracks together and then add overdubs? Is there a set pattern?
MORELLO I don’t believe there’s an exception to this, but it’s Chris, Brad, Tim and I in the same room—there is some separation between us, but we don’t worry about that too much—and we’re playing together as a band. To me, being seated off by myself with headphones on is no substitute for what it feels like to see Tim’s hand hit that cymbal.
On this record, I was a lot looser about the guitars and amplifiers that I used. Ordinarily, I’m very militant; I only want to use my crappy old setup. Brendan, of course, has tons of amps and gear. I tried one of his Vox AC30 reissues and it sounded amazing; I wound up using it quite extensively, actually. And then he’s got all these moldering old brown amps of no known make or model, which we blew up to the point of no return. [laughs] A lot of fun.
GW Listening to your acoustic playing on “Until We Fall” made me wonder what acoustic players you listen to.
MORELLO They tend to be folk guys: Woody Guthrie, Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle…
GW I heard you on Steve Earle’s radio show when you were doing your Nightwatchman gig. It was great to hear you singing and playing an acoustic. Your voice reminded me of Johnny Cash.
MORELLO Wow, thanks. I’m going to continue with the Nightwatchman. It’s probably been the biggest creative leap I’ve ever undertaken. To write and sing protest music, whether I’m in front of 50,000 union steel workers or 25 anti-globalization kids, it’s great. I was inspired to do it when I hosted a teen talent show at a homeless shelter several years ago. This kid got up there and sang two songs. To be honest, he didn’t have anything goin’ on; he didn’t have the greatest voice. But man, this kid meant it. I got chills. I thought to myself, Hey, I’ve got ideas and I’ve got a guitar, so what the hell is keeping me from going up there? So I got my courage up, went to a few open-mic nights and started doing my thing.
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