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Tom Talk

Audioslave’s Tom Morello takes your questions


Roots-rocker Steve Earle is fond of wearing a particular T-shirt to certain photo sessions, probably just to piss people off. It says, "I'm from fucking outer space." It's a term of endearment, really. Artists or musicians, when faced with something wholly original that just blows their doors off, will refer to someone or their work as "from outer space." John Coltrane had it. De La Soul brought it with their afro-flipping debut record. And in the world of hard rock at the time, Rage Against the Machine did "em one better. To a country still listening to hair bands, Rage was from fucking Mars.

Like Earle, they were also fond of pissing people off. In the course of their decade-or-so long career, Rage managed to get under the skin of the FBI, numerous local police departments, all three television networks, GE, GM, and any other corporate/government acronym you can think of. Their singer was a poet of rage, spitting out verses like bullets. Their guitar player? Why, he decided that he would play the guitar more like a DJ would approach the wheels of steel.

Then, of course, they broke up. Prophets, even ones of rage, don't stick around after delivering their message.

That singer, Zack De La Rocha, left the band to pursue solo projects and his own activism. That guitarist, Tom Morello, is currently manning the same chair for Audioslave, a new band he shares with former Rage bandmates Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums). Oh, and they have a new singer, too, one who is more likely to assume the Jesus Christ pose than the "arms crossed" one. His name is Chris Cornell, and he used to be the frontman for Soundgarden, where he was an idol for cover band singers, metal nerds, and young gals alike. (Oh yes: the reason for this story. The boys have a new album coming out on November 19.)

This, however, is probably stuff you already know. And there's nothing worse than a story full of stuff you already know, right? In that spirit, we have decided to take a few questions from the audience. Please give a warm Southern welcome to...Mr. Tom Morello!

"Morello! So what the hell does the album sound like? I've seen that "Cochese" video on MTV and it looks pretty stout...."

Whoa! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Geez. Take it away, Tom.

"I think that one of the best things about working with Chris and Tim and Brad in Audioslave is that there is a much greater sonic diversity than in the past. We've really pushed each other musically in directions we really didn't think possible. And there are some of the more predictable influences, like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and what not, but we've also been able to weave in some more esoteric influences, like Chemical Brothers and Portishead, and even stuff like Woody Guthrie."

Forgive the moderator for a second, Tom, but for what it's worth, even though he's a product of rainy Seattle -- about the furthest thing weather-wise from the dust bowl of Guthrie -- I thought Cornell did a good job of injecting his dark romanticism into the band's agitprop grind. OK, enough of me. Questions?

"But what're we getting? "Bulls on Parade' or "Black Hole Sun'? Does the band still rage against the machine, if you will?"

"Chris' lyrics, while sometimes political in nature, tend to be more personal politics, and he writes them with a more haunted, poetic/existential point of view. With me as a political person, it's important to pursue my activism. I am both blessed and cursed with being a guitar player -- that's my vocation. I don't have any choice in the matter. It's something I did not choose -- it chose me. And given that, I have tried to find a way throughout my career to wind my twin interests of music and politics together."

OK, We've got time for a few more. Yes, you over in the corner.

"What did you learn from Rage's successes ...and failures?"

Good question. Tom?

"Rage Against the Machine had many successes politically, and in more philanthropic endeavors. (However) one of the lessons I learned from it was that often the band politics sort of got in the way of the band's politics. Often the regular personality disagreements that would occur would really hurt the political work that we intended to do. So, in Audioslave, we've sort of designed a firewall between the music and doing interviews in hotels part of it and the political action part. My hope is that each of them can flower. There were some members of Rage Against the Machine that felt less comfortable talking about the Zapatistas in interviews. This way, it feels like I can get my hands as dirty as I want in the political realm without it hurting the band."

Two more, everybody, two more. Sam Donaldson?

"Being an activist, what did you and the rest of Rage do after 9/11?"

Thanks, Sam. Take it, Tom.

"We did our best to communicate our thoughts to our fans, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, all our songs were taken off the radio. Our whole catalogue was taken off the radio by Clear Channel, the company that controls 85 percent of the radio stations in America, I think. Which was just crazy! I think it points toward a very grim future, where those of an authoritarian mindset use things 9/11 for their political purposes, and try to silence dissident voices."

"Which is the complete opposite of the widespread railing against a "liberal' media..."

"Right. To some extent, they might even be right, but what they're referring to as liberal I would probably refer to as arch-conservative. (laughs) I think the parameters of debate they are talking about are very, very narrow and skewed to the right.

"Likely, many of those outlets are afraid to go against the government at this point anyway."

Sam? Sam! Enough!

"Oh, absolutely. Absolutely."

Sam, being pulled from the press conference by his heels, courtesy of two Springer-esque goons: "Speaking of war, if, for whatever reason, you were called on to fight, would you go?"

Adios, Sam. One more, Mr. Morello.

"Absolutely not. Which is not to say there is no circumstance where I would take to the street to do battle, but it's more likely to be on Sunset Boulevard than the deserts of Iraq. The current behavior going on in the Middle East is wholly immoral, and I could never be involved in that."

Sorry, Tom. Thanks for putting up with everybody. I think a lot of people have preconceived notions in their heads that if it's hard rock, it can't possibly contain anything of intellectual merit.

"Exactly. I think that that is a prejudice that Rage Against the Machine -- and in some ways, Soundgarden, too -- hopefully helped to eradicate. There are many fans of hard rock music that have been wrongly pigeonholed as apathetic, I think...the music of Rage Against the Machine and now Audioslave is not music for the elitist coffeehouse culture in SoHo. It's rock and roll music for kids across the land, and I think that makes it much more subversive in a way. It has the form and the function of a powerful, populist music, but it can carry very incendiary messages."

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. For what it's worth, Morello's answers were in fact the actual responses to some actual questions posed to him by CL. In addition, the author wishes to give his apologies to Tom Sorensen.)

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