Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello sets out again as the Nightwatchman

:: Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman ::
:: Fox Theatre :: November 9 ::


By Brian F. Johnson

“You don’t gotta be loud, son, to be heavy as shit.”

This is a new mantra of guitarist Tom Morello, best known as the mega-shredding guitar hero for the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. The statement is a true one, but coming from someone who has built his career on over-the-top virtuoso electric arena rock riffs, it almost seems like an oxymoron.

But that mantra is what Morello has applied to his solo project, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman. “There are plenty of bands that play with a wall of Marshall stacks that are as whimpy as a Hostess Twinkie, and sometimes when you turn down the volume you’re able to get people to lean in and let the heaviness of the lyrics sink in and that’s the template for this tour,” Morello said in a recent interview with The Marquee.

“The template is half Dylan and half Hendrix,” he continued. “It’s going to be half acoustic and half electric. Not only will there be the no sell-out, acoustic, three chords and the truth part of the show, but also, with the band I put together called the Freedom Fighter Orchestra, there will be more insane electric playing than I’ve ever done with Rage or Audioslave because it’s not confined to a three-and-a-half minute song.”

Morello’s alter ego, The Nightwatchman, started in 2002 when he began playing open mics in the coffee shops around Los Angeles. He had wanted to keep a low profile and not sign up as himself and so he adopted the pseudonym as a result. “Signing up as Tom Morello would have brought a certain set of expectations and people would be expecting to hear “Bulls on Parade” and shredding guitar solos. So when I embarked on this new artistic endeavor I wanted to have the space to let it become what it should be and the material I was writing began to fit the moniker,” said the Harvard University graduate.

In 2007 the first Nightwatchman album, One Man Revolution, was released to critical praise. The minimalistic acoustic album was the antithesis of Morello’s arena rock existence and that first album drew a definite line between the two hats that he was wearing.

While One Man Revolution made that clean break, his newest release The Fabled City goes back and loosens the strict confines of his debut. “This started as clearly two separate different things. But on this record, and on this tour, I feel much more comfortable blurring the lines between my acoustic singer/songwriter playing and my electric flamethrower guitar playing,” he said.

The Fabled City was produced by long-time friend and collaborator Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with Morello on two Rage Against the Machine albums, an Audioslave record and the first Nightwatchman release. Morello said that O’Brien is a “great collaborative partner” who has a knack for helping him arrange and flesh out the songs. The album also features guest appearances by Serj Tankian of System Of A Down and Shooter Jennings, who engineered the first Nightwatchman demo and has been friends with Morello ever since.

While a vast majority of Morello’s material is known for its criticism of government, this album, he said, focuses on a new theme for the songwriter. “The songs on this record are more personal in their politics than grand statements of rebellion, but the stories and the characters on this record are just as damning of the status quo as any kind of more blunt rhetoric. The song “Fabled City” is about the fact that there are millions, maybe billions of people on this planet who are kept from becoming the people they were born to be and kept from living their dreams because of crushing poverty. You can’t have the boutiques of Beverly Hills without the sweatshops of Indonesia … and the Nightwatchman is going to sing about that,” he said.

Additionally, the album is highly personal and a tribute to friends and family that Morello recently lost. “In a two year period, I lost seven loved ones, all randomly and for different reasons, some way before their time and some well into their 80s, but no less sad. And it really made me take stock as to who I am and what I’m doing on this planet. And this record was a way for me to find sort of a glimmer of hope and redemption through music and through fighting injustice and combating the waves of fear and sadness,” he said.

When Morello is referred to as a guitar hero it’s fitting on many levels. From his sheer ability to his outspoken activism, which earned him the 2006 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award and, most literally, his inclusion as one of only two playable animated guitarists on the game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Morello juggles his roles and his projects with grace and humility and while he never loses sight of the fact that people come to see him for entertainment, he is always trying to have people come away with a little knowledge, hope and inspiration to boot.

:: Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman ::
:: Fox Theatre :: November 9 ::

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