As the guitarist for both Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Tom Morello is used to making himself heard with the explosive sounds coming from his instrument. With the upcoming "One Man Revolution," released under the name the Nightwatchman, Morello has decided to let his words do the talking. The album finds the Harvard-educated musician singing his all-original material accompanied almost exclusively by his own acoustic guitar. But don't make the mistake of assuming the softer music corresponds to softer thinking. "Revolution" is loaded with political anthems that find Morello taking the role of protest singer to fiery new levels. Currently on tour to support the album, Morello spoke with Salon about his version of three chords and the truth.
Why did you make the decision to step away from Audioslave and scale down to just voice and guitar?
With Audioslave, if we sold a million records, we might be able to buy new sports cars. With the Nightwatchman, if we sell a thousand records, we might be able to overthrow the government. I say that kind of facetiously, but the message on this album is distilled in a way that I believe is more potent than it was with my other work. This is not music made for a mosh pit. It's music that's looking for zealots and trying to rattle the cages and bang the bushes and find martyrs and true believers and people that are not afraid to ring the White House with pitchforks and torches.
Four years ago we saw a lot of anti-Bush sentiment coming from musicians, but the end result was still disappointing. What can be done differently this time around to ensure the right people get elected?
I'm not interested in kicking voters in the ass. That's not been my great passion. I do not believe that progressive change comes from having the right person in the White House -- though certainly a great deal of harm can come from having the wrong person in the White House. All progressive change, whether it was women getting the vote, desegregating the lunch counters, getting the eight-hour workday or the end of the apartheid, happened not as a result of having the right person in the White House, but because people whose names you did not read about stood up for their rights. That's how change happens. That's the kind of organizing that I hope for. If we keep heading down the path set by this administration, it's not going to be about getting voted out of office, it's not going to be about getting impeached -- it's going to be about the White House going up in flames.
Ideally, how would you like listeners to respond to the Nightwatchman's message?
If I told you, they'd probably put us both in jail.
-- David Marchese