Tom Morello on his vision for ‘The Atlas Underground’: ‘ I had lofty ambitions’

Theo Wargo / Staff / Getty


Tom Morello is not just a fantastic guitarist or a founding member of Rage Against the Machine. His activism with the goal of making music more accessible is something I’ve followed over the years and admired. When I had the chance to sit down with him, I’ll admit, I was a little nervous to speak with the legend from one of my all-time favorite bands. It might not come to a surprise to many of you, but Tom was as down-to-earth and cool as you’d want him to be. We discuss his latest project The Atlas Underground, and of course Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Chris Cornell, Prophets of Rage, where he finds the energy to fuel his creative drive, and more.

No Name: I want to congratulate you because you’re one of the few people that is translating (to fans) across generations.

Tom Morello: I was never a fan of EDM until I discovered some of the heavier dubstep stuff like Knife Party and Skrillex. That gave me the idea to make a record that has some of those electronic components but is unapologetically rock’n’roll. Skrillex, Bassnectar, Steve Aoki, Knife Party were all big Rage fans. I think you can hear it in some of the tension and release of that music.

NN: How do you explain Rage Against the Machine to your kids?

TM: I keep it from them. They have an idea of what dad does for a living but I don’t push it on them. I will tell you about the first time they heard Rage. They like Metallica, AC/DC, Kiss, The Hamilton soundtrack (they’re seven and nine). “Sleep Now In The Fire” came on the radio when I was driving them to school. I didn’t say anything, just turned it up a little and watched them in the rearview mirror. The song ends and I go, “what did you guys think of that one?” and my nine-year-old goes, “Dad…that was good.” I don’t say anything else, I just kind of move on. They know “Bulls on Parade” has something to do with dad, they figured that out.

NN: I believe this is your fifteenth or sixteenth studio record?

TM: This is my nineteenth studio record. Between Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Night Watchmen, Street Sweeper, Springsteen, Prophets of Rage, and Atlas Underground, it adds up.

NN: How do you stay so motivated?

TM: Since I picked up the guitar when I was seventeen years old I have been driven to create. I can’t help it. Resting on laurels has never been something that I could do. [For The Atlas Underground], What I really wanted to do was to have a record that was kind of like a trojan horse for 2018 and inflict my guitar vision on a new generation (people like your son) without compromising at all on the rock, Marshall stack fury, or the politics of it.

NN: The Atlas Underground is a collab record…people should know that.

TM: Wu-Tang Clan, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Marcus Mumford, Portugal. The Man, Rise Against, Gary Clark Jr., Pretty Lights, Steve Aoki, Bassnectar, Knife Party…there’s like 20 different collaborators on there. I had lofty ambitions – to make a record that has a new genre of rock’n’roll that takes my Marshall stack fury and matches it with these huge dubstep drops to make something that brings rock deep into the 21st century.

We get into more about those collaborations, some of his insane past collabs, and his 2019 Atlas Underground tour. Don’t miss that and stick around for bonus material from the guys who invented and run The Outpost Trade Show. If you love the outdoors and the gear that comes with it, this is for you. Check it all out below.

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