The phone rings. It’s Tom Morello’s mum. The 97-year-old quizzes the Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Prophets of Rage guitarist about a ride she needs.
“Yeah, mum, I’m doing an interview, I’ll call you back. OK, I’ll pick you up at six, OK, bye.“
Seated in front of a mixing console for our Zoom meeting, a picture of himself on stage with Bruce Springsteen on the wall nearby, Morello explains: “I still play music in my mum’s basement, she lives upstairs, this is her basement.”
It’s the same room in which Morello last year found inspiration for his new album The Atlas Underground Fire, while cut off from face-to-face contact with band members and collaborators and with all his shows cancelled due to COVID-19.
“From the time I was 17 until March of 2020, I’ve been constantly writing, recording, touring, playing, connecting with musicians and fans and all that came to a screeching halt,” the 57-year-old says.
“Frankly, it was a time of great anxiety and depression, not just because I couldn’t play music but also keeping the grandmas alive and keeping the kids from going crazy with no end in sight, so the album was perhaps less a creative endeavour as it was a life raft and an anti-depressant.
“And while I have a nice studio in my home, I don’t know how to work it, there’s normally an engineer twisting all the knobs.”
“It was such a lightning strike of awesomeness on that day.”
Released three years after his previous album, The Atlas Underground, which also had Morello collaborating with an eclectic mix of musicians, this new album is further proof of his unquenchable need for musical experimentation.
Four albums since 2007 under his “political folk alter ego”, The Nightwatchman, have been released, while also a member of the E Street Band alongside Springsteen. Morello also played on Springsteen’s 2012 and 2014 albums, released two albums as Street Sweeper Social Club with director, screenwriter and rapper Boots Riley, and found time to record and tour with Prophets Of Rage featuring fellow Rage Against the Machine band members Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord and B-Real from Cypress Hill.