Highly regarded for his innovative style of guitar playing, rock icon, and two-time Grammy winner Tom Morello is also best known for his stints with several bands, most notably Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage.
The 57-year old New York native has also been releasing one critically acclaimed album after another as a solo act under the alter ego, The Nighwatchman since 2007 and under his own name since 2018. That year, Morello released the well-received The Atlas Undeground.
The 12-track album is particularly noteworthy for Tom’s collaborations with guest artists identified from different genres namely Knife Party, Bassnectar, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Portugal. The Man, Whethan, Vic Mensa, Marcus Mumford, Steve Aoki, Tim McIlrath, K.Flay, Pretty Lights, Carl Restivo, Gary Clark Jr., Nico Stadi, Leikeli47, GZA, RZA and Herobust.
Standout track, “Battle Sirens” was released as a single officially credited to Knife Party featuring Tom Morello.
Three years since then, Tom has just released his much-awaited follow-up album, entitled The Atlas Underground Fire, a sequel of sorts to the 2018 release. Featuring a jaw-dropping cast of collaborators including Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Chris Stapleton, Mike Posner, Damian Marley, and more, the album once again highlights Morello’s intricate licks, trademark shredding, and all the spaced-out reverb, delay, and distortion effects that typify his mastery of the instrument.
In a recent, exclusive interview with SoundStrip, Morello talked about The Atlas Underground Fire starting with its most familiar track, a remake of AC/DC’s rock classic, “Highway to Hell” which incidentally Tom first performed live with Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and the E Street Band way back in 2014.
“I was touring with the E Street Band in Perth, Australia. It was the home of Bon Scott, the original singer of AC/DC. While I was there, I went to his grave to pay my respects and discovered that there was an actual highway in Perth known as the Highway to Hell,” he recalled.
“So while rehearsing ‘Highway to Hell’ during soundcheck for our show at this big football stadium in Melbourne, Eddie Vedder, who was doing a solo tour, happened to be at the show, So I knocked on Bruce’s door and said, ‘We’re in Australia, where AC/DC is king, where ‘Highway to Hell’ is the unofficial national anthem, why don’t we open the show with the song with Eddie Vedder singing?’ And Bruce was like, ‘That sounds like a pretty good idea.’ So we did, and it was an exciting moment in rock and roll as I experienced.”
Fast forward to the present day, Morello was almost done working on The Atlas Underground Fire which included collaborations with emerging young artists like Bring Me The Horizon, Sama’ Abdulhadi, Damian Marley, Grandson, Phantogram, and more, he thought of doing something with some of his “rock brothers.”
“I reflected [back] to that night when one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time was sung by two of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder and I thought, let’s do that. And fortunately, Bruce and Eddie were into it,” Morello further shared.
In terms of a unifying theme, Morello said that as of his last release, his guitar playing is once again front and center in The Atlas Underground Fire, “the thread that ties all of the  songs together.”
“I believe the electric guitar is the greatest [musical] instrument mankind has ever invented. But the electric guitar has a future, not just a past. And so the theme of this record is to take my playing of the electric guitar and to unite it with a variety of artists from EDM to country and western to punk rock to techno DJs and find [out] what the electric guitar is going to sound like in the future,” he elaborated.
Asked what his favorite tracks are in the new album, Morello points to “Let’s Get The Party Started” with Bring Me The Horizon as something “really heavy” and loves that his collaborators there are “unapologetically heavy.”
“There’s also the second single, ‘Driving to Texas’ with Phantogram which is really haunting and spooky. ‘Naraka’ which I made with Mike Posner is special because between the beginning and the end of the recording, he summitted to Mt. Everest and some of those vocals were recorded at 25,000 feet in Nepal,” Morello revealed.
“And then there’s ‘On The Shore of Eternity’ with Sama’ Abdulhadi, a great, young Palestinian DJ who was mixing that song during Israel’s bombing of Palestine so it’s a song borne out of his hectic, chaotic moment. ‘The Achilles List’ with Damian Marley harkens back to my political work and writing. Damian is one of my favorite artists and I’m so glad that we [were able to] work together.”
But even as he cited specific songs, Morello is very proud of all the tracks in The Atlas Underground Fire and considers them as “all his babies.”
Obviously considered a guitar hero not only by his peers but also by budding musicians, Morello has this advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps.
“Play the guitar, not work the guitar. It should always be fun. From the first you pick it up, you should be writing songs. You should be doing what you want with the instrument. Make it something that you can’t wait to play every day rather than something you had to play every day,” he quipped.
Tom Morello’s The Atlas Underground Fire is now available in all major streaming platforms.