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Tom Morello: Rocker with a conscience
Tom Morello is perhaps best known as the guitarist for rock bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, but the politically minded L.A. transplant has recorded as the Nightwatchman and has just created another band, Street Sweeper. His West Coast "Justice Tour," which benefits regional nonprofit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), stops at the Music Box @ the Fonda on Saturday.
You went to Libertyville High School in the northern Chicago suburbs. How did you like it?
On the one hand, it was a lovely, bucolic suburb with plenty of grassy fields to run around and play football in. On the other hand, one morning there was a noose in my family's garage. A mixed bag.
That leaves an impression.
It certainly does. And you wonder why the music's loud.
I'm impressed with your recession-level ticket prices -- $15! -- of your West Coast tour.
We try to keep the tickets for the "Justice Tour" to the people's price. This tour grew out of shows I hosted at the Hotel Café over the last few years. They're shows that are completely outside of the mainstream of how business is usually done in the music industry. I text the artists on my BlackBerry and ask them to play. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to homeless advocacy. The artists not only perform at the shows but are invited to participate at the homeless shelters as well.
It's very exciting that Slash is coming out for the L.A. date.
Slash has often played at these benefit shows. He's been a great supporter of the gigs I've put on. The whole underpinning notion of this is to bail out people, not banks. You've got these robber barons on Wall Street somehow profiting from destroying the economic infrastructure of the country and plunging so many people into poverty. And it's time to fight back.
They're saying we need a third bailout now.
It does appear to be the greatest crime -- certainly the greatest financial crime -- in history. So there's a two-pronged attack: one is we rock seriously at these shows and help some people. And second, we head to Wall Street with pitchforks and torches.
Have you been to New York in the last six months? The robber barons are still in place, but all the junior robber barons have been kicked to the curb.
I haven't. Well, this doesn't mean the captain's going to give up the thread count in his private suites. But it does mean his servants may go without.
Where do you get your news?
I read the New York Times every day. Then there's some great online sources. I have a nonprofit organization called Axis of Justice. We have our own alternative news service.
Not on a daily basis. I'll check the sports ticker on ESPN.
Is it hard being anti-corporate and a sports fan?
Oh, the various contradictions rest pretty easily in me.
Are you more excited to pay your taxes this year? Or less?
I wouldn't say I was more excited to pay for the Iraq war! But it has less to do with excitement as whether or not you're willing to take the gloves off and fight for social justice.
Do people have a hard time with your double and triple musical life? I feel like at first people didn't know what to make of Kristin Hersh when she bifurcated her folk and rock lives.
Maybe. I don't dwell on that. I always just try to follow my muse. Over the course of the last few years, it's been clear to me I wanted to play, for lack of a better term, political folk music in the guise of the Nightwatchman. Now I have Street Sweeper -- going on tour with Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails -- and it's one of the heaviest rocking things I've been a part of.
Everyone gets soft as they get older, but you are the exception.
Well, there's a Joe Strummer lyric, from the Clash's "Clampdown." In it, he's saying, "You grow up and you calm down." I listened to that as a teenager and I thought: That's never going to be me.
Are you a strict music purchaser? Do you file share?
This is where my technical limitations hamper me. I would love to know how to get music for free on the Internet, but I don't. So I guess I'll spend 99 cents a song.
How have you thought about communicating with fans in this digital age?
There's a whole secret world of digital communication that I am wholly blind to. I have enough trouble changing the batteries in my effects pedal. I had dinner with friends the other night and they were talking about Tweeting, and it was like teaching a dog to drive a car. I understand that people do it. Somehow we got along before Twittering, and we may get along after Twittering.
People are so desperate to sell records that they think they have to do anything.
It's hard to say. There's no real new model. One of the things that -- I won't say I necessarily subscribe to this -- but one of the things I enjoyed about bands growing up was there was a sense of mystique about them. I didn't know what they were eating in catering at their gig every day as they Twittered it to me. Maybe there's something to be said about that.