Morello is no stranger to protesting the powers-that-be through his music. He was the beating heart of Rage’s “raw rock-rap riffage” that rallied against the Clinton administration in the Nineties. Throughout the Bush and Obama regimes that followed, he has not wavered in his various projects, turning to acoustic folk tracks as The Nightwatchman while in the more apolitical Audioslave with the late Chris Cornell.
His political protests now manifest themselves in Rage revival/supergroup Prophets of Rage and in his latest project, The Atlas Underground, which was released last year with a primarily EDM-infused “sonic conspiracy” with a host of Morello’s pals old and new.
But throughout the stylistic changes in the many records that Morello has contributed to (including two Bruce Springsteen albums), the message is the same: he provides the ideas and the jams, and it’s up to you to take that on when you return to the ‘real world’.
“I’ve always looked at my job as an artist with a political conscience to push the boundaries to make things seem possible that otherwise might not, in the same way bands like Public Enemy and The Clash did to me,” he says. “The underlying message is always that the world is not going to change itself. That, my friend, is up to you!
“The good news is that whenever there has been progressive, radical, even revolutionary change, it’s come from people who had no more intelligence, courage, money or power than anyone reading this article right now. That’s how change happens. It’s both the message of empowerment, it calls out racists, sexists and bullshit and it’s a moshpit rallying cry.”
Standing ‘up the front’ at a Morello gig isn’t the only way to make change. Offering up opposition to ideas without solutions to the world’s injustices will only get you so far.
Throughout his recent tour, the axe god was joined on stage by local grassroots causes in each of the cities he visited as they sang along with him to act as a “megaphone” for how they are work to change lives in their area.
The digitisation of communication has also impacted on music’s ability to revolutionise. The democratisation of smartphones offers up the floor for anyone to protest without the tricky matter of learning guitar to gain a platform. “Everyone’s an artist, everyone’s a photographer and everyone can make The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ on their phone,” says Morello.
But live gigs and recorded music are as crucial as ever for moving toward a more just society. “The idea is to rock the planet and change one city at a time,” Morello concludes. “My job is not to lecture them in some sort of sagely way, my job is to play great rock and roll music that inspires them and challenges them to step up and figure it out. That is what we need more than anything else.”
The fight to “figure it out” has been a long one for Morello – and it seems like, for the political activist and musician’s cause, there is no holiday.
Tom Morello’s The Atlas Underground is out now