“Rage Against the Machine connects on a global scale, it’s like this red army trampling the fascists wherever it goes and it’s awesome. With the Nightwatchman, it’s more like guerrilla warfare, it’s where I feel most understood as an artist, out of anything I’ve ever done” While Tom Morello may feel more understood in his current guise as the Nightwatchman, he has to work a lot harder for it. “It’s largely a crowd that is unfamiliar with the material, and that’s a very stark contrast to Rage Against the Machine, where you’ve basically won before you enter the building. I have to win over every crowd each night. You don’t have the advantage of a lifetime of radio hits.”
Along with his newly recruited, predictably named, Freedom Fighter Orchestra, there is a strong political agenda behind the Nightwatchman, which may make it harder to connect with unfamiliar crowds. “I do approach this project with a missionary’s zealotry. It is using music as a hammer to fight for social justice.” After a spell with Audioslave, it was a move that Morello felt necessary.
“In the early days of Audioslave it became clear to me that it was not going to fully reflect my world view in its actions and its lyrics. I love that band but I needed an outlet, for me as a musician, to say what I think. The Nightwatchman stuff provides a real island of sanity.”
In recent months, Morello has taken the intimacy of his solo career to new, political levels, that wouldn’t be possible with his other work. “In a big a rock band it’s so crazy, there’s people on the crew whose names you never learn. Whereas with the Nightwatchman, I can borrow a guitar and I’m doing a performance. You don’t have to get an army to come with you. It’s more like guerrilla warfare with an acoustic guitar.”
He’s taken this approach to some of the Occupy movements around the UK and the US, and considers the soundtrack to the movement to be vital. “There are 1500 cities and towns around the globe that are occupied. People say this movement doesn’t have an anthem. Clearly this movement does not need an anthem. Around every campfire there are guitars and artists of all abilities providing a living and breathing, democratic soundtrack to the movement.”
Though he concerns himself with bigger political issues, Tom Morello is no stranger to resistance from the ruling elite. During the successful 2010 campaign to get ‘Killing in the Name’ to Christmas number one, there was a fierce battle being fought behind the scenes. “Sony Music, who represent RATM, were doing everything they could to crush our single, because they also represent Simon Cowell. They were actively calling people that were working with us and saying you have to kill it. It was terrible, but we still won.”
Humble as ever, he by no means sees it as a personal victory, but as a victory for the people. “The fact is that we didn’t do it, the people did it”. It would sound corny if anyone else said it, but when Tom Morello tells you that “for every Goliath there is a David”, you do find yourself starting to believe it.