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The Soulful Psychedelic Rock Guitar Sound of Tom Morello

Author: FenderTime: 2024-01-24 21:05:01

Table of Contents

Finding Freedom Through Heavy Metal Guitar

I grew up in a very conservative, narrow-minded suburb where music provided an escape to a more open and liberating world. What first caught my attention were albums my mom had - the Temptations, classical records, war anthems. But what really ignited my love for rock music was discovering heavy metal on my own. I loved the power and aggression of the guitar playing, even if some of the imagery around devil worship felt silly to me.

Heavy metal opened up a portal to a different kind of existence outside of the small suburban town I was trapped in. The guitarists and their technical skills amazed me. I would try to mimic the riffs and solos I heard on the albums, pushing my abilities to the limits.

It was like the electric guitar itself represented endless possibilities that transcended the conservatism around me. As long as I had my guitar and that outlet, my creativity could remain unleashed.

Escaping Suburban Conservatism

The northern suburbs of Chicago where I grew up were defined by a very conformist and archly conservative culture. As a kid and teenager, I felt constrained by the narrow perspectives and lack of diversity. Discovering heavy metal and rock music opened up a whole new world outside of that environment. The raw energy and rebellion inherent in the music was the perfect antidote and source of escape from the suburban bubble I was trapped in.

Discovering Rock Music's Liberating Power

I remember listening to albums by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and being totally captivated by the dark imagery, soaring vocals and especially the guitar playing. I was obsessed with emulating the lighting fast solos and intricate riffs. The guitar became a symbol of creative liberation from the oppressive suburban culture around me. I would lock myself away for hours daily, endlessly practicing and trying to play faster while cranking up the distortion. The guitar allowed me to access an alternate reality where I had complete freedom.

Infusing Funky Punk Attitude Into Shred Guitar

My origins as a guitarist were rooted in punk rock, which finally broke through to my suburb when I was a teenager. Once I started playing guitar myself, I dove headfirst into mastering various techniques - sweep picking, tremolo, alternate picking, tapping, dime squeals. I wanted to keep up with my metal and shred heroes like Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen.

But it was my background in punk that influenced how I approached guitar, even in a shred context. I infused funk and a raw, noisy attitude into my playing rather than getting too precise and clean with it. The loose, energetic vibe of punk informed everything I did on guitar going forward.

Seeing Endless Possibilities in the Electric Guitar

After my initial obsessing over shredding, I began to see the electric guitar itself as an instrument with practically limitless sonic possibilities. All the guitar greats I read about in magazines kept declaring that everything had been done already on the guitar. But I refused to accept that notion.

To me, the electric guitar was still a relatively new instrument in human history. And with all the effects pedals and advances in amp technology happening, it felt like the possibilities were endless. I started consciously trying to make sounds that went beyond traditional techniques - incorporating ambient noises, animal sounds, anything I could use to expand the boundaries.

Channeling Creative Freedom in Audioslave

When I joined Audioslave with Chris Cornell, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, I finally got to incorporate more varied chord changes and textures into my guitar playing. We were all determined to stretch ourselves artistically and capture a tone of raw, unrestrained expression.

I saw the guitar as a conduit for channeling that creative freedom. I used it as a divining rod in the writing sessions to keep stoking inspiration from new sonic spaces. The broad tonal palette of my Stratocaster allowed me to go from stripped down acoustic passages to full shred mayhem within the same song.

Letting the Guitar Lead with Its Unique Feel

With Audioslave, I started embracing the unique tone and feel of my Stratocaster more rather than just relying on technique. I allowed its distinctive voice to guide me in finding new riffs, textures, and unconventional noises that inspired vocal parts from Chris Cornell.

The way the Stratocaster interacted with my hands and body was different than any guitar I had played before. It had a looser, funkier response that encouraged more improvisation in my playing. I learned to let the guitar take the lead in exploring different melodic and rhythmic ideas.

Crafting Songs Around Chris Cornell's Vocals

One thing that blew me away about collaborating with Chris Cornell was his uncanny talent for instantly crafting incredible vocal melodies and lyrics, no matter what guitar riff or chord changes I brought in. It was an innate gift he possessed.

We realized we could start songs from anywhere - a sludgy riff, an odd-metered progression, a few ambient chords - and Chris would spontaneously generate some beautiful and emotionally resonant vocal part for it. I started deliberately keeping my guitar ideas more open-ended to allow maximal space for Chris's vocals to shine.

Memorializing a Special Musical Partnership

After Chris tragically passed away in 2017, grappling with his death was intertwined with reflecting on the special musical connection we shared in Audioslave. Revisiting those guitar riffs and solos transports me back to the chemistry we had writing in the rehearsal space.

The music we created honors his immense talent. And when I play the soul power Stratocaster now, I feel his spirit channeling through, reminding me of the freedom and inspiration we mined from one another back in those days. It memorializes the musical brotherhood we forged through the guitar.

Using the Guitar for Artistic Expression

For me, the guitar has become a canvas for artistic expression that goes beyond just the sounds it makes. I see message sloganeering on guitars, whether Woody Guthrie's 'This Machine Kills Fascists' or Joe Strummer's enigmatic 'Ignore Alien Orders', as extensions of the artist.

So when fans see 'Soul Power' scrawled on my iconic Audioslave Stratocaster, it tells them something about who I am at my core beyond just being a guitar shredder. The visual elements of my instrument reveal added dimensions of what drives me creatively as an artist and activist trying to impact the world.

Reflecting on Success in Making Passionate Music

When people ask about my definition of success within the ups and downs of a music career, I don't point to album sales, streams or fame. For me, any kind of external validation is secondary.

Success means getting to play music I'm passionate about, whether that's raging against injustice with Rage Against the Machine or channeling spiritual catharsis with the Nightwatchman. If my guitar playing offers me unbridled personal satisfaction, creative fulfillment and connection with others who resonate with it, that's the purest success I know.


Q: How did heavy metal help free Tom creatively?
A: Heavy metal provided an escape from the restrictive suburban environment Tom grew up in and showed the liberating power of rock music.

Q: What unique techniques did Tom use on the guitar?
A: Tom experimented with unusual sounds like animal noises and incorporated funk, punk, psychedelic and other diverse influences into his shredded guitar style.

Q: How did Tom approach guitar in Audioslave?
A: In Audioslave, Tom used the guitar as a 'divining rod' to channel creative freedom and interplay with Chris Cornell's vocals.

Q: What was special about Tom's Soul Power guitar?
A: The Soul Power guitar had a unique feel that pushed Tom to explore new melodies, riffs and tones in Audioslave's music.

Q: How did Chris Cornell influence Tom's guitar playing?
A: Chris Cornell could instantly create great melodies over any riff, which gave Tom the freedom to play anything.

Q: Why did Tom write slogans on his guitars?
A: Tom wrote slogans on his guitars as artistic self-expression, inspired by Woody Guthrie's 'This Machine Kills Fascists'.

Q: How did Tom define success in music?
A: For Tom, success meant loving what you're playing, not fame and fortune.

Q: What exhibit featured Tom's Soul Power guitar?
A: Tom's Soul Power guitar was displayed at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art alongside guitars of other rock legends.

Q: How did Tom memorialize Chris Cornell?
A: Tom honored his creative partnership with the late Chris Cornell when reminiscing about making music in Audioslave.

Q: What makes guitar a powerful form of expression?
A: Tom believes the primal rhythm and distortion of the electric guitar taps into human instincts for truth and rebellion.