Tom Morello: Spinning the ‘Atlas’

It’s the story of Tom Morello’s life. Writing, recording, and performing manically since he was 17 years old. When his fixed musical state ended abruptly around the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Morello put down his guitar for the first time in his career.  

“It was the first creative drought of my life, and it came to a screeching halt in the midst of a plague, and a lockdown, and a crazy political situation,” says Morello. Guitarist and co-founding member of Rage Against the Machine—the band’s 2020 reunion tour now off the table and postponed—Morello didn’t play his instrument for four months before eventually gravitating back to his lifeline. Recording random guitar riffs on his phone and sharing with artists across the globe to contribute vocals, lyrics, and mixes, Morello assembled The Atlas Underground Fire

“All of a sudden these roaring tracks started coming back,” says Morello. “I was building this musical lattice, a community of collaborators around the planet. Even though I was isolated, and cloistered, and completely alone with nothing but my guitar and my little microphone on my phone, I was able to make a record, to collaborate with people, and to connect.” 

Remembering that Kanye West recorded most of his 2019 album Jesus Is King using voice memos on his phone, Morello resolved to the do same, on guitar. “With all the fear and anxiety swirling around, inspiration came from a very unlikely place: Kanye West,” shares Morello. Without access to an engineer, he began sending his DIY guitar files to artists around the globe from Palestine, Sweden, across the U.S., Brazil, Jamaica, the U.K., and 25,000 feet above sea level.  

Starting with the portions of “Hold the Line,” featuring grandson, and the Damian Marley track “The Achilles List,” recorded prior to lockdown, the larger portion of the album was constructed remotely between Morello and the interested parties throughout 2020.  

“It was this crazy juxtaposition of every day being exactly the same,” says Morello. “I was not so much a musician, but I was a plumber, a caregiver, and the guy trying to fix the kids’ Zoom chat for school. Then, for an hour or 90 minutes a day, I would work on Atlas and collaborate with these musical pen pals.”  

Calling it his life raft during the pandemic, this new installment continued what Morello started with The Atlas Underground in 2018, and allowed him to remove the laments of anxiety and fear, pressing him to pick up the guitar and make music. “Ninety-five percent of the guitars on this album were recorded by myself on my cellphone and shipped around the world,” says Morello. “The crazy thing is that it really was a global record, even though it was made in a bunker.” 

Read More – American Songwriter

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