INTERVIEW: Tom Morello On Audioslave & His Signature Guitar

In honour of the 70th anniversary of Fender’s famous Stratocaster guitar, we caught up with Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave legend Tom Morello about his approach to the instrument, creating iconic riffs and his upcoming return to the UK for Download Festival.

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

RS: How vital has the Strat been for you in helping you express and channel your creativity within your career?

TOM: “Well, my introduction to the Strat was at the inception of Audioslave. I had never played a Strat before that. When we formed that band, I wanted a different six-string colleague to help me forge my guitar path in that band. I got a Strat, and it felt right in my hands. I brought it home and immediately wrote ‘SOUL POWER’ on it as a North Star to guide my sonic travels with the band. And it really did provide that. It got me out of a sonic safety zone that I had been in with Rage Against The Machine. It allowed me to adapt and play music with Chris Cornell and Timmy and Brad and expanded the possibilities of what it was that I could play.”

RS: For it to arrive into your life at that point in your personal journey, but knowing just how much history it had, it must also feel incredibly inspiring knowing you’re holding something that your heroes once did.

TOM: “Yeah, well, one of the things that differentiates the Strat from other great electric guitars is the sound of those other guitars leading the player. With the Stratocaster, the player leads the sound. Off the top of my head, some of my favourite Strat players would be Jimi Hendrix's feedback frenzy and David Gilmour's emotional melodicism. Then there’s Jeff Beck reconstituting the instrument, Wayne Kramer inventing punk rock on it, and Andy Gill with Gang Of Four, who used the guitar aggressively. They are all playing Stratocasters but with hardly any sonic bleeds between their styles. So, when I got my hand on the Soul Power Strat, I knew it would allow me to explore myself as an artist in a new way simply by channelling my inner six-string soul power.”

RS: It’s amazing to be in a place where you feel that new creative push, especially after being on such a special journey as what Rage Against The Machine went on. You’ve been defined by one thing for so long, and now you have the tool to show that there is so much more still to be uncovered.

TOM: “100%! As we were writing the songs for the first Audioslave record, there was ‘Cochise’ and ‘Show Me How To Live’, but there was also ‘Like A Stone’ and ‘I Am The Highway’. The harmonic interplay between guitar and singer was something that was brand new in my musical career. That particular guitar defined the musical journey of that band. The second that I plugged it in, even though I was using the same amps and stuff as I had done before, the contours of the sound were challenging the boundaries I already had in place.”

RS: The fact that you were doing this all on your Strat as well. People can own a Strat, which is a Tom Morello ‘SOUL POWER’ custom. It was instantly a signature guitar for you. That must be something pretty spectacular for someone who has been in love with and honed their love of guitars and guitar music for so much of their life. How did it feel to become part of the history of the Strat in such a way?

TOM: “Before my signature Strat, I had never done any endorsement. I never put my name on any product because it always felt disingenuous. There would be guitar players who would have a different guitar endorsement every time they put out a new record, and that seemed wrong. I would think, ‘That’s not the guitar you’re playing on the song I like!’ So when considering doing a signature guitar, I immediately said, ‘Hear my words, this has to be exactly my guitar’. That’s something I can stand behind that. With my ‘SOUL POWER’ Strat, I made some customisations and modifications to the original, but the point was that it suited me whilst still having all of the Stratocaster characteristics. It just needed the Tom Morello characteristics as well. I wanted anyone who liked Audioslave or any of the guitar I played with that band to be able to buy it. Then, if they bought it, they would get exactly the guitar I played on it. I have three of them myself, and I can use them interchangeably without any differentiation in feel or tone or anything like that. Then I was really proud to be able to say, ‘This is my guitar’. It’s the ‘Cochise’ guitar, it’s the ‘Like A Stone’ guitar. It really is the ‘SOUL POWER’ guitar through and through.”

RS: Do you have any other Stratocasters that you use at all? What part does it play in your arsenal?

TOM: “I have a practice version, almost champagne coloured. It’s not perfect by any means, but I have it in my house. So, during the pandemic, I was recording guitar parts into the voice memo of my phone. I have a studio at my house, but I am in no way an engineer. So, I played and sent the recording to different engineers and producers. We had a lot of time at home then, so that’s when I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to give ‘Voodoo Child’ a shot’. So I picked up that champagne-coloured Strat and ran through the different riffs of the song, played some solos, invented an extra riff or two and sent it off to a friend of mine. What came back was a pretty roaring track. That was a moment when I thought of doing a song and knew I wanted to do it with the Start. I wasn’t trying to copy Jimi Hendrix – I think it is outrageous to even begin to think about covering ‘Voodoo Child’ – but because I had the Strat to hand, I knew I would give it a shot.”

RS: It’s a case of knowing that it is a tool that has been on your belt for the last 20+ years. When it comes to your solo albums and figuring out which direction you want to head in, knowing that it is there as a means of exploration must feel incredibly freeing.

TOM: “That’s absolutely right, it really is.”

RS: You’re going to be making your way back to the UK to play at Download Festival this Summer. Will the Strat be making the trip with you, and what can we expect?

TOM: “Oh, ‘SOUL POWER’ will be there representing 100%. The thing about the solo shows is that I will have new music out, but I will also be rocking some Audioslave jams and Rage Against The Machine jams. I have made 22 records in my career, and it’s awesome to have all of those musical arrows in the quiver. And with all that, ‘SOUL POWER’ will be making the trip to Download once more.”

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