TOM MORELLO Explains How He Developed His Unique And Creative Guitar Playing Style

May 30, 2024

Tom Morello's innovative guitar playing in RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE defied the definition of what a guitar virtuoso should be. Combining guitar tones and effects with unprecedented creativity, Tom spearheaded a fusion of classic rock, punk, and hip-hop unlike anything the world had ever seen, while simultaneously writing era-defining riffs for both RATM and AUDIOSLAVE.

Asked in a new interview with Rolling Stone Germany how he developed his unique approach, Morello said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "For many years, when I was practicing my eight hours a day, I was trying to play like Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen and all of them. And for me, the breakthrough was the toggle switch on the guitar. Now, at the time when I was doing my practicing, the cool guitar was the Eddie Van Halen guitar that only had one knob — volume. And my guitar, which was a Gibson Explorer, was saddled with all of these very unfashionable knobs and switches and things like that. And one day I stumbled upon working the toggle switch with the wah pedal, and all of a sudden the guitar sounded a little bit like a keyboard. And I didn't go, like, 'Oh, eureka, I'm now going to invent some new form of playing.' It felt weird to me and different. So I kind of had that in my back pocket.

"But there was a singular moment in the early history of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE," Morello recalled. "We were playing a show with two cover bands, and each of those bands had a shredding guitar player in them, like a really technically proficient player in them, and I thought to myself, 'If we're playing some crappy gig in the San Fernando Valley with two other guys who are doing the same thing I'm trying to do, I'm gonna get off of that hamster wheel.'

"Before, I was practicing eight hours a day scales. After that, I was practicing eight hours a day animal noises and robot sounds and hurricane noises and whatnot," Tom added. "And I really felt that I was finding my own voice on the instrument. For me, it did take those years of amassing some technique in order to finally have the revelation that my own sound was worth pursuing."

Asked if he felt something was missing in rock guitar at a time when he grew up surrounded by shredders like Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, Tom said: "Well, the thing that I thought was missing in rock was — it came more from the lyrical and the philosophical content than from the guitar playing. I love those guitar players and I greatly admired them and tried my best to play their solos, but I was also a fan of like GANG OF FOUR and Andy Gill and Allan Holdsworth and people [whose] music sounded very much outside of the stereotypical shredder stuff. And I would look to sort of make an amalgamation of having there be the ability to lean in the technique but not be dependent upon it. But, for me, the revelation was, and one of the reasons why I think that the music I've been involved in is different from other music in a way, is I still have that shredder in me, I still have that gun slinger mentality in me."

He added: "In the '90s, I think there was only one person playing guitar [solos] — me and Mike McCready [PEARL JAM], maybe, [were] the only people playing guitar solos in the '90s, because I loved JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN and Randy Rhoads and all those guys, but at the same time wanted the guitar to find new pastures to explore."

Tom was the sole member of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE who attended the band's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony last November at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's Rock Hall induction came after the band appeared on six ballots.

In October 2022, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE canceled its North American tour, three months after singer Zack De La Rocha severed his left Achilles tendon, leaving a mere eight inches of the tendon intact.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's comeback tour, which was first announced in 2019 and then delayed several times due to the pandemic, marked the first time the reunited rap-metal quartet had hit the road together since 2011.

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