Rocking with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band has inspired Tom Morello to rock a little harder on his own.
The Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitar hero tells Billboard that he’s “in the midst of making my first solo big rock record” after four releases as the folk-singing The Nightwatchman. And Springsteen, he adds, is a big reason why that’s happening.
“The first time I ever sang with an electric guitar in my hands was ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (with Springsteen) at the Anaheim Pond in 2008. Until then I’d kept my folk singing career and my electric guitar shredding career completely separate,” says Morello, who played on Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” in 2012 and is all over the new “High Hopes.” He joined the E Street Band in Steve Van Zandt’s stead for the 2012 Australian tour, and he’s returning to the lineup when Springsteen plays South Africa starting Jan. 26 in Cape Town and then heads to Australia and New Zealand. “It was on that (Anaheim) stage that I realized there might be a way to combine all the things I do as a songwriter and a guitar player, and this record is going to be that.”
Morello says he has “a big batch of songs written” that he plans to record after the Springsteen tour wraps March 2. “I want to make the craziest guitar record that anyone’s ever heard. The idea is that this is the Hendrix of now.”
Until its release, those wanting a fix of Morello can get it with “High Hopes.” He plays on eight of the album’s tracks and shares lead vocals with Springsteen on a new, electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and he calls the experience “spectacularly exciting. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and playing ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ onstage in 2008 was a real highlight for me, and the fact that that musical and personal relationship has developed over the years, I’m really honored.”
Morello says he recorded most of his “High Hopes” parts without necessarily knowing that Springsteen was up to, but he says the full band session in Sydney that yielded the title track and a cover of the Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would” was particular exciting. As for the rest of his contributions, Morello — who was given “American Skin (41 Shots)” first — says that “I tend to just trust my instincts. I’m not thinking, ‘What must I play to make it sound like ‘Seaside Bar Song’ ’cause Bruce is asking me to play like me. So I would often give him a number of choices of varying kind of guitar flavors, and he would make the decision.”
So after two albums — and, soon, a couple of tours — does Morello feel like a full-fledged E Street Band member?
“I’ve always looked at it as we are allies and comrades in arms,” he says. “The E Street Band has a long, storied history. I’m a big fan of the E Street Band, and when asked to play I consider it a great honor. As I’ve told Bruce, my principle concern is to do no harm. It’s been one of the best live bands on the planet without me, so don’t fuck it up is job one — and then, when called upon, to play my heart out.”