Tom Morello has had the honor of playing guitar with two of modern rock’s most iconic frontmen, but in a new chat with Revolver‘s Fan First podcast, the Rage Against the Machine sonic architect singled out his band’s rapper, Zack de la Rocha, as the all-time best.
“In my opinion, he’s the greatest frontman of all-time. He’s the punk rock James Brown,” Morello said of the reclusive de la Rocha, who left Rage in late 2000 and has mostly stayed out of the public eye amid sporadic reports about a long-rumored solo project that has reportedly included contributions from DJ Shadow, Roots drummer Questlove and NIN’s Trent Reznor, among many others.
“There’s no one in the history of Western music that has the sort of the totality of spiritual commitment on stage and in the studio as that guy,” Morello continued about legendarily explosive, fiery rapper de la Rocha, who returned to the fold in 2007 for a Rage show at that year’s Coachella festival and a subsequent brief tour and then again for a 2011 show; the follow-up reunion tour, slated for 2020, has been postponed until 2022 due to the ongoing global pandemic.
“And it’s matched with a brilliant intellect, and he’s a tremendous musician as well, and it’s really an unbelievable combination just, feel fortunate to be in a band with him,” he continued.
Speaking of untouchable singers, Morello answered some questions about his post-RATM band, Audioslave, which found him and group’s rhythm section — drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford — joining forces with Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell for three epic albums and a series of incendiary world tours.
Before teaming up, Morello said he was such a huge fan that when he was driving and had control of the van stereo during his pre-Rage days in the band Lock-Up, he would always opt for spinning early Soundgarden demos and EPs. “I credit Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour… they were bands that embraced all that was great about heavy metal in the musical sense,” he said of the influence he took from the late Soundgarden wailer long before they met and began working together.
“I loved metal and I loved poetry and Chris Cornell was one of the people that brought those things together in a way that was commercially successful,” he said. “We all owe him a greater debut I think for saving metal.” When they formed Audioslave, though, Morello said Cornell was adamant that he wanted to focus on lyrics and melody and not music-writing, leaving that to the rest of the band.
“One of his great gifts, on top of his startlingly good looks, and hair, and eyes, and all the stuff, you’re like, ‘Are you magical? You’re like a magical being!’” said Morello. “Blessed in so many ways, and a lovely dude… he had this ability to craft melody, beautiful and ferocious melody out of the ether. And I remember making that first [self-titled] record with Rick Rubin. And Rick‘s like, ‘You don’t understand how lucky you got. I work with a ton of vocalists and it’s difficult to make a great melody. And this guy is just throwing ’em right and left!’”
Morello, who also delved into being one of the only non-white faces in his lily white Libertyville, Illinois suburb, his new solo album, the radical influence his activist parents had on him as a youth, learning to embrace electronic music and his lifelong love for everything Black Sabbath, AC/DC and the Clash, including his visit to the actual “Highway to Hell” in Australia.
Check out the interview below (de la Rocha bit begins at 21:50 mark).