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Tom Morello On Storytelling & Rocking Out, Mixed-Race Identity, The 2020 Election & More

Tom Morello 

Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Audible

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Tom Morello On Storytelling & Rocking Out, Mixed-Race Identity, The 2020 Election & More

The GRAMMY-winning guitarist talks to GRAMMY.com about his storytelling partnership with Audible, feeling ignored by media because of his identity and much more

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2020 - 04:12 am

What's Tom Morello been up to during the pandemic? "I’ve been primarily spending my time keeping my 97-year-old mom, 89-year-old mother-in-law, wife, two young kids, a couple of dogs, and myself healthy and sane with mixed results," he tells GRAMMY.com via email.

This is not exactly what the GRAMMY-winning guitarist had in mind for 2020. Morello and his Rage Against The Machine bandmates were supposed to go on an energizing 40-date reunion world tour that was to stop by Coachella, but both were canceled due to COVID-19 earlier this year. 

Now, he's adjusting and making music. You can listen to "Stand Up” and “You Belong To Me” out now with "with more coming," he says. While you can't hear his electrifying guitar live, you can hear him rock out and share stories in Tom Morello at Minetta Lane Theatre: Speaking Truth to Power Through Stories and Song, a partnership with Audible.  

In an email conversation with GRAMMY.com, Morello told us how he feels that this partnership is his next great challenge. He also discusses how he feels about this year's presidential election, his mixed-race dentity being ignored by the media, his advice on making a difference and more.

How have you primarily been spending your time in lockdown?

I’ve been primarily spending my time keeping my 97-year-old mom, 89-year-old mother-in-law, wife, 2 young kids, a couple of dogs, and myself healthy and sane with mixed results. I’ve also been working on a plethora of new music including the recently released “Stand Up” and “You Belong To Me” with more coming.

How are you feeling in general in the run-up to this incredibly important presidential election?

Frankly, I’m pretty anxious about the 2020 Season Finale. We are at a dangerous historical juncture for our country and for our planet with impending proto-fascism and environmental destruction looming. It’s time for all hands on deck if we are to find that light at the end of the tunnel.

How has not being able to traditionally tour and perform sitting with you?

Not being able to tour is sitting with me very poorly. I was scheduled to be on an extensive global Rage Against The Machine jaunt currently and was very much looking forward to that. But, it’s important to not tour again until it is safe for the band and fans and crew to gather. A socially distanced mosh pit is not for me.

How did your partnership with Audible come about?

Throughout my career, I’ve assembled countless different artistic iterations. From the arena and stadium rocking of RATM and Audioslave to the agit folk propaganda of The Nightwatchman at the barricades, to the visual and sonic overload of The Atlas Underground, I’ve always enjoyed undertaking new and challenging creative ventures. The idea of a one-man Off-Broadway performance featuring story-telling and shredding guitar was very appealing to me and an exciting challenge to tackle.

How did working with T Bone Burnett add to your Audible performance experience?

T Bone’s considerable wisdom and laid-back demeanor helped ease the transition for me for this unique kind of performance. His suggestions were very helpful and he’s a cool cat.

How did you decide which personal anecdotes felt most important to include in the storytelling portion?

I’ve always been a storyteller, whether it was around the cafeteria table in school, at the campfire with acoustic guitars, or in the back room of the Rainbow Bar & Grill, I’ve been known to spin a yarn or two. My life and career has been a crazy patchwork mosaic of unexpected experiences and challenges. A lot of those stories make for moving, rocking, or outrageously embarrassing punchlines. I thought very hard about how to get at who I am as an artist, a guitarist, a son, a husband, a father, and an activist and then sprinkle in some death-defying high-wire shredding solos.

You say in the "Practicing Guitar" selection that: "they say no great art can be made without a chip on your shoulder." How, in brief, does this resonate with you?

That probably could have been rephrased as “no great art can be made without father issues.” I’ll show him!

We're living in one of the most politically divisive/active times in recent memory. What's your advice to the average person who wants to educate themselves on the issues and make a difference?

The principal issue that you need to educate yourself on is that YOU are the one that can make a difference. History is not something that happens, history is something that you make. Every progressive, radical, or revolutionary change that has ever happened in the history of this country was caused by average, ordinary people standing up in their place and time. Those people had no more courage, power, intelligence, creativity, or money than anyone reading this right now. They just did it. I’ve always believed that we should aim for the world we really want without compromise or apology. The world is not going to change itself, that’s up to you.

You've often spoken of being "the only black kid in an all-white town, the only anarchist at a conservative high school, the only heavy metal guitarist at Harvard University, and the only Ivy League Star Trek nerd in the biggest political rap-rock band of all time." Too often, the music industry does not showcase Black musicians' complexity as artists and people (see: the "Urban" category). To what extent do you still experience this? What work is there left to be done?

It is indeed a concern and it has been a frustration throughout my career. Because I don’t play what is stereotypically referred to as “urban music,” the music I do make is virtually ignored by industry, press, radio, etc. that features Black artists. Musicians, like myself and Slash for example, while we ply our trade in rock’n’roll we are of mixed race and that fact is often completely overlooked, not only by the industry but by fans. I cannot tell you how many times “die-hard fans” have expressed their outrage and disbelief via social media whenever I reference being Black. It causes a cognitive dissonance that sometimes upsets them greatly. There is a very broad, deep, and nuanced range of music that is created by African-American musicians that often goes unrecognized as such. And all of this is quite surprising, given the fact that the genre of rock’n’roll from Chuck Berry to Fats Domino to Little Richard was launched by African-American artists.

Words by Jennifer Velez. Interview by Rachel Brodsky.

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Tyga Talks Inspiration Behind "Go Loko" & Collaborating With L.A. Rappers Like YG

Tyga 

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Tyga Talks Inspiration Behind "Go Loko" & Collaborating With L.A. Rappers Like YG

"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here, Mexican culture," the rapper said. "So we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."

GRAMMYs/Jun 8, 2019 - 04:16 am

Tyga's latest collab has him paying tribute to Los Angeles' large Mexican community. The rapper is featured on fellow L.A. rapper YG's  leading single, "Go Loko" off his latest album 4REAL 4REAL and when asked about his take on the song, he says much of it was inspired by Mexico's cultural impact. 

"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here," he said. "Even YG could tell you, he grew up around all Mexicans, so we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."

The video features visuals and symbolisms inpired by the Mexican community, including mariachi, but also by the Puerto Rican community (you'll easily spot the boricua flag). The song also features Puerto Rican rapper Jon Z. Tyga mentioned the diversity of Latinos on the different coasts and wanted to make a song that also celebrates the different Latin cultures in the country. "We wanted to do something different to kinda try to bring all Latins together," he said. 

Watch the video above to hear more about the song and the vibe when he joins forces with other L.A. rapppers. 

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Let Freedom Ring With The March On Washington GRAMMY Playlist

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with a song

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and declared in his landmark "I Have A Dream" speech, "Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

In 2012 The Recording Academy recognized King's speech for its historical significance by inducting the recording into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. Delivered before 250,000 people, "I Have A Dream" culminated the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a rally organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations that called for the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation and a program to provide jobs, among other demands.

Several artists have used music to call for a solid rock of brotherhood and sisterly love over the years. GRAMMY winners Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul & Mary; and Mahalia Jackson were among the performers who stood beside King at the March on Washington and dared to dream of a better America. On Aug. 28 President Barack Obama — joined by fellow GRAMMY winners such as LeAnn Rimes and BeBe Winans and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — will deliver his own speech at the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action bell-ringing ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

As bells toll throughout the country, we encourage you to let freedom ring by marching to the beat of our March on Washington 50th anniversary GRAMMY playlist.

"Blowin' In The Wind"
Peter, Paul & Mary, Best Performance By A Vocal Group, Best Folk Recording, 1963; GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2003

Peter, Paul & Mary's cover of Bob Dylan's popular protest song was one of two songs performed by the trio at the March on Washington. The two-time GRAMMY-winning track fittingly asked marchers, "How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?" The answer, of course, was blowin' in the wind.

"A Change Is Gonna Come"
Sam Cooke, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

Considered one of the defining anthems of the civil rights movement, "A Change Is Gonna Come" was released in 1964 by R&B singer Cooke as a response to Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." Cooke's harrowing track was voted No. 12 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list and epitomizes the hope and change King called for 50 years ago.                   

"Ohio"
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2009

Although written by Canadian Neil Young, "Ohio" spoke to the outrage many felt over the Kent State shootings in Kent, Ohio, in 1970. The song openly questioned the deaths of four unarmed students who were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a campus Vietnam War protest.   

"Get Up, Stand Up"
Bob Marley & The Wailers, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 1999

Written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, this classic reggae tune was featured on the Wailers' 1973 album Burnin'. The group's signature call to action demanded people "get up, stand up/Stand up for your rights." In 1999 the track was the first reggae song to be inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.

"Born In The U.S.A."
Bruce Springsteen, Record Of The Year nominee, 1985

Though often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, "Born In The U.S.A." actually speaks to the desperate flip side of the American dream encountered by some Vietnam War veterans. Still, the album of the same name garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year, spawned no less than seven Top 10 hits and was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2012.

"Fight The Power"
Public Enemy, Best Rap Performance nominee, 1989  

It might take a nation of millions to hold back listeners of Public Enemy's confrontational and controversial hit "Fight The Power." Chosen by director Spike Lee as the musical theme for his 1989 film Do The Right Thing, the track calls out everyone from Elvis to the American government, imploring people to "fight the powers that be."                         

"Guerrilla Radio"
Rage Against The Machine, Best Hard Rock Performance, 2000

Featured on Rage Against The Machine's 1999 GRAMMY-nominated album The Battle Of Los Angeles, "Guerrilla Radio" is the band's call to cut off the lights, turn up the radio and tune out those they describe as "vultures who thirst for blood and oil."

"Revolution 1"
The Beatles, The Beatles, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

A year before John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously held a two-week bed-in for peace in 1969, the Beatles released this Lennon/McCartney penned tune featured on The Beatles ("The White Album"). The song spoke to Lennon's skepticism about some of the radical tactics used to protest the Vietnam War, offering the tongue-in-cheek guarantee that everything was "gonna be alright."

"War"
Edwin Starr, Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male nominee, 1970

Written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield in protest of the Vietnam War, "War" was originally recorded by the Temptations. Starr's version of this classic track helped him achieve legendary status on the soul circuit. His cover was intense and direct, simply stating: "I said, war, good gawd ya'll/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing!"  

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"      
Bob Dylan, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2013

After the release of "Blowin' In The Wind," Dylan provided another anthemic protest song with "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Since its release in 1964, the song has been covered by artists such as the Beach Boys, Joan Baez, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, and Nina Simone, among others, during both challenging and ever-changing times.

"What The World Needs Now Is Love"
Jackie DeShannon, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2008

After all the protests, marches and calls for change have quieted down, arguably no song should be cranked up as loud as DeShannon's 1965 hit "What The World Needs Now Is Love." Per DeShannon: All we need "is love, sweet love/No, not just for some, but for everyone."

Know a song that changed the world? Let us know in the comments.

Quarantine Diaries: ARI Is Cuddling With Her Cat, Making Her Own Tea & Preparing For Her Debut 'IDIOT GRL' EP Release

ARI

Photo: Nicole Davis

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Quarantine Diaries: ARI Is Cuddling With Her Cat, Making Her Own Tea & Preparing For Her Debut 'IDIOT GRL' EP Release

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Aug 12, 2020 - 02:59 am

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, rising singer/songwriter ARI shares her quarantine diary. ARI's debut IDIOT GRL EP is out Aug. 14.

[9:40 a.m.] A late start to the day. I just woke up to my cat Malakai licking my face and snuggling under my chin, desperate for cuddles. I reluctantly gave in before diving into my morning routine, which starts by going through all of the daily news on my Snapchat feed to see what’s going on in the world.

[11 a.m.] Just out of the shower and into the kitchen for the usual: tea and avocado toast. I don’t typically like tea or coffee, but I had this amazing tea from Starbucks once and fell in love with it. I ended up finding the recipe and making it myself, and to be honest, I like my version better. Once I boil the kettle, I start part two of my morning “meditation”: watching one of my favourite shows while I respond to emails. With the IDIOT GRL EP coming out next week, I can tell you there are a TON of emails. I turned on "Gilmore Girls" (my guilty pleasure) and opened up my laptop to go through my calendar.

[1:45 p.m.] Recording session time. Zoom calls have become my everyday life. It’s crazy to think that this time last year, you could actually be in a room with people. Now the most social interaction I get is virtually. On the positive side, I get to set up my little home studio from the comfort of my own bed and I find the sessions to be really productive with no outside distractions.

[3:30 p.m.] Malakai is meowing at my door. As I try to sing over him, eventually I can’t ignore his cute little voice. We take a quick break and I have a little playtime with him. I can hear my song playing in the living room—it still weirds me out hearing myself. My guess is my roommate aka my manager is sending off final approval for the “IDIOT GRL” music video, which comes out the same day as the EP. Super excited for everyone to finally see it!

[6:00 p.m.] Time for dinner. It may just be my favourite part of the day. During my session, my roommate cooked us some delicious pasta. We eat dinner together every night, which is really nice. Usually, after dinner, we wind down and watch TV, but we decided to try doing an arts and crafts project tonight. I watched this TikTok video of a DIY way to make music plaques. You take a screenshot of a song on Spotify and use a marker to trace out the name of the song, artist, play button, etc. Once that’s done, you simply add the album artwork of your choice, frame it, and voila! I thought it would be a cool idea to make a wall of each of the songs off of my EP.

[9:00 p.m.] After an eventful day, I decided to go watch a drive-in Maple Leafs game (wearing a mask, of course). My sister works for the TSN network and started hosting drive-in game nights to promote the network and social distancing events. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend time with my family.

[11:30 p.m.] I finally get home and hop straight into bed. I feel like I haven’t spent much time on Instagram today, so figured I’d open it up before getting some shuteye. I launched the pre-save link for the EP today and told my followers that I would DM anyone who pre-saved it and sent me a screenshot. I always love getting to interact with my fans and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see how excited people are for my debut EP. It’s a great feeling to end the day with.

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EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Mexican Institute Of Sound Takes Gaby Moreno Into New Musical Territory With Mystifying "Yemayá"

Gaby Moreno 

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EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Mexican Institute Of Sound Takes Gaby Moreno Into New Musical Territory With Mystifying "Yemayá"

Listen to the synth-infused track blending pop and Latin sounds that's named after the Afro-Carribean goddess who represents fertility, water and self-love

GRAMMYs/Jun 25, 2020 - 08:56 pm

Anything Mexican Institute Of Sound (MIS), a.k.a Camilo Lara, touches turns into musical gold. The Mexican producer and artist proves that with celebrated GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno in "Yemayá."

Moreno, whose soothing voice we have heard magically adapt to a range of genres including Americana, Latin folk and R&B, continues exploring her creative range this time with GRAMMY-nominated Lara in the synth-infused, mystifying track blending pop and Latin sounds. The catchy song about the overpowering feeling of love is named after the Afro-Carribean goddess who represents fertility, water and self-love.

Moreno told the Recording Academy she and Lara wanted to capture the deity's essence in their collaboration:

"She's a powerful woman of color taking all forms. It's a universal theme and we wanted to incorporate this mysterious and mystic figure into the song, since it's part of the folklore of many different cultures." 

The song, which Lara brought to Moreno and was written in one day in 2019 at Red Bull Studios, takes Moreno into new territory. 

"I’ve been a big admirer of [Lara's] work and esthetic and the way he blends Latin folk music with electronic and hip hop. I come from a fairly different musical background, having very rarely experimented with synths and those kinds of sounds, so this was a really fun and different collaboration for me," she said. "I got to step out of my comfort zone and bring forth something a bit unusual but very much enjoyable, nonetheless."

The Guatemalan singer/songwriter will also soon be releasing "Fire Inside," a song she wrote with Andrew Bissell. The song has already been featured on ABC’s "Station 19", TLC’s promo "I Am Jazz," UK’s "Free Rein," NBC’s "American Ninja Warrior" and recently on YouTube’s "Dear Class of 2020."

Moreno is also working on an upcoming album she will produce herself and is also producing other artists. 

Listen to "Yemayá" in full above. 

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