One of my all-time creative idols is Tom Morello. While he is definitely most famous for being the guitarist in pioneering rap-rock group Rage Against The Machine, it turns out there are many other things about his story that make him worth listening to. He also has a really distinct and heartfelt approach to his creative philosophy which I try to learn from each and every day. He speaks to the idea that you can do something great with the tools you have with you, and that creativity and insight come from focusing on what you're making rather than obsessing about what you're making it with.
He's been on a roll on Twitter the last couple of weeks. Since a lot of his insights fit the topics I discuss here I figure they are worth sharing. The tweets I'm going to highlight are short responses to questions he receives from his followers. Sometimes it's amazing how much he can convey with as few as a dozen characters.
ON PLAYING AND LEARNING GUITAR
@tmorello: "@CrossbonesBand: Tom, How do you practice Penetonic scales on Electric?" Deftly.
Oh yeah, he's pretty funny as well.
@tmorello: "@spencergrow1: How do I become a better guitar player?" Stop tweeting and start practicing.
@tmorello: "@segunsazo: Best guitar smasher?." If u smash ur guitar it only counts if u can't afford another one.
@tmorello: "@DKLopez17: Did your shredding techniques develop whilst attending Harvard, or in LA?" Majored in PoliSci and shredding. No sleep, no party
What a champion.
@tmorello: "@JCT1980: do you ever write riffs angry?" Riffs, like revenge, are a dish best served cold
@tmorello: "@Gtwoby2: 1 piece of advice 2 young people who think drugs go hand in hand with rock n roll or making music" I never even smoked a joint
@tmorello: "@xRestrepox: Do you see "shame" on being a rhythm guitarist? What do you think?" Ask Malcolm Young the baddest badass in Badass Town
This one had me laughing like an idiot to myself at work when I read it. For those of you who don't know who Malcolm Young is, he's the rhythm guitarist for AC/DC, brother of the more famous lead guitarist, uniform-wearing Angus Young. The way I see it is that Malcolm does a lot of the songwriting and holds the whole thing together while Angus laps up the attention, spins around on his back and plays blues solos.
@tmorello: "@SCarigiet: Did you have to mod you digitech whammy or was it good out of the box." It was bad out of the box and that was perfect for me
I love this one. The Digitech Whammy is an effect pedal that Tom used to create some insane sounds on many of the biggest Rage and Audioslave songs. My favourite example is probably the solo from Audioslave's 'Like a Stone' It's a fundamental part of his sound. I bought one years ago to rip off all his riffs and solos and I can assure you that he's right. They are terrible. The trick for Tom was to use this fun but ridiculous pedal to make sounds that no one had heard before. And he did.
@tmorello: "@jmitch_88: Do you have your first guitar still and if so, what is it?" A Kay guitar. $50. Untunable SG knock off. Still have it, proudly
@tmorello: "@SGguy13: I'm having trouble starting a band. how did your first one come to be?" 4 dudes in highschool drama club with nothing to lose
@tmorello: "@AnAverageCat: Any better feeling than being on stage in front of thousands rocking out?" Being onstage in front of 500 pindrop silent
@tmorello: "@JonnyFoss10: Favorite guitar Brand?" Makes no difference whatsoever
I wish I was more like this.
@tmorello: "@Eliphas8: When did you reach the Punk half life and artistically decide to do the nightwatchman" 2002, time to sing my own damn song
@tmorello: "@M_ballard1: who most influenced you as a guitarist?" 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. Don't be the best, destroy the sport
This one is easily my favourite. I had to look this one up to find out who Secretariat) was. Secretariat won the Triple Crown, a series of three important horse races in the United States, in 1973. He won the first two races coming from last place to win by more than two lengths each time. In the third race, he won by more than twenty lengths. He sat track record times in all three races, one of which still stands today.
What Tom is getting at here is that even being a little bit better isn't enough in many cases. It just might be that trying to compete with people who are good at something on their own terms might be a waste of energy. It might be more effective, particularly in creative endeavours, to spend your time and effort on doing something profoundly different.
Tom spent years learning to shred but eventually realised that being technically amazing doesn't always get you very far. He had this realisation when he saw awesome guitar players shredding away in front of tiny crowds on his college lawn. So instead of blazing away to no one he made his guitar sound like a sampler and turntables and neded up filling arenas. I think that is brilliant advice.
ON RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
@tmorello: "@drguycrain: Clearly RATM songs advocate protest. Do they advocate violent protest?" Have you HEARD them?!
@tmorello: "@Mitch3GP: why no back up vocals w/ RATM?" Listening to RATM ur really thinkin' "Man, these jams could really use some back up vocals"?!
@tmorello: "@JimmyCarlson9: How many times a day do people ask you about a RATM reunion or new album?" Not enough! Please oh please keep asking
@tmorello: "@whateverdude88: any chances of a #RATM reunion for a tour or new album anything?" Sigh. Would be delighted w/any but not holding my breath
@tmorello: "@MeatballMurgidi: who would be your dream drummer (dead or alive) to play with??" Brad Wilk. And he's alive!
It's obvious he wants to get Rage to record another album and start playing regularly again, but that their have been quite a few issues preventing that from happening. I'd imagine that frontman Zach De La Rocha is probably the one holding it all up. He seems quite content to leave Rage where it is and spend time in the jungle hanging out with ancient tribes and stuff. Power to him I suppose. I don't even know if it'd be a good idea for them to make another album but I can tell it hurts Tom that it hasn't happened so it makes me a bit sad.
@tmorello: "@koopakoot: I used to tell people you were my dad when I was in 5th grade. (2001)" it's possible
@tmorello: "@ChrisLoesch: Was horrified at @tmorello's terrible whammy pedal & string scratch "soloing" - one trick commie" Thnx! I AIM for horrifying!
@tmorello: "@jamesecreed: In one word...what's is like playing with @springsteen?" BADASS
Most of the creative people that I respect aren't just good at something, they can also explain why and how they do it. Tom Morello is an excellent example of this. There is a lot for creative people to learn from those who choose to think outside the box in the name of reinventing their chosen art form. Tom's riffs, solos and words continue to inspire me to this day.