The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello’s evil- and amazingly talented – twin. He snarls at authority figures with a resonant voice fueled by prejudice and social injustice. Like a superhero, he battles the villains who stalk our countryside and threaten our freedom. His weapon of choice? An acoustic guitar.
“I’ve always been drawn to heavy music, and it was only in more recent years that I discovered that sometimes the heaviest music can be made without any Marshall stacks or electric guitars in sight,” explained Morello.
This may surprise loyal fans who have come to adore the spirited musician for his sonically groundbreaking performances in Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.
“When playing electric guitar, I’ve tried to broaden my influences as wide as possible,” said Morello. “In playing as The Nightwatchman, I’ve tried to narrow these influences into really only a couple of moods. You know, a pinch of Springsteen’s Nebraska, to Dylan’s ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown,’ to Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around.'”
Whereas Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine saw Morello explode minds with his digitally precise fretwork, The Nightwatchman allows him to reconstruct said shattered skulls so that their owners can understand with clarity the misconceived state of a country whose own name has become a mere statement of hypocrisy. It’s a challenging task, especially for a single person.
“Part of my goal is a personal and societal reflection,” explained Morello. “I was the only black kid in an all-white town, I was the only anarchist in a conservative high school, and I was the only hard rock, punk rock guitar player at Harvard University. I’ve always believed in solidarity, but in some ways I’ve always been alone, and this ‘One Man Revolution’ is really the starting point of embracing that in a way, and not waiting for a rock band or a political party to do my work for me.”
The Nightwatchman was born five years ago when Morello began performing at open-mic events after being invited by a friend.
“When I started writing songs, I was very surprised at the lyrical diversity that came out,” he confessed.
Also surprising is Morello’s vocal performance. On songs like “House Gone Up in Flames” and “The Road I Must Travel,” he paints stark pictures with an all-natural voice that steams with red-hot fury, proving his ability to stand tall among even the highest ranking singer-songwriters, both past and present. Morello, however, has a somewhat different perception of himself as an artist.
“I don’t have the credentials of a singer or lyricist, but what I do have are the credentials of my sincerity,” he said.
That’s more than most performers can say. While many recognizable musicians play for money, Morello insists that he was simply destined to play music. Period.
“I didn’t choose to be a guitar player,” he said. “That was chosen for me. I’m stuck, and once that’s the case, it becomes my responsibility to weave my convictions into my vocation … and I think I’m doing that now more than ever as The Nightwatchman.”
Most of these convictions – largely centered on social and political dilemmas – stem from Morello’s childhood when he witnessed firsthand the bitter effects of racism at school in Libertyville, Ill. This experience, coupled with his mother’s involvement in anti-censorship and his great uncle’s role as the first president of Kenya solidified Morello’s future as an outspoken voice for a generation of oppressed young people. These days, you can find the man performing his politically charged music in venues of all shapes and sizes. From union rallies to protests and marches, if there is a message that needs to be heard, Morello will bravely give it a voice.
“There were days in Audioslave where we were playing these sold-out arenas, and on days off, I would look through the local papers and find open mic nights where I would go and play in front of 12 people and a latte machine,” he recalled.
Most recently, The Nightwatchman fulfilled two shows in Austin, Texas, one at the Central Presbyterian Church and the other as part of the SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival. The latter proved to be a pleasant surprise for those fortunate enough to attend, with special guest performances from Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Les Claypool (Primus) and Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction, Satellite Party), just to name a few. Morello will also be playing in Chicago later this month at the Immokalee Workers’ Rally.
The Nightwatchman’s debut album, produced by Brendan O’Brien and aptly titled One Man Revolution, comes out April 24 and features 13 original songs. Lyrically, the album is a snapshot of a nation at war – not just with other nations but also with itself. In “Union Song,” for example, Morello addresses his audience directly: “For the fired auto workers who were twisted, tricked and robbed/To the peasant in Guatemala, in a sweatshop got your job/And she can’t feed her family on the pennies that she makes/Meanwhile the crime rate’s rising, up and down the Great Lake states.”
“I achieved much more than I was hoping for,” said Morello about the album. “While it began as a side project and a way for me to express my opinions via music, it became something much more … and the fact that it sounds like this is just well beyond my expectations.”
Luckily for fans, Morello has no intentions to terminate his role as The Nightwatchman. Expect to hear his dark anthems echo not just on future albums, but in neighborhoods all over the world where hate and persecution prevail.
“This is what I’m doing now,” said Morello. “I’ve got a catalog of about 55 songs, and I’m writing more all the time. I’m more excited now about making music than I ever have been.”