When lockdown put paid to Rage Against The Machine’s reunion tour at the start of 2020, guitarist Tom Morello hit something of a creative wall.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, he said: “I didn’t pick up a guitar for the first six months. For the first time as a creative person, I felt wholly uninspired. It was made worse by the fact that while I have a studio in my home, I don’t know how to work it. There’s an engineer that normally does that.”
Fortunately, Morello managed to clear his musical blockage, drawing inspiration from an unlikely source.
“I read a quote by Kanye West where he said he had recorded the vocals for a couple of his hit records on the Voice Memos [app] on his iPhone,” Morello says. “I was like, ‘You can do that?’ And I started just playing guitar straight into my iPhone. I’d send the guitar riffs off to various producers, engineers, and artists around the world. That re-lit the pilot light.”
The result of these virtual sessions is new solo album The Atlas Underground Fire, which features collaborations with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Bring Me the Horizon, Chris Stapleton, Damian Marley, and Mike Posner. And, it turns out that, despite their rough and ready sound, most of those guitar Voice Memos ended up on the record.
“I think my sound quality has been degraded since day one. I’ve aimed for that,” laughs Morello. “I prefer a degraded sound quality. If you’ve heard the record, 95% of the guitars on that record were recorded on my phone. I have an engineering credit on the record since I hit the red button on my phone to record the guitar.”
What’s more, Morello says that, having used this method, he no longer worries about never having learned how to use that recording studio.
“Now I don’t ever need to,” he says. “Now there’s no need. I have engineered things a few times in the past few months and I can easily slide back into that way of recording, but I’m not afraid to just hit the red button on the voice memos, set the phone down on a folding chair, and just let it rip.”
The Atlas Underground Fire is released on 15 October via Mom + Pop Music.