Photo: Chelsea Lauren

Tom Morello Wants to "Forge a New Genre of Music" with The Atlas Underground

August 17, 2018

By Scott T. Sterling

When Tom Morello calls, artists listen.

Such is the case with his ambitious new project, The Atlas Underground, a star-studded affair that finds the legendary guitarist at the eye of the storm as a diverse and inspired cast of guests help him fuel the debut full-length, due to debut on Oct. 12.

Marcus Mumford, Steve Aoki, K Flay, Killer Mike, Portugal.The Man, Big Boi from Outkast, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Gary Clark Jr. and Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA and RZA are among the luminaries featured on the forthcoming “collaboration album,” as Morello terms the release.

Police line up. NEW TOM MORELLO ALBUM: #TheAtlasUnderground coming Oct.. 12

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“With this Atlas Underground record, what I really wanted to do was forge a new genre of music,” he boldly proclaimed during a recent phone interview. “Something that combined my Marshall stack rock power with hip-hop and EDM and punk rock and metal to create a brand new alloy that was a singular vision that was forged from diverse collaborators.”

Spoken like a true Marvel hero. Morello goes on to explain how The Atlas Underground takes inspiration from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in not that it’s just technically advanced and conceptually progressive, but also boasts undeniable hooks.

“Hendrix had songs on the radio. That’s why we know,” him the guitarist elaborated. “He made big jams that rocked the radio. The times that he played in was an era of blues-rock. Now we’re in a time of big bass drops. So I wanted to make a record unlike any I’d made before. The collaborations are diverse, but it’s a guitar-driven sonic manifesto.”

Hearing Morello wax eloquently about EDM and bass drops comes as a big surprise to longtime fans who’ve known the guitarist for not being a fan of dance music in the least.

“In any genre of music, most of it’s crap. Can we all agree on that?,” Morello laughed. “On the one hand, music is entirely subjective, and anyone can love what they love. My understanding of EDM was it was Italian taxi cab music. Just awful, Ibiza, end of the world ridiculousness. It was artists like Knife Party, and Skrillex and Bassnectar. When I discovered them—all huge Rage Against the Machine fans, by the way—I heard a kinship in their heaviness, the arrangements, the tension and release. It got me thinking ‘well, what if we replaced some of their electronics with my guitar playing?’ Using some of the same sensibilities of EDM, but grounding it firmly in electric guitar playing.”

Related: Tom Morello Teases Solo Project Ft. Wu-Tang, Portugal. The Man + More

From those kinetic, drop-powered EDM beats, The Atlas Underground swerves all the way over to the warm, acoustic pastoral tones of Mumford and Sons with a collaboration alongside the band’s frontman, Marcus Mumford, “Find Another Way.”

“We have a mutual friend who introduced us, and they were playing a surprise show at the Troubadour around the same time. I went down because I’m a fan. I have a longstanding career in folk music as well. Marcus had me come out onstage and we rocked some stuff up. We did ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ and I played one some of their songs and had a ball. We became great friends. We played together at festivals around the world, had some late nights in the East Village and we’re also both rock dads with young kids. So we have a lot to drink about together,” he laughed.

Tom Morello & Mark Hoppus performing w/ Mumford & Sons at the Troubadour (Photo: Cody Black / KROQ)

“(Mumford) was in England with his kids, and I’m in L.A. with mine. So he’d put his kids to bed while I was getting my kids off to school. Then we’d get on Skype, these two rock dads in our bathrobes and acoustic guitars, writing a song together,” he continued. “It was so metal, dude. And then Josh from Phantogram produced the track. He was really brilliant it making it work. It’s a beautiful song. It’s like a whispered conversation through a cold prison wall.”

Morello made sure the album wasn’t a full-on sausage fest by calling on the talents of K.Flay to bring some much-needed estrogen to the party on the track “Lucky One.”

“There are only two artists in my entire career I’ve ever cold-called: K.Flay and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd,” he revealed. “I heard ‘Blood in the Cut’ on the radio, and I literally pulled the car over, texted my management company like, ‘Find me K.Flay.’ I learned that she’s also from the northern Chicago suburbs, has a great sense of humor and is a very talented and insightful lyricist and artist. It was an honor getting her on the record.”

In regards to hip-hop, the guitarist rang up none less than Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA and RZA to help craft the album’s final track, “Lead Poisoning,” featuring Herobust.

“I’m a huge fan. Wu-Tang made life-changing albums back in the day. We became good friends. I’ve worked with those guys before (including a notorious joint RATM/Wu-Tang Clan tour in the late ‘90s),” Morello raved. “I just wish we’d filmed the process of making this record. Discussing astrophysics with GZA, and then the conversations with police brutality with RZA...they’re really deep thinkers and amazing rappers. To have both of them on the same track is a hip-hop/metal dream come true for me.”