The Rage Against the Machine icon found himself without inspiration or motivation during COVID lockdown, stifled because he didn’t know how to operate his home studio. Discovering the quotes from West led him to create The Atlas Underground Fire, a record that features collaborations with musicians from many genres – including a cover of the AC/DC classic “Highway to Hell” featuring Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder. The LP arrives on Oct. 15.
“I didn’t pick up a guitar for the first six months,” Morello told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “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.” The challenge of not being able to record while in isolation was resolved when Morello discovered that West had “said he had recorded the vocals for a couple of his hit records on the Voice Memos on his iPhone. 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.”
Asked about the potential for “degraded” sound quality, he replied: “I think my sound quality has been degraded since day one. I’ve aimed for that! I prefer a degraded sound quality.” He continued: “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.” As a result, he joked, he no longer needed to learn about his studio. “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 char, and just let it rip.”
Another positive aspect of his new process was that the “lonely confinement” of lockdown was lessened by “this rock and roll pen pal community [that] was developing, breathing an important air of unexpectedness into each day.” The completed album with all its collaborations and styles, he added, acted as “an assertion that the electric guitar doesn’t just have a past. It has a future. I’m trying to break the glass ceiling of my previous powers. I want to play the electric guitar and go, ‘That’s new. That’s a different level right there. That outflanks some stuff I’ve done before.’”
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