The Nightwatchman answers questions posed by Jade of AFIJADE: There was a time when artists like Bob Dylan had a massive impact on social awareness, but, for various reasons, music as a cultural force has been on the wane for years. RATM also uses music as a political and social platform, do you believe music still has a capacity to reach the hearts and minds of its listeners?
TOM: I believe that music has more than just the capacity to reach the hearts and minds of its listeners, music has the capacity and should be played to change the world. I know that it was artists like The Clash and Public Enemy that changed my world and inspired me to not only rock, but also to pursue political activism and introduced to me a set of ideas that went well beyond stereotypical rock fodder. I think the energy exchange between a righteous band and their righteous fans is something to contend with.
JADE: I don't know if you remember this but Davey was emailing with you one time and I told him to challenge you on my behalf to a shred-off. You said that I shouldn't be too hasty because you came up as a metal shredder. How important was that to your development into the guitarist you are now?
TOM: It was very important. My journey from the guitar player neophyte to the cat you see digitally enshrined in Guitar Hero 3, was a long and odd one. I began liking heavy metal bands but was frustrated that I couldn't play complex music like Led Zeppelin. Punk rock like The Clash and Sex Pistols made me actually pick up the guitar and vow to throw away the rule book. The more that I played the more I became attracted to guitar players with technical abilities from Randy Rhodes, Al DiMeoloa from Alan Holdsworth to Steve Vai, shredders of that nature who put in the countless hours of preparation to hone their craft. I soon found myself practicing eight hours a day while balancing an ivy-league education and was driven with a zealot-like commitment to improving as a musician. Even though I started playing guitar late at age 17, it was that obsessive compulsive practice regimen that helped me get the technical expertise to play and to shred. It was not, however, until the early days of Rage Against the Machine where I was able to turn that technical ability into music that anybody would want to listen to. By once again throwing out the rule book and concentrating on the eccentricities in my playing and in song writing and weird sound and texture making I was able to create my own style on the guitar. I still think it would be folly for you to challenge me to a shred-off because I still got all those chops.
JADE: Also, it seems shredding/soloing has had a big resurgence with the new generation of bands, does it warm your heart or do you think it's unnecessary flash?
TOM: Guitar shredding is a dubious endeavor but I've always appreciated a good solo whether its in jazz, country, classical music or rock n' roll. Unfortunately most guitar solos in rock n' roll aren't so good. There's a new crop of swift fingered metalians who are certainly putting in their hours practicing and God bless them for it.
JADE: Who's your favorite Tom?
TOM: I'm guessing by the question that you mean who is my favorite historic person by the name of Tom. I would choose Thomas Paine, one of the instigators of the American Revolution and one of the few founding fathers who was opposed to slavery and against aristocratic privilege. Thomas Paine was kind of the Che Guevara of his day and was not satisfied with just one revolution as he headed off to France to be a part of the French Revolution as well. Thomas Paine is kick ass.
JADE: I went to a party at your house and noticed you had quite a bit of sports paraphernalia? What teams do you follow? Are any of them breaking your heart?
TOM: As a long time Chicago Cubs fan I can only assume this question is a cruel joke. My teams are the woe-begotten Chicago Cubs who have not won a world championship in exactly one hundred years and the St Louis Rams who mercifully have won a Super bowl in my lifetime. I was able to attend it by canceling a Rage Against the Machine show in Belgium. I used to be a Lakers fan but I have soured on that team because they make me and other fans fell bad.
JADE: People have talked about the idea of fragmentation in today's music, how there used to be a style of music called "rock", where bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin fused country, blues, pop, soul, even classical to write songs, but now music has been increasingly pushed into narrower and narrower niches and there are few acts that can hope to even aspire to the longevity and popularity enjoyed by the monster bands of those days. As a songwriter who has blended funk, metal, punk, and hip hop together, do you think that this is a problem with the direction current music is going?
TOM: I'm not sure that I agree that there is one direction that music is going. As someone who has blended different styles of music together in my own bands, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, I've never felt constrained by musical trendiness. As I'm currently pursuing folk music as The Nightwatchman, I continue to look for different avenues of creativity and expression which ring true. I think that in any genre of music the cream rises to the top. For example, seventeen years ago there were hundreds of punk-funk bands but only one band was good enough to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then there were an ungodly number of horrific rap-rock bands and I don't think it's immodest to say that Rage Against the Machine has weathered that storm pretty well. Then there was a ska explosion and only No Doubt's head stayed up. Prog-metal, only Tool is left. Industrial-metal, Nine Inch Nails remains. Grunge, Pearl Jam is still making very good and interesting records. I think at any given time it makes more sense to look at the true artists that exist in any given genre who have the ability to grow rather than the wannabes.
JADE: This is an extremely stock question that you've probably answered a million times, but people are always interested in it. Who are your guitar heroes/influences? Are there any new or up-and-coming guitar players that've caught your eye?
TOM: My guitar heroes are many and varied. It began with the likes of Ace Frehley and Jimmy Page, then warped into Joe Strummer and Andy Gill of Gang of Four, then the shredding floodgates opened with Randy Rhodes and Steve Vai. Later, my principle guitar influences for some time were people who didn't play guitar. Terminator X of Public Enemy, Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, Dr. Dre's production, the textures and rhythms of Crystal Method and the barnyard noises of cows, sheep and ducks have all clearly had a sonic impact on my playing.
JADE: You've always been able to come up with very unique sounds in your guitar work, especially for your solos, is it ever a burden to have to come up with so many new and interesteing techniques or is pushing the envelope in this way still as exciting as ever?
TOM: I never really looked at it as a burden to come up with new guitar sounds. After a while it just became how I hear music and it wasn't a matter of "oh, I need to come up with a crazy sound". It was more a matter of, I hear the guitar making the sound of a breaking glass window rather than hear the guitar playing recycled Chuck Berry riffs. For me now the most exciting thing musically is writing, recording and performing Nightwatchman songs where there are very few guitar pyrotechnics and the emphasis is on the starkness and mood that is conveyed which is hopefully just as impactful music.
JADE: Who do you think is a better level boss, you in Guitar Hero III or King Koopa from Super Mario Bros?
TOM: I'm afraid, young man, you are speaking a language I do not understand. While a digital version of me appears in the video game Guitar Hero 3, I am not much of a video game player myself and the term "Boss" and "King Koopa" I'm afraid to admit, are unfamiliar to me.
*taken from www.myspace.com/thenightwatchman