Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine Fame — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss (#591)

“Dangerous times demand dangerous songs.”

— Tom Morello

Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world-class performers to tease out the routines, habits, et cetera that you can apply to your own life.

You’ll get plenty of that in this special episode, which features my interview with Tom Morello from my 2017 TV Show Fear{less}. The “less” is in parentheses because the objective is to teach you to fear less, not to be fearless.

Fear{less} features in-depth, long-form conversations with top performers, focusing on how they’ve overcome fears and made hard decisions, embracing discomfort and thinking big.

It was produced by Wild West Productions, and I worked with them to make both the video and audio available to you for free, my dear listeners. You can find the video of this episode on YouTube.com/TimFerriss, and eventually you’ll be able to see all episodes for free at YouTube.com/TimFerriss.

Spearheaded by actor/producer and past podcast guest Vince Vaughn, Wild West Productions has produced a string of hit movies including The Internship, Couples Retreat, Four Christmases, and The Break-Up.

In 2020, Wild West produced the comedy The Opening Act, starring Jimmy O. Yang and Cedric The Entertainer. In addition to Fear{less}, their television credits include Undeniable with Joe Buck, ESPN’s 30 for 30 episode about the ’85 Bears, and the Netflix animated show F is for Family.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine Fame — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss (#591)


This episode is brought to you by 5-Bullet Friday, my very own email newsletter that every Friday features five bullet points highlighting cool things I’ve found that week, including apps, books, documentaries, gadgets, albums, articles, TV shows, new hacks or tricks, and—of course—all sorts of weird stuff I’ve dug up from around the world.

It’s free, it’s always going to be free, and you can subscribe now at tim.blog/friday.


What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode with another phenomenal musician featured on Fear{less}? Have a listen to my conversation with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stewart Copeland, in which we discussed having fun with music without worrying about the consequences of making mistakes, the energy-generating properties of righteous anger, advice for rock musicians who want to score films, making Machiavellian power moves in the music management business, gig preparation, and much more.

#581: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stewart Copeland — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss
  • Connect with Tom Morello:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify

SHOW NOTES

  • Tom shares what it’s like to try something musically for the first time and then present it to others — whether it’s to bandmates or an audience. [05:24]
  • My first impressions upon hearing Tom’s work in Rage Against the Machine. [09:16]
  • Where did Tom’s parents meet, and what was it like to grow up as an interracial child with a single mother in Libertyville, Illinois during the mid-1960s when they parted? [09:49]
  • How did Tom’s mother encourage him to respond to the racism he would sometimes encounter in this otherwise idyllic Midwestern suburb? [12:46]
  • What politicized Tom even more than reading Noam Chomsky in high school? [14:54]
  • When did music enter the picture for Tom, and what precipitated his first band coming together? What experience really drove home the fact that making music was an accessible goal? [16:32]
  • How did Tom learn guitar? [20:59]
  • How did Tom become the first person from Libertyville, Illinois to ever go to Harvard, and what did he take away from his experience there? [22:24]
  • After graduation, Tom drove his Chevy Astro van west to Hollywood with a thousand dollars and a dream. How long did the money last, how supportive was his mom of this endeavor, and what was his plan B if things didn’t go as intended? For that matter, how thought-out was plan A? [23:36]
  • Exotic dancing as a makeshift plan B. [25:32]
  • How did Tom become involved in the band Lock Up, and why was getting signed to a major record label more of a curse than a blessing? [26:32]
  • How did Rage Against the Machine come together, and what kind of experimentalism did Tom bring to the band? [28:27]
  • When did Tom know Rage Against the Machine was working, and how did his experience with Locked Up inform his approach to dealing with the music industry when it came knocking this time around? [30:51]
  • Who finally succeeded in signing Rage Against the Machine, and to what does Tom credit the enthusiastic response of the fandom to the band’s live performances? [33:17]
  • How performing as a solo acoustic act in front of eight people in a coffee shop can be a more vulnerable experience than playing as part of a band live on television for millions. [36:26]
  • How Tom prepares for a gig. [39:01]
  • What factors contributed to the end of Rage Against the Machine? [40:40]
  • How did Tom’s father come back into his life? [41:42]
  • If Tom weren’t a guitar player, what would he do for a living? [47:23]
  • If Tom had to teach someone guitar in three months, what would the curriculum be? [47:44]
  • What are the biggest wastes of time Tom sees novice musicians making? What are the wrong things to focus on? [48:58]
  • As a teacher, what advice might Tom have for an aspiring young artist who can’t seem to make a connection with their audience? [50:14]
  • What book has Tom gifted most? [51:12]
  • An inspiring quote Tom ponders often. [51:56]
  • An inexpensive purchase that has had a positive impact on Tom’s life. [52:44]
  • How did Prophets of Rage come together? [53:30]
  • What would Tom’s billboard say? [55:54]
  • Advice for artists who might feel too intimidated to try changing the world. [56:22]

MORE TOM MORELLO QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

“Dangerous times demand dangerous songs.”
— Tom Morello

“Any time you broadcast your soul artistically, be careful because somebody may be listening and you can make a connection that you wouldn’t otherwise.”
— Tom Morello

“I got to, with smug satisfaction, watch as the young racist child’s mouth was washed out with soap in front of the whole crew. And I went, ‘There might be something to this Malcolm X.'”
— Tom Morello

“People ask, ‘How were you politicized?’ And it wasn’t from reading Noam Chomsky in high school. It was recognizing that there was grave injustice on the playground.”
— Tom Morello

“I naively put out ads in all the local press saying, ‘Shredding guitar player seeks awesome Marxist front man. Influences: Run DMC and Iron Maiden.’ I did not get a lot of replies to that.”
— Tom Morello

“You think, when you’re in suburban Illinois, when you get a record deal that you’re a millionaire. Exactly the opposite.”
— Tom Morello

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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4 Replies to “Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine Fame — Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss (#591)”

  1. Jack Raines here, I wrote the Twitter thread on language learning that you shared last Friday.

    1) Thanks for sharing, it drove a lot of readers to my stuff, plus I’m glad I could help a broader audience.

    2) I am in a similar place to where you were in your 20s before taking your trip around the world. I quit a corporate job last August and backpacked around Europe for 4 months, before spending two months in Argentina (best country in the world, imo).

    3) I’m currently at a bit of a crossroads. I’m making a living writing my blog, yet I was previously accepted to a top 5 MBA program, honestly no idea if I’m going to attend in the fall, we’ll see. I know you’re busy as hell, but given that my trajectory seems quite similar to yours 15-20 years ago, I wanted to reach out.

    As another writer/vagabonder trying to experience everything this world has to offer, I would love to share my story with you. (Few people have tried to wine, dine, and intertwine their way through foreign worlds and language barriers, I know you can relate).

    I’ve added my email and a link to my main blog below. I have a travel blog as well that you might find more interesting, though it has 1k readers vs 7k on my main one.

    Thanks Tim,

    Jack

    1. Tim, thank you for inspiring me. I’m working bc on my presenting & life skills and your guest selections seem to be such a great mix. Is there someone out there who you would interview, who is the most amazing presenter/speaker? Even a winner of an international speech contest, who is interesting? Elizabeth

  2. Hey Tim & team ! I recently discovered the work of a Brazilian Psychotherapist with small doses of mushrooms. It’s a wonderful work and I think you would be amazed to discover it too. You can find her on Instagram @ticianaporto

  3. The first time I’ve tuned into this blog that my immediate reaction to seeing the guest name was ‘You’re not supposed to be on here!’ And that is after many years. At first glance at the two names alongisde each other, it’s hard to imagine more cognitive dissonance on a screen, than between the names of Mr Morello and Ferriss! Based on what we know of each via our public perception, Tom Morello would appear to represent and live everything that Tim Ferriss is not, and vice verca. So, an interesting clash of two radically opposing worlds. Thanks for taking the risk, Mr Ferriss. Tom Morello is a giant of an artist and a real man.