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In the Studio: Tom Morello

July 29, 2008 8:45 AM ET

Fifteen months ago, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello officially debuted a new persona, the Nightwatchman, an acoustic-guitar-and-harmonica-wielding protest singer with a deep baritone. This fall, the Nightwatchman returns with The Fabled City, 11 songs of politically charged folk recorded in eight days with producer Brendan O'Brien.

Unlike on 2007's stripped-down One Man Revolution, Morello and O'Brien created bigger, more eclectic arrangements for the new album — which also features vocal spots from Serj Tankian and country rocker Shooter Jennings. "It definitely rocks harder than the first one," Morello says.

Writing the songs for The Fabled City was a cathartic experience for Morello, who channeled his grief about the recent deaths of his aunt and uncle into the lyrics. "This album is a search for hope through music," Morello says. The song "Saint Isabelle," which eulogizes his aunt, draws heavily from Celtic music. "Irish rebel music makes for great fighting songs," he says.

Political-protest tunes remain the core of the Nightwatchman material. "Night Falls" documents a union uprising in the guitarist's childhood home of Marseilles, Illinois, while "Midnight in the City of Destruction" is a first-person account of surviving Hurricane Katrina. "I lost my grandfather, two neighbors and my friend," Morello sings. "I pray that God himself will come and drown the president if the levees break again."

Morello — currently playing festivals with Rage — is psyched to bring some of that energy to his solo tour this fall. "I feel comfortable now playing not only the creepy, dark acoustic songs but also cranking it up on the electric," he says. "That'll definitely be part of the tour."

[From Issue 1058 — August 7, 2008]

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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