Australian Guitar - - Contents -

Leg­endary gui­tarist Tom Morello walks us through the po­lit­i­cally-charged su­per­group driv­ing the sound­track to the revo­lu­tion.

De­spite be­ing firm sta­ples of the ‘90s po­lit­i­cal punk scene, the co­gent, take-no-bull­shit angst of acts like Rage Against The Ma­chine and Pub­lic En­emy has never rung more true. It seems ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous that so­ci­etal stains like racism, sex­ism and queer­pho­bia could have such a preva­lent and ve­he­ment up­ris­ing in our ever-so-seem­ingly ‘pro­gres­sive’ com­mu­ni­ties, but here we are. And here – nos­tal­gic edge de­light­fully in­tact – are Prophets Of Rage, armed and ready to dis­man­tle the sys­tem riff by riff.

Self-de­scribed as an “elite task force of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mu­si­cians de­ter­mined to con­front this moun­tain of bull­shit head-on with Mar­shall stacks blaz­ing,” the su­per­group – fus­ing most of Rage Against The Ma­chine (gui­tarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Com­mer­ford and drum­mer Brad Wilk) with a chunk of Pub­lic En­emy (DJ Lord and rap­per Chuck D) and Cy­press Hill’s B-Real (vo­cals) – have posited them­selves as a per­ma­nent in­sti­tu­tion in the new gen­er­a­tion of protest mu­sic. With their po­lar­is­ing self-ti­tled de­but mak­ing waves across both the mu­sic and po­lit­i­cal scenes, we sought to dig a lit­tle deeper into its ven­omous, un­for­giv­ing roots.

Es­pe­cially go­ing up against the cur­rent so­ciopo­lit­i­cal cli­mate, what’s the re­sponse to Prophets Of Rage been like on your end? Have you had any clashes with ‘alt-right’ f***lords since you kicked this project off?

Hav­ing con­flict in the po­lit­i­cal realm is, frankly, what we’re aim­ing for. If you’re mak­ing mu­sic that ev­ery­one can agree on, both ar­tis­ti­cally and po­lit­i­cally, you’re prob­a­bly mak­ing some pretty shitty mu­sic. This record is our au­di­tion to be the sound­track to the re­sis­tance: we want to fuel our fans to fight back against all forms of in­jus­tice across the globe, from im­pend­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters to the rise of racism and anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ments, to grotesque eco­nomic in­equal­ity. In­jus­tice is ram­pant, but re­sis­tance to in­jus­tice is also ram­pant, and that re­sis­tance needs some songs to blast from the rooftops. Prophets Of Rage is here for you – you must only ask!

This project started as a protest against Trump’s me­dia cam­paign at the start of 2016, and at the time, we thought there’d just be a few shows here and there – maybe a sin­gle or two as well. Was it al­ways your in­ten­tion to wind up with an al­bum and a world tour, or did it just sort of snow­ball from those ini­tial few shows?

We formed this band in the midst of a po­lit­i­cal hur­ri­cane, and we thought it was im­per­a­tive to do some­thing more than just tweet about the as­cen­dency of a Trump/Pence regime. But then we found that we ac­tu­ally loved play­ing to­gether and that we have a great mu­si­cal chem­istry, and we want to make a lot of records. This is just the be­gin­ning for Prophets Of Rage. When we got into the stu­dio and found that we could write and record to­gether – that we could make mu­sic that we loved and then take that mu­sic out into the world – it was a game-changer. It’s in­sane to be play­ing “Unf*** The World” back-to-back with “Bul­let In The Head”, “Fight The Power” and “(Rock) Su­per­star”. And y’know, we’re mu­si­cians first and fore­most: our mes­sage lives in the mosh pit, so it’s our job to drive peo­ple ab­so­lutely f***ing crazy from the stage. Hope­fully, that will then open their views up to the mes­sage con­tained in the mu­sic.

What makes Prophets Of Rage more than just a plain ol’ su­per­group, then?

When we first got to­gether, it looked great on pa­per but it didn’t sound great in the re­hearsal stu­dio. It took months of us se­cretly prac­tis­ing in the San Bernardino Val­ley to hone our sound and an­swer the ques­tion of, “How do we six mu­si­cians be an im­pact­ful band?” [Rage Against The Ma­chine] had never played with a DJ be­fore, but now some of the most dev­as­tat­ing parts of the show are the mini hip-hop set in the mid­dle of the show, the turntable scratch bat­tle that I have with DJ Lord, the in­ter­play be­tween B-Real and Chuck D on the Rage Against The Ma­chine songs and the Rage-ifi­ca­tion of the Pub­lic En­emy and Cy­press Hill songs. There’s a lot of dif­fer­ent ar­rows in the quiver when we’re up there on­stage.

Since those early setlists were dom­i­nated by Rage Against The Ma­chine songs, and the lineup in­cludes all of you bar Zack, we’re a lit­tle cu­ri­ous – did this project ini­tially start off as a shot at re­unit­ing the old band?

[ Laughs] No. No, it was never that. It was about those songs, though – we felt as though it would be fool­ish to have them be dor­mant dur­ing a time when they were most needed. Y’know, they were writ­ten dur­ing the Bill Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion. With Trump in power, those songs are much, much more needed now than they were when they were writ­ten.

So what did you want to do with Prophets Of Rage that you couldn’t with Rage Against The Ma­chine?

I think all of us have taken our com­bined mu­si­cal her­itage and turned it into some­thing com­pletely

This record is our au­di­tion to be the sound­track to the re­sis­tance.

new. I hear some of Chris Cor­nell’s in­flu­ence on this record – there’s a melod­i­cism in some parts of [the Prophets Of Rage] record that we first moulded in the Au­dioslave years. I hear some Rage Against The Ma­chine in it, too – there are those big, bull­doz­ing riffs. I try, from the stand­point of a gui­tarist, to play stuff that no­body’s ever heard be­fore. I try to do that on ev­ery record I make, and on this record, I brought all of that to­gether. I used ev­ery­thing from the very first gui­tar I ever owned – a lit­tle $50 axe that’s been sit­ting in a closet for 30 or so years – to Bren­dan [O’Brien, pro­ducer]’s fancy Stra­to­caster from the 1950s. Us­ing all of our own strengths, we just fear­lessly ap­proached this record as a chance to make mu­sic that was go­ing to be mean­ing­ful in 2017.

Af­ter 30-plus years be­hind the axe, do you think it’s im­por­tant to keep push­ing your­self out of your com­fort zone just to stay on your toes?

Yeah, but I mean, that’s what I’ve done for my en­tire ca­reer! I was out of my com­fort zone in 1991 when Rage Against The Ma­chine formed: there wasn’t any other band made up of a Mex­i­can‑Amer­i­can, a half‑black guy, a Jewish guy and a white guy play­ing a neo‑Marx­ist mashup of punk, me­tal, rap and funk. For me, at least, it’s so cru­cial to keep ex­plor­ing and keep ex­pand­ing, and to keep find­ing in­spi­ra­tion in new places.

How are you still find­ing that in­spi­ra­tion af­ter so many years of con­stantly jump­ing be­tween those ex­tremes?

Well, there’s a num­ber of el­e­ments to the creative process, and there’s a crafts­man­ship to it where, y’know, you prac­tise the gui­tar, you make sure you know all the notes, the band prac­tises the song, you record in a stu­dio, and you try to get the song right. But my favourite part in that is what sort of ev­i­dences it­self in both the song­writ­ing and the so­los – it’s what in­spires you as a mu­si­cian, and that’s what re­ally makes a song. I have no idea where that comes from, and that’s why I’m in this busi­ness. It’s that mo­ment of hav­ing a blank sheet of pa­per, and then all of a sud­den, there’s some noises and sounds and grooves and riffs that never ex­isted be­fore. It’s that orig­i­nal mo­ment of creative in­sur­gency that has pushed me as a mu­si­cian for a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

With things like the Ea­gles Of Death Me­tal shoot­ing, the fes­ti­val shoot­ing in Ve­gas and the Ari­ana Grande bomb in­ci­dent, do you have any wor­ries that your mes­sage might be a tar­get for some­thing to go down at one of your own shows?

In this day and age, I think there’s a level of anx­i­ety about your per­sonal safety that didn’t ex­ist in the past, whether you’re play­ing a show or walk­ing into an of­fice build­ing. But what are we go­ing to do? Just stay home and not play a con­cert? [ Laughs]. I mean, we take ev­ery pos­si­ble pre­cau­tion at ev­ery show to keep our fans, the bands and crew safe, and that’s re­ally all you can do… Well, other than re­tire pre­ma­turely, which we don’t in­tend to do. What’s go­ing on with those ter­ror­ist at­tacks is, in some ways, teth­ered to US for­eign pol­icy, which is, in some ways, teth­ered to in­ter­na­tional ten­sions… It’s all part and par­cel, and it shows that our lead sin­gle, “Unf*** The World”, is an im­por­tant song right now. While it’s a very catchy sort of slo­gan, it’s also a mean­ing­ful plan of ac­tion.

It’s a call to arms, ba­si­cally – the peo­ple lis­ten­ing to “Unf*** The World” are the peo­ple that can go out and do ex­actly that.

Right. That’s how the world changes, and that’s how it’s al­ways changed. Peo­ple who have no greater de­gree of in­tel­li­gence, courage or abil­ity than the peo­ple read­ing this ar­ti­cle were the same peo­ple that over­threw Apartheid and made the Ber­lin Wall come down – they’re the peo­ple who got women the right to vote and ended slav­ery. In this day and age, peo­ple get so locked into their de­vices and their hash­tags, they for­get that they’re agents of his­tory. His­tory isn’t some­thing that just hap­pens overnight – his­tory is some­thing that you make. So get the f*** out there and make it!

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