Music

Tom Morello: We're applying to be the soundtrack for the revolution

Tom Morello says "dangerous times call for dangerous songs" – and his rap-metal supergroup Prophets of Rage want people to stand up and make a difference

Last time Prophets of Rage featured in The Big Issue they were playing gigs on LA’s Skid Row for homeless people and pledging to ‘Make America Rage Again’ in typically fierce response to the calamitous rise of Donald Trump. Since then we have watched natural disasters unfold, the rise of neo-Nazis and white supremacists bringing chaos to America’s streets, while the president is more interested in 140 characters than statesmanlike behaviour in the White House.

In the face of such political turmoil the resistance movement in the US is gathering momentum. And Prophets of Rage founder and axe god Tom Morello, the baseball cap-wearing, riff-emitting former Rage Against the Machine guitarist, says the band is needed now more than ever.

“When we have a crying man-baby running our country, it creates challenges, and dangerous times create a need for dangerous songs to change that,” he points out.

When we have a crying man-baby running our country, it creates challenges

If anyone has the rap metal mettle to tackle America’s troubled times it is Prophets of Rage: the supergroup meshes the angsty rap metal of RATM with the classic hip-hop vocal stylings of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real and DJ Lord on the decks.

The six-piece – which also includes former Ragers Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk – formed last year as Trump’s presidential campaign unexpectedly began to look viable. “I saw a news article with the headline ‘Donald Trump Rages Against the Machine’ and I thought, ‘That is not exactly what we had in mind’,” explains the 53-year-old New York native. “So I sent out a snarky tweet about it but I realised that that was not enough, I needed to do more, so I called up some friends and told them we have a mission to create change amongst the mosh pit.”

Tom Morello wants to get his teeth into the fight against injustice

The anti-Trump revolution failed. And you need only to look at song titles on Prophets of Rage’s new album – which hit the streets last week – like Unfuck The World, Counter Offensive or Strength in Numbers, to see how that result went down with Morello.

He says: “We are sending out the overwhelming message that the world is not going to change itself – and we are applying to be the soundtrack to that revolution.

“Injustice existed before Donald Trump and injustice will exist after he is long gone until people like those who are reading this article stand up and make a difference.

“People have brought through change in the past – take the Berlin Wall falling, for example – and the people who enacted that change were people just like you and me who stood up for what they believed, in their time and place, in their workplace or school.

“There are people who want to destroy that and capitalism has put profits above people. In Charlottesville, white supremacists and people who want to do things like exterminate Jews showed their face while the KKK have unfurled their hood in the White House.

The future of humanity is hanging in the balance. Now is not the time to stand down

“These people have a right to free speech – and I am a big believer in free speech – but we must have the right to fight back and smash them in the streets for their views.

“These times are a matter of life and death and the future of humanity is hanging in the balance. Now is not the time to stand down.”

To take up the mantle of riot raconteurs, the old friends (B-Real appeared in Rage’s Killing in the Name video while Public Enemy were the first band to take Morello’s men on tour) had to solve the problem of bringing their disparate sounds together.

The signature sci-fi swooshes, sirens and other sonic sensations from the guitar now sync up perfectly with Morello’s long-time rhythm partners while Chuck D’s gravelly old-school rhymes interplay with B-Real’s nasal Latino style.

But reaching that point was a real labour of love, says Morello. “When we first founded the band, we rehearsed in secret deep in the heart of the San Fernando Valley for months – I can’t tell you how hard we practised over that time. And that’s because it was a challenge, we had never worked with a DJ before and it took time to figure that out.

“But when we played our first show, the live chemistry was great and we tried to bring that to the studio. That energised us to write 10 songs in two weeks.

This is certainly the most exciting process that I’ve been involved with since the first Rage record

“It is an exciting project. This is certainly the most exciting process that I have been involved with since the first Rage record – this is not a laptop record, it was done the old-fashioned way with guys playing in front of each other.

“We have already played in front of 2.5 million people and have just started playing these songs alongside the likes of Killing in the Name, Know Your Enemy and Bullet in the Head – so they have to be good.

Prophets of Rage

“We’ve all put out some pretty good records in the past, you know, and these songs have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with every one in our back catalogue,” he adds, admitting that having the chance to break out RATM’s enduring, defiant declaration Killing in the Name (the 2009 UK Christmas number one spoiler) alongside his other classics has been a thrill,  after previous projects Audioslave and primarily acoustic The Nightwatchman.

“These songs resonate now more than they did the first time round in the [Bill] Clinton days,” Morello points out. “When we play them now in this new band set-up, I am just as excited and I’m almost having an out-of-body experience while I’m on-stage and I experience them like a fan while I’m playing.

“This is just the beginning for this band and we already have radio stations that won’t play us and venues that won’t book us because of our politics. I say fuck them.”

Prophets of Rage’s self-titled debut album is out now

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