Interview: Tom Morello on Prophets of Rage’s longevity and importance of rock in today’s political environment

Come March 24th, Melbourne will be hosting the first ever Australian Download Festival. An event that will undoubtedly fill the hole Soundwave left for many heavy metal and punk fans, Download has already put an impressive stake in the market, announcing the likes of KornSlipknot and more to their inaugural Australian line up. Carving out a fine spot for themselves on the line up too, is the vocal and unmistakeable Prophets of Rage.

Buoyed by an anger and dissatisfaction with a political climate at war with itself as much as anything else, and carried through by some indeed thought provoking musical personalities, Prophets of Rage has exceeded the ‘supergroup’ expectations that many originally had of them, in the wake of their debut LP last year.

Talking with guitarist Tom Morello about the band’s short but jam-packed history thus far, he reflects on their beginnings and why a band like Prophets of Rage are a necessity in today’s wider musical landscape.

“When the band first got together, it was a fire drill,” he explains.  “It was a response to the election year emergency that was going on here in the US. There was really no thought beyond, ‘Let’s get out there – we just have to inject our voice and our music into this insane dialogue’. Provide an alternative point of view. We found that we loved playing though and we thought, ‘Maybe this is more than one tour, let’s see if we can write more songs together’. We had a ball. It was effortless, we wrote about ten songs in the first two weeks. It was fun and free; it felt like the most enjoyable band experience of the early days of Rage Against the Machine.”

“We’ve played in front of two and a half million people in the two years we’ve been a band,” he furthers. “What I love about it is that we do have the history and the gravitas of the Rage, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill catalogues, but we’re a new band with a chip on our shoulder. We go out there every day to destroy fools.”

Morello isn’t under the illusion that bringing the histories from previous bands into the fold here would guarantee instant flow or conjure the same formula for success. With Tom Commerford and Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine), Chuck D (Public Enemy) and B-Real (Cypress Hill) all in the same creative environment, there was some different terrain to navigate in those early days of the band.

“I think the hard work was put in before we played our first show,” Morello remembers. “Prophets of Rage, as an idea, looked great on paper but when we first got in the room, it was a struggle to make music that felt impactful. It was disparate pieces coming together. We practiced for months in secret in the San Fernando Valley, until we forged an authentic chemistry that felt like us; it wasn’t a reheated version of past glories. It was like, ‘This is a band that’s made for now’.”

“While there are similarities; Tim, Brad and I play a certain way together, Chuck D’s voice is unmistakeable, as is B Real’s. We thought we had to work hard to forge this chemistry and once we did that? Frankly, the songwriting process came fairly effortlessly; we knew who we were as a six piece and we let it all hang out in the studio.”

The success of the Prophets of Rage album in 2017 was quick to generate a swell of hype through rock and heavy circles that would present itself in large show numbers for the band from the jump. What’s stood out about the band’s presence as a live unit is their joint ferocity in musical delivery, one, and the sheer amount of fun these guys look like they have with each turn.

“We’re in the studio now writing for the next record. This is an ongoing endeavour.” Morello asserts. “One, it’s fun for us to play together, but it’s also important for us to play together in this time and to be engaged in the conflict in the world right now. We’ve got a lot of potent arrows in our quiver, when it comes to song catalogues, and ideas should not be restricted to tweeting about them.”

“The last time we went through Europe, there were a lot of fans at the front for those shows who weren’t alive when the first Rage record came out.” he laughs. “They only know us through Prophets of Rage, I think that’s great. That’s how it should be – rock and roll should not be something you dust off. It has that evocative quality as well, you remember fondly when you were 18 and in the mosh pit, but in order for it to be something viable – and we only want to do something that’s viable – we would quite tomorrow if it ever felt like a nostalgia act. This band is made for now. The good news is, from “Fight the Power” to “Killing in the Name” – those songs speak to now even more loudly than when they were written.”

The band’s trip to Australia for Download in March marks the first time Morello has been Down Under in a few years, last making the trip back with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. A man of many projects, Morello is particularly excited to bring this new beast to Australian fans for the first time.

“I’ve had some of my favourite musical experiences in my career in Australia, so I’m looking forward to adding to that list when I come down there with Prophets of Rage.” he says. “From Rage Against the Machine to Audioslave, to Nightwatchmen and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the Australian audiences have always been pretty amazing. We’ve had such a great time with Prophets of Rage, rocking people around on three other continents; we’re looking forward to adding a fourth to that tally.”

Prophets of Rage will be striking out from the festival fold along with a bunch of other Download acts in March too, bringing their unbridled brand of rock energy to Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and The Tivoli in Brisbane, too. As Morello says, the importance rock and roll has today has never been higher – these live show experiences are going to be ones to behold.

“The idea is to speak fiercely about the matters at hand, but we also keep it first and foremost in mind that we’re a rock and roll band. If you don’t get that right, then nobody cares what your pretty thoughts are about unions or Trump or the environment; you’ve got to deliver on that front. I think that’s what lacking in a lot of music that is at the top of the charts, an authentic point of view that speaks to the day. What’s missing in a lot of progressive politics is an excitement, you know?”

“We ride this shit like it’s a chariot of fire into the arena every day, with a zealotry that feels like we’re the right band, in the right place at the right time.”

PROPHETS OF RAGE TOUR DATES 
Tickets via www.livenation.com.au

March 22nd | Hordern Pavilion, SYDNEY
March 24th | DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL, MELBOURNE
March 26th | The Tivoli, BRISBANE

 

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