The renowned guitarist talks festivals, crafting the perfect live show, and why protest music is as vital as ever.
Take three quarters of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave - guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk - plus Public Enemy's own Chuck D and DJ Lord, and Cypress Hill's B-Real, and what have you got?
Prophets Of Rage, of course. The supergroup released their self-titled debut album back in 2017, and now they've returned for another run of live shows. We caught up with Tom to see what's on the horizon, explore the power of protest music, and discover their plans to "kick your fucking ass."
YOU'RE HEADLINING BOOMTOWN FAIR VERY SOON, AND PLAYING SOME STANDALONE UK SHOWS. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT TOPPING THE BILL AT SUCH A UNIQUE FESTIVAL?
Says Tom: “You know, this band really is built for festivals. Sometimes people go, ‘Hey, don’t you prefer small theatres and intimate club shows?’ And I’m like, ‘Nope!’ We want as many people there as possible. We played in Poland in front of 750,000 people a few days ago, and I was like, ‘That’s just about the right size room’. Between Chuck D and B-Real you have two of the greatest hip-hop performers of all time, in part because they’ve studied rock ‘n’ roll. The Public Enemy show was in part inspired by Iron Maiden shows, and B-Real is a huge fan of hard rock and metal, he really gets it. With those riffs and those guys, we love a big crowd and a big stage. We’re ready to do it.”
BUILDING THIS PROJECT, HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN THE MORE FUN ELEMENTS OF THE SHOW AND USING IT AS A PLATFORM FOR ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY?
“That took a lot of work, it wasn’t easy. At the first rehearsal, it didn’t come fully-formed. We worked at it really hard, from forging the personal, musical chemistry to getting the setlist right. There’s a seriousness to it, a rawness to what we’re doing, but it’s also a celebration. It’s a celebration of music, and a celebration of resistance. You really feel that at a lot of these shows. A lot of the audience weren’t born when Rage Against The Machine broke up, so they don’t have it in their DNA. Maybe they’ve discovered it along the way, or maybe they’ve discovered it today. So the incredible response, night after night, is certainly very encouraging.”
SO YOU DO SEE NEW AUDIENCES COMING THROUGH? BECAUSE MAKING THAT HAPPEN HAS TO BE ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR ANY ARTISTS WITH AN EXISTING LEGACY.
“Sure. When we put the band together, it was a kneejerk response to the insane political situation in the United States. But then we realised, ‘Hey, we’re a band now, we enjoy this, and why not work on some new songs?’ We’re bringing a lot of new music into the set, and it works really seamlessly. No one ever intended this to be like, ‘A revue of your favourite songs from the Lollapalooza era!’ or anything like that. In order for us to do this, it has to be vital. The good news is that between Tim and Brad and I, we’ve had a musical chemistry since the first time we got together in 1991. That’s very much intact still in 2019."
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS FROM RECENT SHOWS WITH PROPHETS OF RAGE - AND MORE BROADLY TOO - OF LATE?
“In terms of my solo stuff, I had a ball opening up for Muse at their stadium shows a short while back, that was fantastic. It was really great to connect with audiences of that size, very encouraging. It’s early days in this Prophets... tour right now, but Madrid was a banger, and our Poland show drew one of our biggest audiences ever. It’s incredible to know that halfway around the world, in some crazy field, nearly a million people will go apeshit over the old songs, the new songs, whatever.”
LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT'S ON THE HORIZON FOR PROPHETS OF RAGE?
“As well as the new song that we just put out, ‘Made With Hate’, we’re working on new material that we’ll hopefully have out, in response to specific circumstances in our country right now, in the next week or so. We’re hopeful to have more after that, and continue to work on music. In this day and age I’m not sure than an album means quite what it once did, but we’ll continue to work on material to explore our sound, who we are in 2019 and beyond.”
IN TERMS OF THE OVERALL GOALS OF THIS PROJECT, HOW MUCH OF IT IS ABOUT TRYING TO INSPIRE A NEW WAVE OF PROTEST MUSIC? THERE'S A LOT SAID ABOUT THE SUPPOSED DEARTH OF THAT, BUT IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU LOOK...
“Of course, there’s certainly a dearth of it at the top of the charts, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and that it’s not providing the service that protest music has always done. That’s to make people who feel the same way feel less alone, to put wind in the sails of grassroots movements, people who aren’t interviewed in magazines but work every single fucking day to try and make a more just and decent planet. I see them every day, at every show. I see them at the grocery store. It really does connect, it does matter. It helps steel the spine of people who are fighting for a better planet. That’s true whether it’s at the top of the charts, in a room of 2000 people or in front of 220,000. We’re musicians first and foremost and the craft of rocking your ass is something we take very seriously! This isn’t a dry college lecture. I’m going out there to blow your mind to the best of my ability, we’re going to try to kick your fucking ass. Heaven help you if you’re playing after us on the bill, that’s the way I look at it!”
Here's where you can catch it all firsthand:
11 - BOOMTOWN FAIR, WINCHESTER
12 - LONDON Shepherd's Bush Empire
13 - MANCHESTER Academy
For all things Prophets Of Rage, head here.