"The message of Prophets of Rage is a very, very simple one," says Tom Morello. "The world is not going to change itself. That's up to you. And if you sit on the sidelines of history right now you're gonna regret it."
The guitarist, as should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, is not afraid to put his music where his mouth is. And so Morello has jumped into the political and cultural fray with Prophets of Rage, powered by his air-raid guitar squalls and the stirring spitfire rhymes of Public Enemy's Chuck D and Cypress Hill's B-Real (the band is rounded out by Morello's Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave bandmates Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, as well as PE turntablist DJ Lord).
The group first reared its head in May of 2016, when the presidential primaries were in full swing, and ever since have been tossing rap-rock bombs everywhere from the streets surrounding the Republican National Convention to club, arena and festival stages across much of the western hemisphere. The latest salvo in their mission to unfuck the world (to borrow one of their own song titles) is the 12-track debut full-length Prophets of Rage, out this Friday. A few days prior to its release, Morello took some time to chat with Revolver about music, messages, mosh pits and the "clown-like man-baby with the nuclear codes."
PROPHETS OF RAGE PLAYED THEIR FIRST SHOW IN MAY OF LAST YEAR. HERE WE ARE ALMOST 18 MONTHS LATER. COULD YOU HAVE IMAGINED THINGS IN THE WORLD WOULD HAVE GOTTEN THIS, UM, BAD?
TOM MORELLO [Laughs] I certainly couldn't imagine the specifics. But here's the thing: There are always challenges and there are always injustices to face up to. Either bury your head in the sand or roll up your sleeves and do something about it. We've chosen the latter path. In the year and a half, we've been a band we've played in front of two-and-a-half million people on three continents, and have seen that people across the globe are ready to resist oppression and resist injustice, and also get in the mosh pit and have a great time doing it.
WHEN YOU LOOK OUT AT THOSE MOSH PITS FROM THE STAGE, DO YOU WONDER WHETHER FANS ARE REACTING TO THE MESSAGE OR JUST TO THE SOUND?
There's always both, and that's great. You know, first and foremost we are musicians, and we go out there to play a killer rock & roll show and destroy the crowd. But our convictions are also woven into the material. And at every show there's a charity or a social-justice partner — it's mostly homeless shelters and food banks and grassroots organizations that are working to make their communities more decent — that benefits financially from the ticket sales and that we also invite to the venue for fans to connect with if they're so inclined. But, yeah, the first thing you've gotta do is stir up that mosh pit like crazy. If you don't do that, no one's gonna care what you have to say.
YOU ALSO DID SOME TOURING IN EUROPE. WHAT DO PEOPLE THERE THINK OF OUR POLITICAL SITUATION?
Well, the biggest cheer of the night was when I flipped my guitar over to play with my teeth and the sign on the back of it says FUCK TRUMP. They think our country's gone insane. Insane. In South America, too. I mean, we have a clown-like man-baby with the nuclear codes.
AS WE SPEAK, FLORIDA IS BEING BATTERED BY HURRICANE IRMA. TEXAS AND OTHER AREAS JUST ENDURED HARVEY. THERE ARE WILDFIRES IN THE NORTHWEST. RIOTS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE. ESCALATING TENSIONS WITH NORTH KOREA. THINGS SEEM PRETTY DIRE ALL OVER.
Well, one thing that's a common thread through all of that is, capitalism is breaking the planet, you know? We're experiencing some of the biggest storms in recorded history, and there's this sort of denial of global warming. It's sociopathic behavior in the name of profit. From the grotesque economic inequality that we see across the globe, to the impending catastrophic environmental disaster that's going to plague the planet in the next decade, to sort of the insanity in Washington — it's up to no one but us.
TO ONE OF YOUR POINTS, WHEN SCIENTISTS WARN THAT A HURRICANE IS COMING, PEOPLE PACK UP AND GET OUT OF HARM'S WAY. THOSE SAME SCIENTISTS SPOUT OFF ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, AND IN SOME PEOPLE'S EYES, THEY'RE NOT TO BE BELIEVED.
Yeah. Because there's a lot of propaganda efforts by the oil companies who make money from changing the climate. And they have to make their fourth quarter and their year-end and please their shareholders, and they're willing to sacrifice the planet to do it. If you're okay with that, then cool. If you're not OK with that, you better stand up and fight.
HOW IS IT TO HAVE CHUCK D AND B-REAL AS THE VOICES FOR YOUR FIGHT THIS TIME?
Incredible. They're two of the best MCs of all time, and Public Enemy and Cypress Hill were two of the biggest influences, hip-hop-wise, on Rage Against the Machine. Also, Public Enemy was the first band to ever take Rage Against the Machine on tour, and B-Real actually appears in the "Killing in the Name" video from 1992. So we've known those guys for quite some time and it's an honor to share the stage with them. Another thing is that both those artists were very, very influenced by hard-rock music. The original Public Enemy, their big stage show, Chuck was inspired by Iron Maiden to make a hip-hop show like that. And B-Real, he's the one who kind of plays DJ in the van and the bus when we're driving around, and his depth of knowledge of classic rock and hard rock — he's a huge fan of that. So for them, they're not fish out of water playing with the Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave rhythm section.
B-REAL HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN OUTSPOKEN ADVOCATE FOR MARIJUANA USE, A SUBJECT HE BROACHES ON THE NEW ALBUM'S "LEGALIZE ME." BUT IN CONTRAST TO WHEN CYPRESS HILL WAS FIRST STARTING OUT, THESE DAYS, POT FEELS AS MUCH A POLITICAL ISSUE AS A CULTURAL ONE.
Sure. And it's an issue where there's been success. I'm not a smoker myself, but I appreciate the fact that it's something people have stood up for and organized for, and that their organizing has come to fruition. There's a lesson in that: When you want to change the world, you stand up and change it. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you.
YOU'RE A CELEBRITY. EVER MEET TRUMP?
No, actually. Never crossed paths.
FOR ALL THE PERCEIVED TURMOIL HIS PRESIDENCY HAS CAUSED SO FAR, SHOULD WE AT THE VERY LEAST BE THANKING HIM FOR THE EXISTENCE OF PROPHETS OF RAGE?
[Laughs] Well, bad presidents make for great music! That's inarguable. But I wouldn't limit it to Prophets of Rage. My hope is that this Trump/Pence regime brings into existence a movement that not only dethrones it, but a movement that helps create a more just and decent country.
THERE'S STILL A LOT TO DO IN ORDER TO FULLY UNFUCK THE WORLD.
I think so. [Laughs] We better get to it!