Prophets of Rage’s Tom Morello: ‘We’ve Never Felt More Accomplished Musically Than on This Record’ [Interview]

Kevin RC Wilson, LoudwireKevin RC Wilson, Loudwire

Prophets of Rage released their self-titled album on Sept. 15. Loudwire Nights host Toni Gonzalez recently spoke with guitarist Tom Morello on the morning of their Apollo Theater gig. Morello discussed collaborating with the group, comparisons to Rage Against the Machine‘s first album, how being a parent has changed his outlook on life and more. Read their chat below.

You were in NYC for the 16th anniversary of Sept. 11. There was definitely a heaviness in the air in the city. Why was it important for Prophets of Rage to perform on Jimmy Fallon on Sept. 11. I’m guessing that was not a coincidence.

It wasn’t a coincidence. In our music we aim to help create a more decent, just and peaceful planet. So to be able to play our songs of freedom and justice on Sept. 11 was an important thing to do, as well as acknowledge all of the fallen innocent victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as all the innocent victims, the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of innocent victims throughout the world who in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks were the victims of our government. So, to mourn those who are fallen, those whom are innocent, and lives that are lost around the globe was very important. All of those lives were equal and that is key.

Did you get any flashbacks of working on Rage Against The Machine’s debut album at the time of working on this album or did this feel like a completely different animal?

A little bit. It really was the most fun collaborative, happy, excited studio effort since the making of the first Rage record in a band context, playing with Tim [Commerford] and Brad [Wilk], the most lethal rhythm section in rock n’ roll, and two heroic icons of mine Chuck D. and B-Real from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. It was great to be able to play with Tim and Brad in Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave and now with Prophets of Rage and to be playing at the level we’re playing at is very, very exciting. We’ve never played better together and we’ve never felt more accomplished musically than on this record. We aimed to make a record with producer Brendan O’Brien that stood shoulder to shoulder with our best work and we think that we have done just that.

Most recently the band released “Strength in Numbers.” You’ve said the message, “We stand together or we fall apart. Can we be as united in the streets as we are in the mosh pit? Let’s find out.” How do you stand united with somebody that you don’t agree with on most levels?

Well, first of all, there’s no political litmus test to listening to the music. I’m a fan of bands whose points of view is one that I don’t agree with because I’m a fan of rock ‘n’ roll. Many people were drawn to Rage Against The Machine. People will be drawn to Prophets of Rage because of the space-tacular guitar solos and the aggression of the music and the power of the band when they may not care about the politics. They may completely disagree with the politics. But I cannot tell you that every day that I run into people who either had their minds changed or been to open to a new set of ideas by music. That happened to me with The Clash and Public Enemy, where great music introduced me to a set of ideas that were not a part of my world that made me re-examine my world. I think that’s going to be happening a lot with Prophets of Rage.

You went to Harvard. Most of us will never have the money and or grades to get that kind of an education.

I didn’t have the money to go to Harvard. You know how much I paid a year to go to Harvard? $1,500, let’s be clear! How’d I do that? Because I’m a smart person and got scholarships and stuff. Harvard wants a diverse freshman class economically and socially so they make it possible for people who don’t have any money to go. Just to be clear.

As I noted, money and or grades. What’s the most important takeaway from your Ivy League Schooling?

Well, I gotta tell you the most important takeaway was when you’re in a cover band at Harvard and your practice — I was doing an honors major in Political Science and practicing guitar four hours every day and playing kegger gigs wearing spandex and shirts with zippers on it like I was in Dokken. So it was an interesting experience on a daily basis sort of balancing the two worlds. One of revolutionary politics and two of shredding Ozzy Osbourne guitar solos.

[Laughs] What was the last protest you attended?

Every one of our shows is a protest so that would have been two nights ago in Philadelphia.

People always talk about how being a parent changes their perspective on everything. Did it change anything for you in terms of the music you create or how you get it out into the world?

Yes, it certainly did. It certainly changes priorities. I love spending time with my kids and I coach their little league teams. So any moment away from them has got to be worthwhile. I used to be able sit in band meetings and argue about stuff all day and now it’s like I want to go home and see my kids. [Laughs] The good news is there is an emotional maturity with Prophets of Rage which precludes all of that. I’ve always advocated changing the world, fighting for a more just and decent planet and one way to do that is to raise sensible kids so I’m trying to do that.

What social justice organization do you have 100 percent trust in — a starting point for some, if you will? 

We have a social justice partner at each one of the shows on our tour. Hopefully, it’s on our website what they are for and each of the shows where a percentage of the tickets for each of the headlining shows we play goes to that organization. They also come to the show and fans who want to get involved are able to. I think tonight’s show at the Apollo in New York City is for an organization called Why Hunger that helps these sort of social justice issues through helping alleviate poverty and hunger.

Mary Morello, your mom, looked like such a badass stopping by your rehearsal space in her Prophets of Rage shirt. Raising a militant clenched fist. So cute!

That’s true. Not going to argue with you there. She is a badass.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the militant fist, what it symbolizes for those who aren’t aware and why it’s become synonymous with Prophets of Rage?

It’s just a sign of solidarity. That’s it. It means together we’re stronger than — the five fingers together are stronger than they are individually. People together are stronger collectively than they are individually and that’s what the fist represents. People standing together to fight the power and fighting for justice.

Our thanks to Prophets of Rage’s Tom Morello for the interview. You can pick up the band’s self-titled album via Amazon or iTunes, and look for the group on tour at these stops. Loudwire Nights is airing on stations around the country. Find your affiliate here

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