It no coincidence Prophets of Rage will perform on the federal government’s home turf before spending nine weeks on the road, guitarist Tom Morello told The Washington Times before the group’s Friday gig in Fairfax.
Following performances at Republican National Convention protests and outside a federal prison, Mr. Morello said the decision to bring the band’s “Make America Rage Again” tour to the belly of the beast for its 10th show ever was “very intentional,” especially ahead of this year’s presidential election.
Mr. Morello — the Grammy Award-winning guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, among other projects — has used rock music as an outlet for political advocacy since the 1990s to advance causes ranging from liberating Tibet to shuttering Guantanamo Bay.
Nearly a quarter-century after Rage Against the Machine released its major label debut the same month that then-Gov. Bill Clinton was elected president, Mr. Morello said in an interview this week that “dangerous times” contributed to the creation of his newest endeavor: an “all star-team of revolutionary musicians to confront the problems before.”
Inspired largely by the current political climate, the guitarist assembled his Rage Against the Machine colleagues Tim Commerford on bass and Brad Wilk on drums to form Prophets of Rage.
The rap-rock pioneers are joined by the frontmen of legendary hip-hop groups Public Enemy and Cypress Hill (Chuck D and B-Real, respectively), and have been performing songs from the members’ more well-known projects since their debut in May. Their first EP, “The Party’s Over,” is scheduled to be released on Aug. 25.
“You could argue that it’s always overdue for people in their vocation to speak up about the injustices of the day,” Mr. Morello, 52, told The Times this week. “This is a particularly dire time, and we couldn’t remain silent.”
“We took months hidden deep in the bunker in the San Fernando Valley figuring out what the Prophets of Rage chemistry would be and how we could not just compete with our legacies, but stand shoulder-to-shoulder or surpass them in both a live and recorded context. We’re aiming high in that regard,” Mr. Morello said.
In light of this year’s election, however, the group has had no problem finding motivation.
“I was especially outraged that the media referred to both the Trump and the Sanders campaigns as ‘raging against the machine.’ We wanted to let people know what it really means to rage against the machine on a door-to-door, whistle-stop campaign,” he told The Times.
“In our vocation, we’re speaking out about our convictions through Marshall stacks — and heaven help you,” he said.
Indeed, Mr. Morello said that amplifiers, not ideologies, are ingredients necessary for a great rock band, adding: “The message is in the mosh pit, but first you got to have a mosh bit going.”
Yet ahead of the imminent election, the often outspoken guitarist had no problem weighing in on the presidential race without an instrumental backdrop present.
“I harbor no delusions about the fact that no matter what candidate gets into the Oval Office that they’re going to have to be resisted,” Mr. Morello told the Times. “What is encouraging is that the one thing that is not going to go away anytime soon — which is just as American as apple pie and baseball — is resistance to injustice.
“You’ll hear it coming through our amps, you’ll see it on the streets and you saw it from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to the Bernie Sanders groundswell — even elements of the Trump campaign — people realize the system is broken and the system is not going to fix itself,” he added. “The deck is stacked, the jury is rigged, and the government is beholden to those who own the country. The tiniest sliver of the most wealthy pull the lever, and if something is going to be done about it, it’s going to have to be you and me. It’s not going to be Hillary or Trump.”
Mr. Morello stopped short of advocating for anyone this election year, balking instead at the prospect of an ideal candidate ever getting any major party’s backing.
“There’s that cliché: If voting really matters, they’d make it illegal. If some candidate ran on a platform of decentralizing the banks, abolishing the IMF and a zero-tolerance policy for war crimes, then they would not allow that.”
“I do vote, and I will continue to vote until Trump takes the vote away from black people again,” said the guitarist, the son of an Kenyan revolutionary who fought against British colonialists in the 1950s.
Prophets of Rage will be joined Friday by Wakrat and AWOLNATION at the EagleFirst Center at George Mason University.