Along with being one of the most influential and defiant bands of the ’90s, Rage Against the Machine were also one of the most volatile. Their creative and personal differences ultimately lead to their 2000 implosion, with several members noting that there wasn’t a whole lot of common ground between them across their timeline.
In fact, a lot of said ground was covered by two of the most revered hip-hop acts in history – and two acts that, so it happened, the members of Rage would go on to have a lifelong friendship with. “Public Enemy and Cypress Hill were our two biggest hip hop influences when Rage was starting out,” says Tom Morello, a guitarist who, certainly at this juncture, needs no introduction.
“They were our cornerstones, man. We listened to the first Cypress Hill record all while we were making our first record – in fact, B Real is in the video for ‘Killing In The Name’. Public Enemy were the first band to ever take us out on tour. We have a long history with both B and Chuck, so we’re honoured that we now get to share the stage with them.”
The stage Morello is referring to in this instance is the one soon to be trod by the Prophets of Rage, the supergroup that reunites Morello with his Rage and Audioslave bandmates Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. Up the front of the proceedings is the aforementioned B Real, one third of Cypress Hill, as well as Chuck D of Public Enemy.
After Prophets came off the road – their maiden voyage was tellingly titled the “Make America Rage Again” tour – the band decided to see if their on-stage chemistry would reflect in writing original material together. An entire album was written within two weeks, and their self-titled debut was recorded within a month by veteran producer Brendan O’Brien – himself no stranger to Morello and co. “We did it the old-fashioned way – musicians, in a room, together, looking at each other,” says Morello proudly.
“A lot of records made today.. I call ’em ‘laptop records.’ It’s just bands recording separately, not even recording in the same studio, just dropping off files to one another. This was about having the entire band in the room and capturing performance. I think that’s one of the things that makes this record as strong as it is. It was a real pleasure having Brendan work with us. He’s worked on some of my favourite records that I’ve ever made – across Rage, Audioslave and as The Nightwatchman – so it was a no-brainer to have him involved.”
Laying down the solos is still probably my favourite part of making a record.
Morello is world-renowned as one of the electric guitar’s most innovative players. His pursuit of distorting and manipulating the sound of his six-string has led to some of the most famous solos of all time (see his piercing wail of ‘Killing In The Name’); as well as some of the most infamous, like the ‘laughing monkey’ sound of Audioslave’s ‘Original Fire’. Wherever the inspiration takes him, Morello is inimitable in his style – and with the making of Prophets Of Rage, he looked to expand his palette even further than usual. “Laying down the solos is still probably my favourite part of making a record,” he says.
“I always save it until last. It’s a purely creative, inspirational mood that I get in. There’s no craftsmanship – I go in the booth, I lift up the antennae and I see what comes beaming in. On this record, I really tried to challenge myself and go outside of my comfort zone. I was using guitars I’d never played before, pedals and amps I’d never used. I tried out a Jimmy Page violin bow … Hell, I even managed to record a track with the first guitar that I ever owned. It was a Kay guitar that I got for 50 bucks, and it was found in the closet after collecting dust for about 30 years. Normally I’m a very traditional guy – I’ve had the same set-up more or less for the last quarter-century. I was really inspired to branch out on this record.”
I’ve had the same set-up more or less for the last quarter-century.
While Prophets of Rage have been touring, Morello has been working on a new solo record with his project The Nightwatchman. He mentions an incredible diverse array of artists will be involved as guests, from Marcus Mumford to Pussy Riot. It’s reflective of the fact that Morello has always been very open about performing and collaborating with as many people as he can. According to him, it’s more or less his human nature. “When I was starting out playing music, I always kind of envisioned myself as the kind of guy that only ever played in one band and never did anything else,” he explains.
“Rage, as you know, were not exactly a prolific band – there’d be years between records where there’d just be nothing new. I am a prolific writer, and I just wanted to play all the time. If there was a studio door open or an amp to plug into on stage, then I was in. I took every opportunity that came my way, and that lead to some of the greatest experiences of my entire life. I’ve gotten to play with everyone from Pete Seeger to the Wu-Tang Clan; from Springsteen to Slipknot. You learn something in every instance. I channel it all into my own music.”
Prophets of Rage will play the Hordern Pavilion on Thursday March 22.