(Interview kicked off with "Testify" being blasted on to the Australian wide radio station, just to get the listeners into the mood of RATM.)
Dave: Oh yeah, it's great to hear them back, Rage Against the Machine there with Testify, the opening song to their new album "The Battle of Los Angeles", their third album release. I tried three times this week to touch base with guitarist Tom Morrello. Third time lucky it was, we tried to hook up when he had come offstage from a huge show which they had given in Mexico City on Thursday night. We couldn't get the phone lines to connect there, but we did manage to connect when he landed in Manhattan after the gig in Mexico city. The first question I asked him was; How was that gig in MEHICO!
Tom: It was AWESOME! We had never played in Mexico City before, and the show was really, probably one of our best so far, in the history of the band. The audience was just CRAZY and MTV filmed the whole event so I think it's going to be broadcast and you know we have the rights to it so we get to share it with everybody.
Dave: Yeah so the rest of the world gets to see it, we'd love to. Of course Mexico City is something like, something like 25 million people, what was the size of the crowd?
Tom: I think that is was about, six or seven thousand but before the show there was a riot, the battle of Mexico City was being fought outside the venue. There were about six or seven thousand inside, and then there was another three and a half thousand outside who broke down the barricades to get into the show and the police riot group was called in and there was tear gas. It was pretty dramatic.
Dave: Was there any stage were you thought that the performance might not go ahead?
Tom: Well yeah, there actually was a stage where we were preparing to evacuate (laughs) the area but, I'm not afraid of the kids (laughs).
Dave: Have you ever seen scenes like that before at one of your shows?
Tom: Oh yeah, occasionally, but I mean very rarely. This was a pretty unique event because there was a lot of anticipation down there. We had never played in the city before and our following down there is pretty enthusiastic. But in the end the kids won the round and about an extra five hundred or so got into the show for free (laughs) so it worked out in the end.
Dave: Did you reduce the price of the tickets for that show as well?
Tom: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Tickets for shows in Mexico city are normally tremendously expensive and so only, you know, only the rich can afford to rock and that's sort of not in our way of thinking so we lowered the prices for the show. Actually all of the proceeds of the show were going to the Zapatista community in southern Mexico to a few poor communities down there. Actually about two days before the show, we received a letter from Subcommandante Marcos who is one of the leaders of the Zapatista movement asking us give the money not to the communities where his Zapatista fighters are, but rather to the flood victims from the recent flood there. So we thought magnanamace gesture and we were happy to do it.
Dave: Tell us about the Zapatista's - because you've been long time supporters of them, tell us a bit for people in Australia who may not know what is going on in Mexico at the moment with them.
Tom: Well the Zapatista's are a guerrilla army who represent the poor indigenous communities in southern Mexico who for hundreds of years they have been trodden upon and sort of cast aside and which really are the lowest form on the economic social ladder in Mexico. In 1994 on New Years day, there was an uprising there and they were led by the very charismatic Subcommandante Marcos and it's a group which is tremendously supportive of the most objectively poor and continues to fight for dignity, for all people in Mexico.
Dave: Have they made many gains?
Tom: Ahh well they made tremendous gains in regards to the material condition of those in southern Mexico you know they've done their best to organize the community to help them become more self sufficient. Because in the wake of NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement - the differences between rich and poor have grown that much greater in Mexico and in the United States as well, not coincidentally, so they've done their best to organize and their key gain is to keep in front of the countryman's eyes and the world's eyes - you know the struggle for land and justice and dignity in which continues to go on.
Dave: You call them like a 'Guerrilla Army' I mean are they militant? Do they take arms?
Tom: Yeah well in 94' there was an insurgency which did involve weaponry but basically that was just fighting for their lives and hunting by the government that there hasn't been a real offense there other than what the Mexican government finds very offensive which is the organizing of the communities down there and the continued defiance of the creeping inner-quality.
Dave: So was it hard to organize this gig for you guys to play in Mexico City? Was ther a lot of opposition from the government? Tom: Yeah absolutely. There was also a huge student strike going on over there at the moment and the Mexican government doesn't tolerate criticism from Mexican citizen's let alone foreign nationals. Yeah so there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the show but in the end it went off pretty great and we were able to raise money for those flood victims who were in need, so it was a pretty damn rocking show!
(They then played Guerrilla Radio)
Dave: I'm sure not just in places like Mexico, but throughout the States you would have played in areas where there would have been a lot of social or governmental opposition to you even staging a performance, how does the band face a performance like that?
Tom: There have been a number of occasions where either through ignorance or through desire, the local authorities have tried to shut down Rage Against the machine shows and fortunately we have the thing called the first amendment on them which protects freedom of speech, so the shows have always been able to go on. But that doesn't mean that the cops haven't stopped trying to shut down our shows occasionally. But I mean it only makes it, not only strengthens our convictions, but also is a great way to sort of demonstrate to our audience that you can't take for granted the music you want to hear. If it's music that is controversial in nature, you can't just sit back and hope together - that you have to fight for it.
Dave: Yeah, I spoke to Tim (Commerford / Y tim K / tim.com), when he was in the country I think it was a month or six weeks ago, we where talking about the album then, he was talking about the intimidation which police forces, not in every part of the States but in some parts of the States, show towards you when your on stage. That must make it very nerve-racking.
Tom: (laughs) I don't think that it is nerve-racking. I think that you're on the right side when that stuff (laughs) starts to happen (laughs).
Dave: But you don't want to be persecuted yourselves and you also don't want to be the victims, I mean it's great that you do speak up for the people who are victimized in society but at the same token you don't want to throw yourselves onto the fire.
Tom: Well I don't know whether I agree with that I mean I think that you have to follow where ever your convictions lead and if that means that there is trouble down that road then that's trouble that you have to face and that I think that it would be very cowardly to just quit because there was police opposition or some opposition of whatever authority, that we would back down and soften our stance and not to speak out or play the music that we do, I mean that really from day one is what Rage Against the Machine has been about and that it's only through following those convictions that you know, it's like the greater a threat we come, the more successful a band we become and I think that that really doesn't have that much to do you know necessarily with record sales as it does with you know sort of getting the word out and trying to achieve a practical goal.
Dave: It means that the word is getting heard by the mainstream, I guess which means that the word is definitely getting out there.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely.
Dave: The 'Rock for Life' organization I noticed a couple of months ago I think it was, described you as baby killer (Tom begins to laugh) that you hate Christians (oh my god) and that your music generally is hateful propaganda. How do you respond, I mean do you just laugh at an organization like that?
Tom: I really didn't know anything about the organization before that incredibly umm, it's hard to believe whether that press release is ignorance or whether that it is just ingenius. You know because they describe Rage Against the Machine as supporting 'hate-crimes' you know which couldn't be anything further from the truth. And while we absolutely have played benefit concerts for, I think in '93, for 'Rock for Choice' which stands up for women's right's for abortion rights, you know that something which we've absolutely done and continue to stand up for sexual discrimination of any kind whether it's of society near in the womb, or that the other stuff in there is hateful propaganda, GEEZ!
Dave: Do you ever get into a dialogue with these organizations who say these sort of things about you guys?
Tom: Rock for Life didn't seem to have any interest in starting any sort of dialogue with the band - Apart from the ten out of eleven inaccuracies in there (laughs) you know in their press release, they didn't do much back checking before they put it out, so we could have set them straight I mean I'd be delighted to debate any topic with any of those fools from that organization any day of the week!
(Finishes with Born of a Broken Man)
Dave: That's an incredibly powerful new album by Rage Against the Machine and what else would you expect from a band of that quality. Also tune in next Sunday for more of that interview.