Raging against an unjust world
by Adrian Stoic
transcribed by Jamie Murdoch
The reputation of rock artists is based on integrity and credibility. A lot of bands claim these attributes, while some appear to have it naturally and in abundance.
One such band is Rage Against The Machine, the Los Angelinos foursome. They have had it since their first eponymous album in 1992; it increased with its supplant, Evil Empire (1996) and is bound to shoot through the roof with their third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, released in New Zealand on Tuesday.
The new album is more funky but also heavier, a return to the spirit of the first album in a way, with the most potent lyrics singer Zack de la Rocha has penned yet. The subject matters are the usual fare one would expect from these rock-militants, lashing at the discrepancy of supposed democracy in American society.
It might be three years since the previous album but RATM havenıt lost their angst, edge and indignation with the political-economic-social situations of the vast majority of humans.
During the interim, theyıve kept fans going with soundtrack contributions (Spawn, Godzilla, The Faculty, Small Soldiers, the Matrix); and collaborations (guitarist Tom Morello guesting with The Prodigy, Snoop Doggy Doggıs Snoop Bounce for MoM3), a cover of Bruce Springsteenıs The Ghost Of Tom Joad for No Boundaries and the Kosovo Refugeesı charity album.
They also continued their involvement with different causes, from Refuse and Resist, Rock for Choice, to their personal concerns, such as two inmates on death-row: both convicted murderers whose trials have been badly mishandled but are prevented from re-trials while sitting in jail for 17 and 22 years respectively.
RATM are so dedicated to their beliefs they appeared naked at a Philadelphia show to protest against attempted censoring by Parents Music Resource Committee when each member had one of the PMRC words stenciled on their chest.
Integrity and credibility is like their natural right, which is not surprising considering de la Rochaıs father was a political activist and Morello is a nephew of Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan freedom fighter who went on to become the countryıs first president. Morello, de la Rocha, bassist Timmy C and drummer Brad Wilk are four such different characters they refuse to share an interview and insist on talking separately to journalists. ³We need space because the inter-band relationship is so intense,² Wilk says.
Artists naturally claim their latest work is their best and they are not going to differ. ³Definitely not. I feel there are a lot more songs on this album,² says Timmy C. ³On the last album I thought, when I listened back to it, there were three really good songs. On this record I feel there are seven or eight songs out of 12 that make me feel pretty excited.²
De La Rocha says: ³I agree although Iım pretty close to the record and havenıt had the time to reflect on it. I went back in to re-record a part of the lyrics, to make it more contemporary. Doing interviews helps me analyse music.²
Wilk: ³A lot of people ask us about taking four years but our records are like jewels. And very rare ones. That is the point, make it special and an occasion. We want our albums to be events and not just something you put out because your contract dictates it. If you do that you show disrespect to your fans and they find you out very soon.²
The band still find longtime producer Brendan OıBrien the most sympathetic to bringing their message to listeners. ³Yes, the numbers are rising among young people and he helps us to sound off the illusion that is democracy in America,² says de la Rocha. ³Music and involvement in different issues points younger people towards the real issues and not just to view music as an entertainment only.²
³The first record was a rally cry, anthem-type record, much more broad, the second one was like a history record and you really had to be versed in some of the ideas,² says Timmy C. ³It was one of the very few times I had to ask questions and do some research. This one is very emotional, very passionate, the lyrics are much personal, much more direct and really soulful.²
RATM usually create democratically. Has anybody ever come to the recording with a whole song? ³No, nobody, we donıt work like that,² says Wilk. ³Someone would have a riff, a beat, a bass-line or a melody-phrase and weıll all work on it. From then on it will be built and thatıs where our chemistry as a band comes alive. And if one person doesnıt like something about the song it gets dropped. Or at least changed because everybody in this band needs to be happy with the songs we are playing.² Which must prolong the process. Morello was quoted saying that a further delay on this album was caused by de la Rochaıs late delivery of lyrics. ³True, he took an extraordinarily long time and got really late at delivering lyrics,² agrees Morello. ³That makes me feel very frustrated but the upside is that I work with three incredible musicians who make powerful music that is a unique product of our chemistry.²
³This is not a band that should ever hurry things because we need time to get everything in its place,² says Timmy C. ³Zack took his time with the words and it is good he did because the lyrics are just incredible. The first time he was doing it much faster and you could tell. He needs his space and time and every song has to be just right. Just listen to Born Of A Broken Man and youıll hear something poetic.²
RATM have always had an idealistic view of the music - which must be opposite to that of their employer, Sony Music, which has a fiscal aim.
Timmy C: ³How not to believe in the power of music when I was watching the news report on East Timor and this guy was climbing up the pole to tear down a flag and he had a Rage Against The Machine T-shirt on!²
³We are in a position to offer people an alternative to discussing and influencing politics via different means,² says de la Rocha. ³This is our platform from which we can voice our opinions. We use a big corporation because it is mutually beneficial to exploit each other. What we see as a rebellious music and an opportunity for profit. But they communicate our ideas and we are their employers, that is the bottom line.²
Sunday Star Times (New Zealand) 31 October 1999