Rage Against the Machine: Band of the Year
The funk was deep. The rock was heavy. The politics were thick.
Rage Against the Machine unleashed a rock-rap masterwork and a series
of incendiary live performances. The kids were psyched.
Spin: The ferocity of your new album, The Battle of Los Angeles, exceeds anything you've ever done.
Tom Morello: From the very first rehearsals, the shit was just raw. It was thrilling to go in to our little Hollywood rehearsal studio every day -- the funk was deep, the rock was heavy. When we'd hear what would later become the chrous of [the first single] "Guerrilla Radio" or the intro to "Sleep Now in the Fire", we would just close our eyes and picture 60,000 people jumping up and down. Just going off.
On tracks like "Calm Like a Bomb", your guitar sounds are more experimental and all over the place than ever.
With the first record, I found myself in a band that was playing hip-hop music. I got appointed DJ and just did my best. With the second record, I began to feel a creative fulfillment in it. The odd noises had become so much more of a foundation, and I'd try to come up with just crazy, head-turning things. At this point, they're just what I reach for first, the way a blues guitarist would go for a certain tone and style without having to say, "Now I'm going to play a blues lick." The other day, an interviewer claimed that Rage doesn't have a sense of humor. [Drummer] Brad Wilk said, "You haven't listened to the guitar solos!"
On a song on Mos Def's recent "Black on Both Sides", he says that you shouldn't think of black-identified rock as a separate genre - that rock IS black.
I haven't heard the song, but I would say it's a misnomer to treat "black" rock and roll - Chuck Berry and whatnot - that way. One of our unintentional contributions to rock is that we're a multiethnic band, a band that looks like the city we come from. Back when Rage formed [in the early 90s], a photo of us would alinate any record company or radio programmer.
A lot of bands that work within the rap-rock sound Rage helped pioneer were very successful this year, but they hardly shared your politically radicalism. Why do you think that is?
It's hard to say. When you choose the path of being a political rock band, the road's a lot steeper for you. If you're going to sing about [Native American prisoner] Leonard Peltier, you've got to be pretty great in order to get over. At any given time there are bands who are overtly political, but they may not be artistically viable. We're fortunate to have nosebleed seats in the arena built by the MC5, Bob Marley, and Public Enemy. It's not like I'm wringing my hands that there's not a lot of political bands. I have two interests: One is doing my best with Rage's music and politics; the other is doing my best for the world of activism. I also think it would be horrific if bands that had no political convictions all of the sudden started making political pronouncements.
This year Rage played a controversial benefit concert for [death row inmate] Mumia Abu-Jamal. Does everyone in the band share the same political beliefs, or are there differences among you?
That's one of the things we've been tremendously fortunate about. We trend to disagree much more about the band's music than about it's politics. I can't even think of someone suggesting a benefit or even a T-shirt slogan that other members have minded.
U2, who are alluded to on your song "War Within a Breath," eventually steered themselves away from anthemic rock. Will Rage follow a similiar path?
Well, I believe in the Clash's adage "the future is unwritten," but I really can't see Rage Against the Machine doing baby-making, love-song R&B ballads at any time. We have such a commitment to push the envelope of what a band can do in making rebel rock. And it's not like we're looking out the window and going, "You know what? There's no more wage slavery!"
Do you think you might ever want to write about anything more personal?
Things like love and relationships are a tremendously important part of human experience that artists have commented upon for a long time. Struggle and solidarity and resistance are also an important part of this human experience, and they often go uncommented upon by pop artists.
You scheduled an appearance on MTV's Total Request Live the day after your album came out [November 2]. I'm curious what you think about TRL, which from a rock perspective is one of the most sanitized programs ever, although it also reaches the most young people.
We've never been particuarly elitist about the forums in which we've choosen to rock. From the beginning we planned to go out there and be 100% Rage Against the Machine, pure and uncut. That's what you get, whether you're 11 years old and clutching a Britney Spears baby-T or not. I grew up in a place where there was no access to anything indie. None. One Musicland within 40 miles. TRL is where kids watch their rock. And we're going to do our best to terrify them.
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