tom morello "rages on"...
Since the release of their second full-length album, Evil Empire, three years ago, Rage Against the Machine have been characteristically busy: soundtracks, world tours, writing and recording a new album, and benefits, benefits, benefits. Known for taking their politics seriously, Rage's involvement with causes is no afterthought, but as vital an element of the band as their head-banging concoction of funky, rap-infused rock and raw, thought-provoking lyrics. Fittingly, it was at yet another benefit -- the recent Tibetan Freedom Concert in Chicago -- that guitarist Tom Morello discussed the situation in Tibet, the attack on youth culture following the Columbine shootings, and the band's as-yet untitled new record. It's been a long time since the release of Evil Empire.
What can we expect from the new Rage record?
I think this is our most rocking record ever -- no kidding. The way we were all getting along when we were writing just really came through in the music. And we recorded very quickly, too, which keeps the energy level up. We finished recording the music in October and I can't wait to get it out, but Zach [de la Rocha] is still writing lyrics, so as soon as we lay down the vocals for the last half of the songs, it'll be done. I'm eager to get back to L.A. and finish it up. We're hoping for a fall release.
You're here supporting the Tibetan cause, but you've said that you have concern about the over-simplification of the conflict.
We're playing this show because we oppose oppression in all its forms. In Tibet now, injustices and violence are perpetrated against people of that region. But what's sometimes forgotten is that prior to the communist takeover, there were also injustices and violence perpetrated against people, particularly women and the lower classes. It was basically was a feudal society. What I think everyone here at the concert wants is self-determination, justice and equality for all the people of Tibet.
What issues are most important to the band?
We recently played a benefit concert in New Jersey to try to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal (the journalist and activist imprisoned for the murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner after what many believed to be an unfair trial), whose death warrant is due to be signed by the Governor of Pennsylvania at any moment. Then there's Leonard Peltier (the American Indian Movement leader whom Amnesty International considers a political prisoner), in jail for more than twenty-two years, whose health is deteriorating and needs an act of executive clemency to get out of jail. Those are very important to us.
Do you see the fallout of the Columbine shootings as another example of censorship hysteria?
They're trying to enact censorship legislation against bands, which are allegedly a bad influence. But then you have President Clinton who, until very recently, was wasting a busload of elderly people and children in Yugoslavia every couple of days. Then you have Marilyn Manson who just dresses up in a scary outfit and sings in a scary voice. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see which is the worse role model for young people.
There is a culture of violence in this society and it's not propagated by music. In Japan and Scandinavia, they listen to the same music, watch the same movies, play video games, but there's far less violent crime. What is it about America that's different? It's not the music, obviously.
But if you think that your music and your records can create positive change, do you think your detractors could say the reverse is true?
There is tangible evidence that it creates positive change, while there's no tangible evidence that any rock band, song or rap lyric has ever caused anybody to do so much as jaywalk. We're very issue-specific. We say, "we would like you now to march in front of this building and demand this." And people show up to do it. As opposed to the band KMFDM wearing black, and people blaming things on that.
Video games, movies, or compact disc did not kill the kids in that library at Columbine; they were killed by a TEC-9. It's the American politician's fear of the NRA and the gun lobby and their unwillingness to address the real underlying issues of inequality, which makes rock music a very convenient scapegoat.
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