Rage Against the Machine Biographical

Zack de la Rocha
Tom Morello
Brad Wilk
Tim Commerford


Zack de la Rocha came up with the name "Rage Against the Machine" before the band ever formed, while he was in a California hardcore band called "Inside Out". Inside Out had a song titled "Rage Against the Machine", that was also going to be the name of the band's second record. Instead, the band broke up and never released a second record. So when Zack met up with Tom Morello and formed a band, "Rage Against the Machine" seemed to be the most appropriate band name for the music and the ideas that were being put across. Tom Morello describes exactly what "machine" they are raging against: "The machine can be anything from the police in the streets in Los Angeles who can tear motorists from their car and beat them to a pulp and get away from it, to the overall international state capitalist machinery that tries to make you just a mindless cog, and not to think critically and never confront the system , and to just sortof "behave" and look forward to the next weekend and next six pack of beer." The music, known as the most popular crossover between "rock and rap", sprouted from Zack's interest in early hiphop outfits like Public Enemy, and KRS-One, as well as his hardcore roots. Tom Morello's appreciation for hard rock and punk like Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols accounts for the band's hard-edged sound, while Tim Commerford's interest in jazz and Brad Wilk's unique hip-hop to punk oriented drum beats round out the band's sound.

The Story

Zack's involvement started with his hardcore band, Inside Out. Vic, the band's guitarst (at the time) wrote up a timeline of the band's activities. Read it here.

I suppose "Rage Against the Machine" goes all the way back to when Zack de la Rocha and Tim Commerford were in elementary school. They met when Zack taught Tim how to rip off food from the college cafeteria, and a friendship soon followed. Since Zack had an obvious interest in music, he naturally introduced his friend to it - this is when Tim started playing bass. Over time, Zack was involved in the hardcore scene in Huntington Beach and played guitar for a straight edge band called "Hardstance", and eventually a hardcore band that became nationally popular, "Inside Out". All the while, Tom Morello was in Libertyville, Illinois practicing guitar and playing in high school garage bands, like "Electric Sheep" which he founded with Tool guitarist Adam Jones. Tom had moved to Los Angeles from Illinois under the impression that L.A. was the place to go in order to get a real "rock band" going. Tom first saw Zack rapping with some of his friends at a club, but the PA was so bad, he couldn't get the full magnitude of why Zack was so angry. Later when Tom looked through his lyric book, he realized what Zack was all about. Now, Tom knew Brad Wilk previously, because Brad responded to an ad looking for a drummer that Tom put out. Zack brought Tim back into the picture, and things began to take place.

The band's first "gig" was in the living room of one of Tim's friends in Huntington Beach, CA. The band played only 5 and 1/2 songs that they had written, but the audience liked it so much, they made them repeat them. They decided that they had something going for themselves, so they decided to put 12 songs they had written onto a self-produced demo tape they recorded at a local recording studio. They started playing shows around the L.A. area, and eventually sold 5,000 copies of the demo tape. They were beginning to gain attention around the music scene, and they were lucky enough to support Porno For Pyros on their first major performance. They got on the second stage of Lollapalooza II, in L.A. California, where a corporate record scout spotted them. They were signed onto Epic's label (a division of Sony), and continued touring while they started recording "Rage Against the Machine". They began their first European tour with Suidical Tendancies, until October of '92. Rage Against the Machine was released on Epic, which remained the Billboard top 200 chart for 89 weeks. They went on tour, where they did several benefit concerts for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, The Anti-Nazi league and the "Rock for Choice" benefit. In '93, they appeared at Lollapalooza again. In Philidelphia, they further elevated the notoriety, when they created a protest against censorship and the PMRC, by standing on stage completely naked for a total of 14 minutes, with the bass and guitar feedback buzzing. They put duct tape over their mouths, and the letters, "P" "M" "R" "C" written on the four band members chests. Tom said, "It was to show that if the fans didn't take matters into their own hands, they wouldn't be able to see bands like us." It wasn't meant to be a "feel good" protest. It was to wake people up to a reality haunting the artistic community.

In December of 93, they released the "Freedom" video, which was in support of Leonard Peltier. It combined live performance footage with scenes from the 1992 documentary, "Incident At Oglala" and text from Peter Matthiessens's "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse". It become the #1 video in the USA. They continued touring all throughout 1993 and 1994, spreading their message. In January of 1994, Zack's interest was taken by an Indigenous uprising in Souther Mexico. The band was put in Atlanta to make a new album, but things began to be more complicated than they had thought. The band was signed and began touring so quickly, they hadn't really had enough time to get to know eachother. While in Atlanta, the band tried to work together, but found it didn't work. Zack would leave without notice for several weeks to Chiapas, while the other band members were kindof on their own.

Something shook them, and they finally decided to get going. They rented the room across from one of their apartments in L.A., and with power cords running between the hallways, they started making their second album, "Evil Empire". In early 1996, Rage played at the Big Day Out in Austrilia (a musical festival). A video for the song "Bulls on Parade" was made from this footage. Rage appeared on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" where their performance is cut short after the first song when producer Brenden O'brien attempted to hang inverted American Flags on the amplifiers, a protest to having presidential candidate Steve Forbes as guest host on the program that night. The next day, the Bulls on Parade video was released on Mtv. Two days after that, Evil Empire is released, Rage's second album. Rage played a free concert at California State University while Evil Empire entered Billboard Top 200 at #1, knocking down Alanis Morisette's, "Jagged Little Pill". Rage headlined their own tour in the U.S. in the spring and summer of '96, andtThe People of the Sun video was released, and censored on Mtv for violent content (reality). On Jan. 20, 1997, Tom Morello hosted the Radio Free LA broadcast, over the internet, and on the radio in selected cities. Zack, Tom, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Steven Perkins from Porno for Pyros played a short set, as widely known political advesaries are interviewed and issues brought to light. Rage went back on tour once again, touring with U2 in a variety of cities in the spring of 1997. All profits earned from these concerts goes directly to support political and social organizations.

In the summer of 1997, Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang Clan tour together, becoming the most popular touring attraction that summer in the U.S., towering over such acts as the "Warped Tour", "H.O.R.D.E.", and the Lilith Fair tour. Rage releases a homevideo on November 25th aptly entitled "Rage Against the Machine" which contains live footage throughout their careers, and also the uncensored versions of all 5 of their music videos. "The Ghost of Tom Joad" accompanies the home video, and a live version of the Bruce Springsteen cover is seen on MTV. Tom Morello is arrested for protesting Guess jeans with 30 others in a mall, while Zack de la Rocha speaks out against the Acteal massacre of 45 innocent women, children, and men in Chiapas, Mexico. The band adds songs to soundtracks over the course of their success, including "No Shelter" to the Godzilla soundtrack, "Darkness" (an early demo) to the Crow soundtrack, and "Year of tha Boomerang" (later to appear on Evil Empire) to the Higher Learning soundtrack. Rage played various large festivals in 1999 including Woodstock, the Fuji festival, and the Tibetan Freedom Festival - and also holding a controversial benefit concert for Mumia Abu-Jamal with the Beastie Boys that made headlines. In November, Rage releases The Battle of Los Angeles, which tops the proverbial charts. Rage raided the New York Stock Exchange for the filming of the Sleep Now in the Fire video. A march was organized in Los Angeles to arrive across the street from the Democratic National Convention, and Rage played at the location. Zack left the group, they released Renegades, and the Battle of Mexico City, and moved their seperate ways.

The antics of all the members will continue on, of course, well into the future...

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