It’s borderline impossible not to call Tom Morello a guitar hero. Whether it’s his radical charisma, Harvard-schooled smarts, or his consistent ability to wrangle obscenely impossible guitar sounds into some of the best rock riffs of the past 25 years, Morello perfectly represents the politically conscious rock star – which, as it turns out, is exactly what we need today.
“We’re all excited to be here and on a mission together to not just make some great rock and roll, but to also attempt to have an impact in these troubled times,” says Morello of Prophets of Rage, the guitarist’s new rap-rock supergroup who will be making their way to Australia to headline the inaugural Download Festival. Fusing the cutthroat lyricism of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real with P.E. turntablist DJ Lord and the pounding rhythm section of Morello’s long time bandmates Timmy Commerford and Brad Wilk, Prophets of Rage may rub off to some as being a quick festival cash grab; however, Morello stresses that Prophets of Rage’s message is just as important as their name is, underscoring the radical history of the former groups as being a catalyst for political action.
“There’s a duality to the band,” says Morello. “On the one hand we have the histories of Rage Against The Machine, Cypress Hill, and Public Enemy which are woven into the fabric of Prophets of Rage, but we’re also a new band with a chip on our shoulder and a loud bullhorn in our hands. There’s a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the status quo in the United States, and we want to present an alternative point of view: an unfiltered, unapologetic way of speaking the truth to power and standing up for the underdogs, as well as taking aim at the racist and corporate villains who are destroying the planet.”
Although somewhat lacking the radical impact of previous groups like Rage Against The Machine, Morello’s urgency still oozes through the lifeblood of Prophets of Rage, with the firebrand guitarist detailing the role he hopes his band will play throughout political discourse in 2018.
“My hope is that the Trump-Pence regime brings into existence the movement that not only dethrones it, but a movement that redefines American politics and creates a more just and humane nation,” Morello says. “I think people will begin to turn away from the racism and bigotry of Trumpism, create something ostensibly better for the planet – and Prophets of Rage is going to be the soundtrack to that resistance.”
While much has changed in the US political landscape between the formation of RATM and Prophets of Rage, some things remain just as they were in 1992 – Morello’s guitar rig being a perfect example of such. Discussing the recording of last year’s Prophets of Rage, Morello mentions that his primary rig was almost identical to that used on Rage Against The Machine’s debut almost 30 years ago.
“I mainly used my standby Arm The Homeless guitar, my Telecaster for Drop D songs, my 50 watt Marshall head and 4x12 Peavey cabinet along with the pedalboard I’ve been using for almost three decades,” Morello says. “I did go outside of my comfort zone by using Brendan O’Brien’s fancy 1950’s Telecaster on a couple songs, as well as digging deep in my own closet to pull out my very first guitar, a $50 Kay axe that remarkably sounded pretty great.”
Although predominantly associated with his iconic ‘Arm the Homeless’ Frankenstrat, it seems bizarre that a guitarist as influential as Morello is doesn’t own a signature guitar of his own – a sentiment reflected by Morello himself, who points a finger to his own DIY ethos as the main reason behind declining various offers over the years.
“Oh, people have approached me pretty regularly through the years, but since my main guitar is a Frankensteined, bits-and-pieces, island of misfit toys shambles of a rock axe, it never felt right to align myself with a company who wasn’t making my exact guitar,” says Morello. “It’s possible that if I were to be heavily involved in the design of the guitar then I’d be into it, but nothing to date.”
An indiscriminate collaborator in all musical fields, Morello’s work as a session guitarist has seen him play with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Wu-Tang Clan, with recent Instagram photos depicting Morello sitting in on sessions with modern hip-hop heavyweights A$AP Rocky and Post Malone.
“The A$AP Rocky tune was for a movie soundtrack and it was a particularly rocking jam so I was happy to do it,” Morello says. “Post Malone has been a huge Rage and Audioslave and guitar fan his whole life, so that was also a natural fit.”
And, as it turns out, we can expect to hear a lot more of these collaborations in the future, with Morello teasing news of an upcoming solo album featuring a whole slew of collaborators on the horizon.
“I’ve been, over the last couple years, working on a hard rocking collaborative solo record, so reaching out to young artists of diverse genres has been an exciting chapter- lots more on this to come at a later date.”
Prophets of Rage will headline the red stage at Download Festival at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse on Saturday March 24, with sideshows in Sydney and Brisbane.