Tom Morello is an optimist. You might think the former Rage Against the Machine guitarist, famous for his left-wing views, would be sitting on this couch in his home studio slump-shouldered in defeat, contemplating four bleak years of what he calls the “Trump-Pence regime.” Instead, he's leaning forward, animated, punctuating his rhetoric with an infectious laugh.
“I think an important mantra is to aim for the world you really want, and to not just be constantly defensive,” he says. “Let's be the ones doing the rabbit-punching on a daily basis.”
Morello has thrown more than a few left-hook rabbit punches in his time, and not just through such vitriolic RATM songs as “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” He's fought for prison reform, raising the minimum wage and farmworkers' rights. He was a regular presence at Occupy Wall Street protests, and when he uses the term “anarcho-syndicalist politics” in a sentence, you can tell he knows what he's talking about.
“We're about to make the world rage.” —Tom Morello
His latest project, the rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage, began in this very room, a cozy space in his Hollywood Hills home littered with guitars, drums and amps and dominated by a vintage mixing console. It was here, roughly a year ago, that he and fellow ex-Ragers Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford came together with Cypress Hill's B-Real and Public Enemy's Chuck D and DJ Lord as what Morello calls a “clandestine cell,” working out new arrangements of songs by their component bands.
“Each of those bands is mighty in its own right, but there's no guarantee when you play together it's gonna be any good at all,” he says. But gradually they found their chemistry and built up a set list. Their first audience member at rehearsals was Shepard Fairey, who designed the band's logo and show posters.
Prophets of Rage debuted with a surprise gig at the Whisky a Go-Go on May 31, 2016, and would go on to tour the country, culminating in a show in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. “No sleep 'til Cleveland!” — a play on The Beastie Boys' “No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn” — was a rallying cry at Prophets concerts.
Though the band stopped short of endorsing any one candidate, it's hard not to see Trump's victory as a worst-case-scenario defeat for the kind of progressive politics Prophets of Rage espoused. But Morello says he and his bandmates have an ongoing mission.
“This band was not a one-off, hooked to a particular election cycle,” he insists. In March, they completed their debut album with producer Brendan O'Brien, who worked on three of RATM's four LPs. They played their first show outside the United States in Mexico City and begin a run of dates in South America and Europe this month. “We're about to make the world rage.”
Morello has other irons in the fire, including an untitled solo project featuring “big Morellian riffs and some of my favorite EDM producers and artists, from Pussy Riot to Wu-Tang Clan.” But for now, Prophets of Rage remain his top priority — the “soundtrack to the resistance,” as he puts it.
“It's my hope that the [anti-establishment] movement that the Trump-Pence regime is bringing into existence will not just dethrone the regime but will also help to transform the United States of America into a more just and decent place,” Morello says. “This is the beginning of the counteroffensive.”