Tom Morello talks misfit guitar toys, what he learned from Chris Cornell and why Prophets Of Rage is some of his best work

The past year has been amongst the most politically tumultuous in decades, and its siren call is one that Prophets Of Rage couldn’t ignore.

Following a hit-laden US tour and explosive European festival dates, the supergroup – whose red star-studded line-up comprises Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real – are set to hurl a fresh molotov cocktail into the musical arena with their self-titled debut.

The album fuses the political and musical ideals with which each of its members made their names, assembling a rap-rock behemoth that’s funky and heavy in equal measure.

As always, Morello’s seemingly infinite well of riffs provides the firepower, delivering some of the most furious refrains of his career in Unfuck The World and Strength In Numbers, not to mention a host of typically off-the-wall solos.

We caught up with the always-eloquent guitarist to get the lowdown on the gear that fuelled his creative process, the surprising guest stars who feature on his long-awaited electric solo album, and how the late Chris Cornell continues to make his presence felt in the guitar hero’s music today…

How long did it take for Prophets Of Rage to decide they were going to record an album of new music?

The process was probably the most collaborative and enjoyable band record I’ve made since the very first Rage record

“Well, we had such a great time on tour in the United States in 2016, we wanted to see if we could take that chemistry into the recording studio. We started writing songs and found that it was very low-hanging fruit – we were able to write 10 songs in the first two weeks. The process was probably the most collaborative and enjoyable band record I’ve made since the very first Rage record.

“Then we went in the studio with super-producer Brendan O’Brien, and cranked out a record in a month that we feel stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of our best work.”

Were these all fresh riffs or do some of them date back to the Rage and Audioslave eras?

“These are all fresh riffs – it’s been a while since we’ve done a riff-rock record, so we had quite a store of them. But the process was really collaborative, and each day Timmy would come in with some riffs, I would come in with some riffs; everybody contributed greatly. Brad is a crucial collaborative songwriting partner, B [Real] and Chuck [D] were very open to lyrical and thematic ideas.

“We really felt that we wanted to make a record where this band finds its own two feet as a songwriting entity. And while, in concerts, we’ve relit the fuse of the Rage catalogue and Rage-ified the Public Enemy and Cypress Hill catalogues, Prophets Of Rage, this is the start, in a way. This is our statement as an entity in 2017.”

You cram your whole bag of tricks into each solo on this album; how much of that was worked out before you hit the studio?

I want the solos on each record to be the high watermark solos of my career – I don’t want to just rehash past glories

“Not so much of it, really; normally, I have a general template of vague ideas of sonics that I wanna try, and then I’ll just say to Brendan, ‘Put up track two and let’s see what happens.’

“In music, there’s a lot of rehearsing songs, and there’s a lot of getting the sounds right and getting a good take, and putting EQ on a mix, but my favourite part of the entire process is the creative spark. And that’s really what happens when I sit down to do the solos for the record. Where you just press play and you see what the fuck happens.

“And, you know, sometimes, I listen back to the solos on this record and I’m thinking, ‘How the fuck did I do that? I’m gonna have to figure that out for the tour!’ [Laughs]

Did you feel the need to step up your solo game to compete with having DJ Lord in the band?

“[Laughs] Not for that reason! The way I look at every record is that I want the solos on each record to be the high watermark solos of my career – I don’t want to just rehash past glories when it comes to guitar playing and want to keep pushing the boundaries.

“There’s a couple of times on this record where DJ Lord and I go back and forth battling, and that is really a dream come true to be able to do that with a spectacular turntablist like DJ Lord.”

Did you employ any new gear for this album?

“Yeah! I mean, normally I’m very conservative when it comes to trying out new gear, and much of my rig has remained identical since 1988, but there’s a talk box on one song, there’s a pedal called the [Way Huge] Swollen Pickle – I don’t know what it does, other than it just sort of makes everything blow up at the same time, and it’s like riding a bucking bull; you just hold on and hope the amp doesn’t split in half before you record something decent!”

And it looks like there are a few guitars making a reappearance; the Ovation Breadwinner, for one.

“Sure, sure. I’m not a guitar collector, but I do have a bunch of kooky guitars, an island of misfit toy guitars, and the Breadwinner played on this a lot.

“On this record, I also used a guitar I’ve never played on any record before, which is my first ever guitar: a $50 Kay guitar that I got in 1978, and it’s sat in a closet for decades. I polished that one off and used it on quite a few songs.”

Did the DigiTech Space Station make an appearance as well?

“The Space Station, I’m pretty sure it does – I haven’t gone on a track-by-track listen, but the Space Station was certainly operative during the recording process.”

You use a violin bow on Living On The 110; was that a salute to Jimmy Page?

“Yeah, that’s my tip of the hat to one of my all-time heroes, Jimmy Page, and I thought why the hell not? I had this melody in my head for the chorus of that song, and we could have brought a keyboard in to play it or something, but I told Brendan, ‘Gimme a shot at the violin bow!’ and I’m pretty pleased with the results. Thank you, Mr Page.”

Will any of this gear join the live arsenal?

“Certainly. I don’t know that the bow’s going to make it out there, but definitely I wanna bring that crazy Swollen Pickle thing out and the talk box – those things will definitely be integrated.”

Do you have a favourite solo on the album?

“I really like the solo in Unfuck The World; it’s a crazy kind of patchwork-sounding thing. The thing that I aim for in the solos is to make the listener go, ‘What the fuck just happened?’ I guess some other artists aim for melody or subtlety, but that’s never really been my thing.”

If feels like Prophets’ debut continues the funkier path Audioslave explored on Revelations – did any of your experiences with that band influence this latest project?

“Certainly. First of all, what a great thrill it was to make records with Chris Cornell, but it allowed us to explore chord progressions and melody and harmony in ways that we hadn’t before, and those things are now part of our DNA as well. It was an incredibly collaborative process making this record, and I’m sure that some of the Audioslave genes are still present in us.”

The late Chris Cornell was an unsung talent as a guitarist; did you learn anything from him when it came to guitar playing?

To this day, I have to have a cheat sheet onstage when we play Like A Stone

“He had a very wonderful and unorthodox songwriting talent – it was sort of part-Beatles, part-Black Sabbath, but he had this internal non-4/4 time signature clock in him that was really interesting, and it’s in some of those Audioslave songs where he would contribute chord progressions.

“One of the most difficult parts of any Audioslave song for me to play was the bridge of Like A Stone, which was Chris’s chords. Because it was just so counterintuitive to me; he just had very unique chordal inclinations that made for beautiful music, then he would weave his gorgeous melodies on top of them. And still to this day, I have to have a cheat sheet onstage when we do the tribute to Chris, playing Like A Stone – I just have to make sure I don’t mess up the bridge. [laughs]”

There’s still some unreleased Audioslave material in the vault; will that ever see the light of day?

“I hope it does, because there’s great Audioslave material in the vault. It’s so sad: we had talked about playing more Audioslave shows and releasing that material and doing something together in the not-too-distant future.”

Looking to the future, how’s the setlist for the upcoming tour shaping up?

My hope is, between the new Prophets stuff and really being able to get deeper into the Cypress, Public Enemy and Rage catalogues, that all of it is available to us at a moment’s notice

“It’s very exciting to have the arsenal of Rage, Cypress and PE to tap into, but even more exciting to be able to mix those songs up with this Prophets record, which we’re really excited about playing.

“We went pretty deep into the catalogue on the US tour in 2016, and most of the shows during 2017 have been festival shows where we’ve stuck to the raw hits, but there’s no reason why we can’t go even deeper.

“My hope is, between the new Prophets stuff – and I hope we keep writing Prophets stuff as well, and airing stuff out – and really being able to get deeper into the Cypress, Public Enemy and Rage catalogues, that all of it is available to us at a moment’s notice.”

Finally, we’re all eagerly awaiting your electric solo album; when’s it set to arrive and what can we expect from it?

“It’s coming, baby, it’s coming! I’m hopeful that we’ll have music out this year, and the record out the beginning of next year, that’s my hope.

“It’s got huge Morellian riffs, it’s got some of my favourite hard EDM producers, and it’s got guest features from Wu-Tang Clan to Marcus Mumford to Pussy Riot. It’s a pretty great record; I’m really, really psyched about it.”

Prophets Of Rage’s self-titled debut is out on 15 September via Caroline International.


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