Chuck D & Brad Wilk Discuss PROPHETS OF RAGE Being a Political Band, Chris Cornell, Etc.
When rumbling rumors of Prophets of Rage's formation popped up last year, it was truly an exciting notion to have Rage Against the Machine's musicians fronted by legends Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill with DJ Lord as well. After finally seeing the supergroup on stage at Ozzfest earlier this month, I can assure you that their live performance of covers and originals is incredible.
Before their show, I sat down backstage with vocalist Chuck D and drummer Brad Wilk to discuss the group, Rage Against the Machine's self-titled record, politics, Chris Cornell, and more. Check the full interview out below.
First of all, I wanted to say I’m very excited to see you guys live for the first time today. What can fans expect at a Prophets of Rage show?
Chuck D: Energy from the god of drums, Brad Wilk. You’re seeing a rare occasion right now. He’s pre-taping.
Brad Wilk: That’s right, there’s no tape on my hands yet. You’re going to get blasted with a frontline. And if you happen to get past the frontline, there’s a backline you’ll have to deal with too. [laughs] But yeah, it looks like a great crowd out there, so we’re hoping to have that circle of energy happen that transcends at shows. That’s why we do what we do, to inspire and transcend.
Are there any Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, or Cypress Hill songs that you guys haven't performed live as Prophets of Rage that you’d like to?
Chuck: Well, the list is long and we are caught in the schism of creating new songs and knowing the old songs will be there and we can always go there, but guys like Tim [Commerford] is all about making more songs. Organically, when we get together, something may come out rehearsal that could be a future song. So we don’t want to be always relying on something from the past.
Brad: It is pretty amazing to have all these songs that we were a part of to choose from. The list of options is long. Rehearsals are amazing though. We have Tom Morello leading, so they’re really productive.
Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled LP just turned 25 yesterday. How does that make you feel?
Brad: I know, man. That just means I’m old. I remember playing those songs quite a bit. We went to Sound City to record it and we were there for about a week. It was the first major record that Tim and I were a part of. We were trying to get tracks down and it just didn’t have the same feel that our live performances had. So after about a week, we decided to invite all our friends into the studio. We had about fifty people in the studio and recorded live with monitors. Everything is bleeding through everything. And that is how we have always recorded since, even with Prophets of Rage, all together in one room. We got half the record that night and continued on with the recording process. It was a really exciting time in music. I remember going in everyday and seeing Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Dio, and Cheap Trick on the walls. All these iconic bands recorded there.
The Prophets of Rage debut record came out pretty recently. Can you discuss the writing and recording process and how it differed from your guys’ other projects?
Brad: We were all in a room writing for maybe three weeks.
Chuck: We jotted ideas, but the riffs were there and something would pop up. You think it would be Tim, Brad, and Tom writing riffs while myself and B-Real working lyrics and Lord doing scratches, but it didn’t really work like that. It was more like Tim would do vocal parts and then B-Real might make a riff or something. And then Brendan O’Brien would come in and rearrange it a bit.
Without a doubt, you guys are a political band on the left side of the spectrum. Considering how polarized the country is in terms of left vs. right politics, what are some difficulties you’ve run into so far as Prophets of Rage?
Chuck: We're not afraid of that category, but what I'm saying is what makes a non-political band. Everything is political once you pay attention to something. If you're twenty-five years old and try to pay for your apartment, you better get fucking political in sort sort of way. You start to wonder why you can't pay the rent. I think it is misunderstood when people think that younger people don't want to hear what is happening and what effects them. And I think Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill, and Public Enemy spoke to that, telling people to make their own independent decisions. The minute that someone thinks that they are to the left or to the right, you give them a international point of view and they'll be surprised. Most people in the United States of America are isolated to these territories, but we've played three continents in front of 2.7 million people. So we're going to places where they're left, right, center, whatever. They're like, you're from the United States, so what the fuck is going on with the guy that you have as president.
Brad: In a lot of those places, they have the same fuckery going on.
Do you sometimes feel frustrated that more heavy groups aren't making politically charged music, especially in our current times?
Brad: Like Chuck said, you're either putting the wool over everyone's eyes or you're pulling it off. There's actually a lot of political bands, but we're in such a weird time right now where you don't have huge record labels nurturing certain bands. Finding these bands is like a whole different way of finding music. It's out there, just finding it can be a bit more difficult.
Chuck: You also don't have record labels telling a band that they shouldn't put something out there because it'll ruin their image. That shit is gone.
Are there any other projects you guys have going on or in progress? I understand that you previously have recorded with The Last Internationale and Black Sabbath, Brad.
Brad: Regarding The Last Internationale, that was just a one time thing, but I wish them well. They were friends with Tom and it was just perfect timing. Since then, I have toured with Smashing Pumpkins. And before that was the Black Sabbath record. I don't know if Black Sabbath is going to make another record, but it'd be awesome if they did and I got a call. That'd be great and I'd be there. Other than that, I've been really busy with Prophets of Rage and being a dad.
I think the hardest news of this year was the loss of the legend, Chris Cornell, who you guys last shared the stage with at the beginning of this year. Can you talk about that Audioslave performance?
Brad: It wasn't even a thought in my head that it was the last performance with him. However, I appreciated the moment when it was happening. His passing caught us all by surprise. The good thing is he left so much incredible music behind and his legacy is still in tact. He was a sweet-hearted guy at the end of the day. He'll be really missed. We cover "Like a Stone" as a tribute sometimes in our sets and I think we'll be doing that tonight.
Chuck: We played with Chris at the Anti-Inaugural Ball. It was great. I couldn't believe a guy that tall and long could jump off a stage like he did. And what I mean to say by that is everybody looked at him as a guy who crossed a threshold having a good time, but things are always day to day for everybody.
I think Prophets of Rage falls under the category of supergroup. While the concept of members of big name bands joining forces is awesome, it sometimes results in only one release and brief touring cycles. Do you foresee this project releasing more in the future or do you think the self-titled record is the band’s final stamp?
Brad: Well, Led Zeppelin was a supergroup.
Chuck: Of course we see records in the future. We're going to be here for the long run. When I was first asked to do this, I was slow in giving an answer because of the magnitude of it. This didn't become a reality for me until B-Real came along because I knew my place as an MC to actually accompany B-Real taking a lead and us going in and attacking Rage Against the Machine songs. A 25-year old or so Zack de la Rocha sounded like a knife was turning in him as he was screaming and screeching like it was the last day on Earth on these tracks, so myself and B-Real had to approach these songs differently.
What do you guys have coming up?
Brad: We'll be going to Europe in a few days. We're playing in London, Paris, Germany, and Holland as well. We have that and then we'll come back for the rest of the year and more touring next year in Australia and Japan.