by Ben Meyer
Prophets of Rage was formed in early 2016, called to action by the election of President Donald Trump and their desire to pierce through today’s social apathy and encourage peaceful rebellion. Comprised of members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, Prophets performs material from all of its members’ prior projects as well as fiery new material driven by Rage/Audioslave rhythm section partners Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Tom Morello. Wilk’s driving, passionate performance on the band’s self-titled 2017 full-length release seethes with the intensity of an artist with something to say. Produced, engineered, and mixed by famed rock tastemakers Brendan O’Brien and Tom Syrowski, Prophets of Rage is both familiar and probing, a natural progression from all of it’s members’ previous work. MD spoke to Brad Wilk to get his take on each of the album’s twelve tracks.
“I really love this song. It’s one of those mid- to lower-tempo songs that’s like a truck driving over everything. It took me a while to find the right beat for it. We were already in the studio recording it, and I just wasn’t happy with it. I finally found it, like, “Oh, this is the beat I’m going to play.” Sometimes it’s tricky. I knew that I wanted the beat to not change very much at all during the song. I wanted the chorus and verse beats to be different, but I wanted it to have this hypnotic kind of feel to it. I was really happy with the way that one came out. There’s a lot of the kick and snare being played over each other on that one as well. We used a Tama Bell Brass snare on that one. That one’s super fun to play live.
“Unf**k the World”
This one was a lot of fun to come up with the parts to. I think [bassist] Tim [Commerford] had a lot of the parts already done when he brought it in. I remember that I switched the beat around a lot on that one. I had a busier beat in the verse originally, and I just kept not being happy with it. In the studio, a lot of times the best thing you can do as a drummer is to pull back. As much as I didn’t want to in that song, I realized that there was so much going on. The bass line is so busy in the verses and the guitar part has a lot going on. In that case, that’s when I want to be more reserved and make more of an impact with fewer notes. When we got to the ending part that goes nuts, I was able to unleash a little bit. Every time we played it in the studio, I had all kinds of different fills and different kick drum patterns working around the other parts. I played it a little differently every time, and we just picked the one that we thought sounded best.
This song was written toward the end of the session. We were all sitting around, and Brendan [O’Brien] goes, “Hey, you know we’re pretty much done recording this record and you guys don’t have one song about smoking weed! B-Real, are you cool with this?” [laughts] That’s kind of how that whole thing began. We wound up writing that song in the studio and it came together really quickly. I almost heard it as this Motown kind of thing, even though the riff doesn’t really sound like Motown. I just felt that kind of Motown/MC5 kind of beat for it. In the verses, I was switching from the crash to the hi-hat, with the crash on the downbeats. My favorite part of that song is the riff that it drops down into at the end. I absolutely love that, and it’s one of the heaviest riffs on the record. It’s funny that it’s put into this lighter-sounding song.
“Living on the 110”
I like this song a lot. I remember the verses changing quite a bit as far as the bass and drums were concerned. It’s one of the few songs where I completely switched up the beat in the second verse as opposed to the first. I really love what happens in the solo as well, and the sort of orchestrated guitar sounds in the choruses. It’s kind of different for us. It’s a serious song about poverty and how it affects our city, and how so many people are just a paycheck away from not having a home. It’s a constant reminder that shit gets tough and we have these huge banks taking over houses and making it really hard for people to live. That song reflects a lot of those feelings. I play these fills toward the end that are so simple, but it took me a long time to find the right placement for them.
That’s an interlude that we recorded in the studio, and DJ Lord took it and made it his own. I think I used the Paiste Hip-Hop hi-hats on that one.
“Hail to the Chief”
This is one of my favorite songs on the record. I wanted the bulk of it to have that same beat in it, and I wanted to play it as solidly as I could. I wanted it to be unwavering, and we used that massive kick drum on it. I wanted it to have a slight swing to it that came in through the kick part; other than that, it’s played pretty straight. I wanted it to be driving and definitive. There’s also a part where the snare, bass, and guitar are all together doing this thing that’s kind of reminiscent of Led Zeppelin or Metallica. It was our version of that and it’s a really neat part of the song. This song is a banger, and I enjoyed recording it a lot. We’re playing that one live right now.
“Take Me Higher”
This one is like our version of a classic funk song. It was mostly written in the studio, and I really enjoy that cowbell way on the back end of the beat [during the guitar solo]. That’s always fun to do. That song has a great bass line, and the tempo is right in the sweet spot.
“Strength in Numbers”
This one has a cymbal stacker in it during the verse. It has a super funky “chicken” verse, and when the three of us play the type of groove that’s at the beginning, it always just feels really good. I just remember that song being really easy to record.
“Fired a Shot”
This song was written toward the end of the rehearsals for the record at the end of the day. Tim and I just started playing that groove and B-Real started singing something over it. We brought it back in the next day and Tom added some awesome guitar sounds to it, and the song came together really quickly. I remember changing the chorus pattern quite a bit to find the right feel. It took me a minute to find the right kick pattern. Sometimes I get obsessed with things of that nature. They’re slight changes, but I kept changing it around until I found something I liked and I felt didn’t take away from the vocal or anything else that was happening.
“Who Owns Who”
That song kind of reminded me of Gang of Four. That was my inspiration when I was playing it, along with the older, more punk Police material. Originally we played that song a lot faster than it is on the record; we slowed it down quite a bit on Brendan O’Brien’s suggestion. When we slowed it down, it took on a whole different vibe.
That’s another one where the snare drum carries it, again like a Motown or MC5 kind of thing in the choruses. The verses have this super funky bass line, and there’s a TR-808 sample that’s used in there.
This was the first song that we wrote for the record. I remember playing some classic cadence things to the riff that Tom was playing. We completely changed the kit around on the choruses. I went into this small room and recorded on this really tripped-out, funky little kit. We added electronic drum sounds over the top of that, and I really like how those choruses came out. There’s this swirly guitar part going over the whole thing that’s great too.