In Part 1 of our Web-Exclusive interview with Brad Wilk of Prophets of Rage we did a track-by-track rundown of the band’s self-titled debut album. Here we delve more into the concept behind the band and their approach live and in the studio.
MD: Prophets of Rage explicitly addresses American politics and culture.
Brad: That’s one of the reasons the band came together. We’re at a time right now where the only thing I can do is look at Donald Trump as maybe a blessing in disguise, because if Hilary Clinton had become president, it would have been big business running the country as usual. I don’t think a lot of people would have been paying as much attention. Because of Trump, a lot of people have woken up, and I feel like we have more of a chance of revolution in this country now than we ever have. I can only hope that it will be a peaceful revolution. That may be the silver lining in number forty-five. There’s a lot going on and there’s plenty to talk about. We sort of raised our hands on that one, and I think that there’s plenty of pop music right now that’s not talking about politics, so it makes sense for us to do this.
MD: What kind of longevity do you see for this project?
Brad: We look at it as a real band. I’ve been playing forever with the greatest bass player [Tim Commerford] and guitar player [Tom Morello] that I can imagine, and I feel like we make something that’s unique and special together. I really appreciate what we create, and when you add DJ Lord and Chuck D and B-Real on top of that, it just makes a whole other new thing. We’re such an easy target for people to hate on, and we were in Rage Against the Machine as well. It seems like every band I’ve been in has been an easy target for people to hate on us! [laughs] The thing is, that’s what also keeps you going. Love me or hate me, just don’t be apathetic about the music that we’re making. I’m happy to anger people and invoke thought. We just put our heads down and do what we do.
MD: Do you feel that you’re playing as hard as you did in the 1990s?
Brad: Some people say I’m playing harder. The older I get, I keep saying to myself, When are you going to tone it down a bit? Some days I feel like doing that, and other days not at all. To be honest, I only think about that when other people say it to me. When I play a show, I put my heart into it one hundred and ten percent, and I always have. It’s that way with the people I play with too. I try to play to the best of my ability every night and just give as much as I can give every time I play.
MD: Are the writing contributions fairly equal between Tim Commerford and Tom Morello?
Brad: I think it comes from everywhere, actually. It will come from both Tim and Tom coming in with something, it will come from me coming in with something…. A lot of times someone will have a riff and then, once we start playing to it, that riff will get completely changed due to someone else’s idea. I feel like we’re in a real band that’s fully collaborative, which is really nice. The best idea wins, and no one tries to stay too married to any of their parts. When you’re in a situation like that, it can be tough. You have to squeeze that song out.
MD: Were most of the rhythm tracks written with the three of you together in a room?
Brad: Definitely. [The album] was written with all of us together in a room, actually. That was the cool thing about it, because it’s so important for me to hear a rapper’s cadence. It completely changes the way I play drums. If you listen to the way Zack [de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine vocalist] raps and then you listen to the way that Chris Cornell sings and the way that B-Real and Chuck D rap, they’re all so different and unique.
The best thing a drummer can be at the end of the day is a great listener. I think it only makes you a better drummer. Every time you add a different piece to the chemistry in the room, it’s going to change how I play. Zack is this incredibly percussive rapper, and he has an incredible sense of time. The way I play with him is very unique. With Chris, he sang longer notes, so my playing in Audioslave was way more spacious. Chuck D is on the bottom of the frequency range. Nobody else has that voice. It’s incredible, and you want to leave that space in the frequency spectrum clear for his voice. B-Real’s voice is super unique and occupies a higher frequency range. Usually, when I’ll switch kick drums around or something like that, it’s because maybe the bass part is low on the neck and I’ll go to a little bit higher of a kick drum sound. A lot of it is looking at how we’re going to fill or not fill up the frequency chart. Where will each one of us find our places in it.
MD: Did you take the kit apart for each song on Prophets of Rage and build it piece by piece based on that kind of thinking?
Brad: We had a few different kick drums that we liked and a lot of snare drums. I think there were six or seven snare drums that we liked. Most of the record was done with three kicks and about five different snare drums.
MD: You’d just choose the one that matched the song best?
Brad: The kick drum we used most was this 26″ Slingerland that was from the 1930s. It could barely stand up straight and it was beat to shit. I’d put my foot to that thing and it was like, Holy…, what is this? It was one seriously low note. It was just the right sound. I love that, like cars that look like shit, but then you open up the hood and it’s like, What the hell kind of engine do you have in here? That’s what this drum was like.
MD: None of the kick sounds on the record hit me as being particularly vintage.
Brad: You also have an incredible producer and engineer in Brendan O’Brien and Tom Syrowski. They know how to dial in sounds.
MD: Do you use a click track live?
Brad: I just started using a click live for the first time in my life. We’re using it on two songs because DJ Lord is doing specific things, so the band has to be linked up to what he’s doing. It’s like a party! [laughs] It’s too easy. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with it. One hand, I’m like, This is amazing. Then on the other hand, I’m going, Wait s second…is this good? Is this completely changing me as a player? Is it taking away my personality? There’s always that in the back of my head. But it’s always a party when it’s on.
For more with Brad Wilk, check out his Must-Have Gear story in the current issue of Modern Drummer.