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Prophets of Rage’s Tim Commerford and AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno Talk New Tour, Artist Inspirations

Written by on September 1, 2016

Prophets of Rage

Prophets of Rage [Photo credit: Danny Clinch]

When news broke a few months ago that members of Rage Against the Machine (bassist Tim Commerford, drummer Brad Wilk and guitarist Tom Morello) were teaming up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, and B Real of Cypress Hill to form Prophets of Rage, the music community was buzzing.

An explosive debut show at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood that saw the supergroup performing Rage classics alongside hits from the two MCs’ catalogs demonstrated the sheer power that the Prophets could bring to the stage.

Naturally, fans clamored for more.

Well, that is currently happening, as the Prophets of Rage are in the middle of a nationwide tour spreading their politicized message at a crucial time in American history alongside AWOLNATION.

To commemorate this landmark run, Fender.com caught up with Commerford and AWOLNATION frontman Aaron Bruno to talk about what brought the two bands together, future plans for their respective bands and their musical inspirations.

Fender.com: How did AWOLNATION and Prophets of Rage hook up for this tour?

Aaron: Tim and I have been buddies now for maybe four years, and he has this awesome project called Future User. I did a remix for one of those songs, and we just hit it off. I felt like I’d known him forever, with similar interests and musical background, whether being in the hardcore scene or hip hop. I’ve also been a huge Rage fan my whole life. When I heard that this was a reality, I instantly texted him and told him I had to be one it. He made a few calls, and the other guys seemed to be into it too, so here we are.

Tim: I love AWOLNATION and bring it live in a hard nad heavy way. Even the songs they don’t play, I have some songs that I love that don’t show up in their set. It’s really going to be fun.

Aaron: It’s a dream come true for me because Chuck D is one of my favorite rappers of all time, and Public Enemy was a big deal growing up, for sure. Punk rock had already happened, so rap music was the next underground thing. To discover that in the 80s as a young kid blew my mind. I thought it was so cool knowing about Public Enemy. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is just a legendary record. And Chuck D used to wear a Raiders jacket at times, so that was really cool to me, as well. To go full circle, Rage Against the Machine was really the Black Sabbath of our time. To combine those two aspects now, it’s amazing to share the stage with them.

Tim Commerford

Tim Commerford in action. [Photo credit: Michael Amico]

Fender.com: Tim, how refreshing is it for you to be able to play not only Rage Against the Machine songs, but also Public Enemy and Cypress Hill tracks?

Tim: It’s exciting. Both Cypress Hill and Public Enemy were in constant rotation for me. When Zack [de la Rocha, Rage against the Machine vocalist] and I were working on the first album, literally the first Cypress record and Fear of a Black Planet were go tos, along with Bad Brains and Fugazi … stuff like that. I really believe that Chuck D and B Real were the most direct hip-hop influences on Rage Against the Machine. There were musical parts for us that took from them. Just to be able to be in the same room with those guys, I can’t tell you how great that it. We played with Public Enemy and Cypress back in the early 90s. The first time we played with Public Enemy, we opened for them and I remember seeing Chuck – and the Nation of Islam was there – and I was so intimidated by all of it. I really wanted to go to Chuck and just say, “Man, you’re the greatest!” But I was so scared. Little did I know that he would have hugged me and taken me in. I could have been close friends with him back then!

I’m trying to make up for that by spending a little extra time with Chuck no matter what we do. I look forward to learning his language and his politics and how he gets his message across in such a loving way. So whether it’s their songs in the original form or if we’re “Rage-ifying” it – as Chuck puts it – or whether we’re mashing up songs, it’s a beautiful thing. Long story short, I’m blown away to be a part of it at all.

Fender: Aaron, you’re producing the new Irontom album, but what’s on the agenda for AWOLNATION?

Aaron: It’s been a nice thing to take a little break from looking in the mirror too much and working on AWOL stuff. It’s been nice to put on my producer/writing cap for the Irontom kids, so when the time comes to actually press record on the third AWOL record, I’ll be really excited. It’s like if you haven’t made love to your lady in a while, the next time you do it’s pretty intense. [laughs] I’m always writing, but at this point it’s just a few things I have on guitar. I haven’t started recording them yet because I wanted to concentrate on our live show and this Irontom record.

Fender: Tim, tell me about how the EP The Party’s Over came about?

Tim: I’d like to take credit for cracking the whip on the new EP we’re putting out. I was the one who called [producer] Brendan O’Brien and tried to make it happen. I’ve already said it in front of everyone that I’d like to see us put out at least an EP per year if not every six months. We’re going to be in the studio making stuff happen. B Real hit me up the other day with an amazing idea for a song that’s sort of a mashup. It’s going to be really poignant in today’s world. I’m excited to get in the studio. I think we could easily track four songs in a day. Setting up Chuck and B Real in the studio at the same time, we watched them just cut back and forth. It’s like Chuck has become B Real’s Sen Dog and B Real has become Chuck’s Flava Flav.

Aaron: And I look forward to producing one of those EPs he’s talking about so thank you for the opportunity. [laughs]

Fender: What inspired you to play music as a kid?

Tim: Ultimately, the first thing that inspired me to play bass was the inside cover to the Kiss Alive II record. You saw Gene Simmons, and he didn’t even look human. I thought, “Wow, what instrument is he playing? That’s what I wanna do.” That quickly turned into Sid Vicious. I was friends with Zack de la Rocha, and we were playing songs on Never Mind the Bollocks. All I knew how to do was sound like Johnny Rotten, so we would do our versions of Sex Pistols songs. Sid Vicious, even though he couldn’t really play bass at all, I would put him on my top 10 greatest basissts list. It went from Gene Simmons to Sid Vicious, and then by high school, I was a prog rock freak. Rush was my favorite band, and I learned how to play my instrument by emulating Geddy Lee and John Entwistle … those kind of guys. That’s what I spent time playing. It was cathartic.

Looking back, there was a time when I was a little embarrassed when people would ask about my influences. I would want to say that it was Darryl [Jenifer] from the Bad Brains, and he was in a way, as was hip hop, but Geddy Lee was the guy who I tried to play like. He’s the greatest as far as I’m concerned.

There was jazz too. I have two upright basses, and I really love jazz music. A good example is the riff on “Bulls on Parade.” The beginning of that is basically inspired by “My Favorite Things” from John Coltrane.

Aaron: My dad taught me guitar on a nylon-stringed guitar. Like most kids in the suburbs, I played a lot of sports, so it was really cool to do something other than that with my dad. He would always play proper flamenco style guitar. We jammed together, and he taught me the rhythm section of “La Bamba” and he would just play on top of that. That was my first experience bonding with another person over music, and it was cool that it was my dad that did it.

Aaron Bruno

Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION [Photo credit: Matthias Heschl]

That was in the 80s, so you had shredders like Van Halen and Metallica with really fast, technical styles of playing. That seems untouchable to me, so it was really the underground stuff like Nirvana – who eventually became mainstream – that opened the door. They weren’t playing too technical, and I thought I could do that. If you paid me a million dollars, I couldn’t play a guitar solo. For me, it’s about using the guitar as a tool to present the melody and the vocal.

Fender: Was there a moment in your life when you decided music would be your career?

Tim: I can honestly tell you that I don’t know if I ever felt it would become a career. That’s probably why I ended up being a musician, the fact that I never for one second thought that it would be that way. I played bass guitar for the love of the instrument. I loved it as a kid and I love it still as much today. That’s why I’m a fan. If you would have asked any one of us when we wrote the first Rage record if we thought we would be relevant 25 years later, we would have laughed in your face. We weren’t making music for that reason. I think that’s how it’s gotta be.

Aaron: I agree. I still don’t even know if I consider myself a professional. It seems like a prank someone is playing on me. [laughs] I constantly remind myself that people actually do appreciate what I do. It’s probably the coolest thing that’s happened to me that people listen to the songs I create.

Fender: What makes you want to continue to make new music?

“ I played bass guitar for the love of the instrument. I loved it as a kid and I love it still as much today.” – Tim Commerford

Aaron: I think it’s the love of music and creating. It’s what I know best and care about most. It’s important, I think, for aspiring guitar players to find that in their own way. That was what was really appealing to me about Rage. I didn’t know that it was a guitar. It was so original. Tom [Morello] is a great example of someone who recreated the guitar. Jack White does a good job of that, as well.

Tim: I agree and honestly would say that in my head, there is this perfect bass sound that I have never been able to achieve. That search and going down the rabbit hole to try and figure out how to get there drives me. I never feel like there is no other place to go. There is always a new thing you can do that maybe nobody’s done.

Aaron: And just knowing that there is always someone better than you. As a frontman, I look around to see who’s great at performing on stage. For me, the singer of Refused, I just saw them and my jaw was on the floor. The next day, I thought, “I need to get better.”

Fender: Finally Tim, you once said, “My bass is my weapon.” How is it an extension of you?

Tim: The band that I’m in, Rage, is a very political band. And I was politicized through Rage. I quickly learned that you can use that platform to get your voice out there. I learned firsthand that it changed the way I think. I grew up in Orange County, very conservative. I did not have a political worldview, and when I became a member of Rage Against the Machine, music changed me. I became a member – a soldier – in a political band. My weapon was my instrument, in that distortion was my ammunition. It’s a powerful tool and can change the way people think. Music is a universal language.

The Prophets of Rage/AWOLNATION tour runs through Oct. 15, wrapping up at the Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, Calif. Click here for more from Prophets of Rage and here for more AWOLNATION.