At airports around the country Sunday (Jan. 29), protesters came out to speak out against President Trump’s recently enacted immigration ban. At the Los Angeles protest, thousands of people were joined by Prophets of Rage‘s Tom Morello and Chuck D.
On their way out of the protest at LAX, where their car was greeted by honking horns and signs in support and thanks for their presence, the two spoke with Billboard about how Trump’s first week has galvanized the American resistance in an unprecedented manner.
As would be expected from two of the most politically outspoken musicians of the last 30 years, they had a lot to say about their disdain for Trump and his policies.
Did you ever think we’d have a president who would almost make us long for the Bush era?
Tom Morello: [Laughs] The way I look at it is what Trump has done in a week is galvanize the opposition. That’s what this is; this unprecedented racism, bigotry and proto-fascist agenda that he’s trying to shove down America’s throat has unleashed the resistance that will dethrone him.
Neil Young recently predicted a surge in activism, saying today felt more like the 1960s than anything he has ever seen because, like when people were protesting Vietnam, there is a clear target for their protest. Being at the airport today, do you see that?
Morello: It’s not just that they have a target. The reason why many young people in the Vietnam War era were active was their lives were threatened by the draft and they were going to perhaps be forced to go overseas and fight in an immoral war. At the rally today, it’s not just young people, it’s people of all ages. They feel this is a threat to democracy, to humanity. Trump’s ignorance in environmental science is a threat to the entire planet, and the way that’s he acted in such an ill-informed and hateful way in his first week, it’s no surprise there are more people marching around the country today against his Muslim ban than were at his inauguration. He’s gonna have a tough time choking that one down. There’s no precedent for this in the first week of an administration. How many Americans, from the women’s march to yesterday to today have been out to just say, “Oh, hell no!”? This is America’s “Oh, hell no!” moment, and what we did today here at LAX was, with a clear and unified voice, say that Los Angeles is a “No Trump Zone.” Immigrants and Muslims and refugees are welcome here; racists, fascists and bigots can beat it.
You guys did the Anti-Inaugural Ball on inauguration day. Going forward, what are the plans to continue to musically speak out?
Morello: The reason why Chuck D landed at the airport today is we’re in the middle of working on a new Prophets of Rage record that will be a useful counter-offensive to what is going on now. But with regards to the specifics of that, I’ll hand the phone to Mr. Chuck D, who is sitting right here and will have something to say about that.
Chuck: I’m in the middle of the mix, the mix is what’s going on down here at LAX.
Where did you fly in from today?
Chuck: I was coming from back east. It just happened to be a convergence of a lot of different things all at once. Like Tom said, this week is unprecedented.
Coming from back east today, you got to see the vibe at two places. How did it compare?
Chuck: I get to see it in four different places. I’m in New York and Atlanta once a month, and I was just in Chicago to speak at Iowa State so I’ve seen this brought up. This is a thing where a week from the Super Bowl, at least to see people show up like they would for their sports teams is commendable, especially on such a situation of change.
Could you have envisioned the resistance growing so quickly?
Chuck: I saw it coming, but at the same time, one of the things we have to keep in mind — when we saw this come to pass — [is] that the thing we have to remind each other is expect the unexpected. Just be ready. The more people fight and voice the biggest fight they could take on right about now is opposing [a] loud voice.
Can you tell us about the new record?
Morello: This band came together at this crucial historical juncture to provide a soundtrack for the resistance. That was our mission statement when we formed the band, that remains our mission statement today, and that resistance is growing and growing and growing. The coalition that is being forged now goes well beyond disgruntled Hillary supporters. It also is Trump supporters who have buyer’s remorse. It’s the many millions who don’t vote at all because they believe that the system does not represent them in any way … and in addition to that, all those passionate lifelong activists who see a threat to freedom and human rights in this administration. Bad presidents make for great music, and we’re gonna do our best to provide it.
Will it be a full album or individual tracks?
Morello: In this day and age we are in the studio with Brendan O’Brien, and we’ve got a lot of songs. However that finally makes its way into the world, we will strategize to get them maximum impact in 2017 and beyond. What’s currently on the docket for us as far as live shows: there’s some Mexico [and] South American festivals, as well as our first European run this summer. There are no dates yet for the United States, other than the Anti-Inaugural Ball we just played, but I have a feeling they will be necessary.
It’s got to be interesting to imagine being overseas right now.
Morello: There’s not a country on earth that doesn’t feel that it might be invaded by Donald Trump’s regime. Nowhere is safe, and the thing about this whole Muslim ban is even his Republican colleagues admit that it makes us less safe in that it’s a great recruiting tool for ISIS. The federal judges have confirmed that it makes us less free in its unconstitutional aspects, but what they didn’t count on is that we’re less afraid. As you saw from the heroic taxi drivers of New York City to the ACLU to the hundreds of thousands of people at airports around the country today, we will not go quietly into that dark night.
What can people do beyond protesting, like the Delete Uber trend on social media?
Morello: Unity and resistance is a strong American trait, and I think that while it is very important for us to be in mass in the streets, the New York taxi driver strike would be meaningful, if the teamsters’ union is unwilling to deliver the material to build the wall with Mexico, that would be a meaningful thing. We have power not just with our voices, but we have economic power in what we do for a living, too, and I think that people are going to continue to find … the Uber example is just one way. If Trump is going to govern in a fascist way, then we need to make this country ungovernable.
How important is it for American musicians to be ambassadors of sanity to the rest of the world?
Morello: I think it’s very important. Yesterday, my wife was calling the mosques around Los Angeles and explaining to them there are a lot of United States citizens that do not share the president’s anti-Muslim views, and those calls were very well received. And she’s not an overtly political person. She’s supportive of the political bent of my work, but she organized a huge battalion for the women’s march. She’s also organized a postcard-writing campaign for this week, and people who have never been active before are now being more active than they dreamed before. And I think the unity at the airports were a clear signal to the rest of the world that the majority of Americans do not share Trump’s racist contempt for Muslims and people of color. I think that message needs to be made loud and clear. It’s certainly made loud and clear in our music.
How was it performing with Audioslave again?
Morello: It was fantastic, it took us a while to polish up those songs. We hadn’t played them for a dozen years. But it was great. It was lovely hanging with Chris [Cornell], and he sounds phenomenal and the band sounded pretty tight, too.
Is there any timeline for when the new songs will come out?
Morello: No, there’s not. We’re deep, we’re beginning our second week in the studio, so we’re deep in the midst of it.
How can the musical coalition be galvanized further?
Morello: I think, in moral opposition, it’s time for people to stand up. At the Anti-Inaugural Ball it was a diverse lineup, from Jackson Browne to Vic Mensa to the first Audioslave show in 12 years. That’s just who answered my text. There are some people who were unable to make it who I‘m sure will speaking up in the weeks and months to come. But I hope we can run Trump out of office before then.