Interview: Tom Morello and Tim McIlrath rise against the machine, kick out the jams for a good cause

September 5, 2011 by D.X. Ferris

Interview: Tom Morello and Tim McIlrath rise against the machine, kick out the jams for a good cause

Tim, do you know what your set will be like?
McILRATH
: I don’t. I’m trying to work out what are the best songs to play and how I want to do it. I’m trying to gauge what the audience will be like. If you’re an old-school MC5, fan, you probably don’t know who I am. I imagine I’ll play some Rise Against songs and some cover songs. I’ve been kicking around [Rise Against]’s “Prayer Of The Refugees.” We have songs that are acoustic anyway, maybe “Swing Life Away” and “Hero Of War.” I would love to play some new stuff I’ve been working on, to debut it at the shows.

Tom, you grew up in Chicago, right?
MORELLO
: In a Chicago suburb, Libertyville. My mom was a public high school teacher for 30 years. She was a union teacher, and that’s why we had food on the table. I take it personally when these right-wing governors start attacking people like my mom. The Nightwatchman’s gonna come at ya!

Tim, what is your experience with unions?
McILRATH
: I have a couple friends that are steelworkers. My mom was a teacher in Illinois her whole life. I’ve never been a part of a union myself, because I dropped out of college to start this band. But I do see it as one of the last frontlines on the battle between citizens and the working class [against] massive corporations that would slowly erode those rights.

Tom, you’ve been plugged into this part of the country. You’ve worked with Anti-Flag from Pittsburgh and Cyde from Akron. Was that just happenstance, or do you pay special attention to the area?
MORELLO
: I feel my Midwestern roots. I was born in New York City, and I’ve lived in L.A. for about 25 years, but when people ask me where I’m from, I’m from Illinois. That’s where I grew up. And when my Midwest heritage intersects with unions, the Nightwatchman is on the first plane out. I’m a union member. I’ve been a member of a musician’s union for 22 years, and I’m a member of Industrial Workers of the World.

You produced Anti-Flag, and now you’re taking out Tim from Rise Against. Musicians of your stature don’t always integrate with the next generation so gracefully.
MORELLO: I read Alternative Press. And sometimes I have trouble keeping up with the haircuts—they’ve gotten a little out of control sometimes. My wife, too, she devours new music. But your magazine’s audience is an important one: It’s people who are discovering new music and people who are culturally on the cutting edge. Those bands and those fans are important ones to stay connected with.

While you’re on tour, will you be staging other activities?
MORELLO: We’ll be meeting with media and union representatives—not just representatives, but nurses and teachers, and inviting them to come out to shows to share their experiences. We don’t just come through town, play a show, and write a check. The idea is to immerse yourself in the issue you’re fighting for.

Wayne Kramer is on the tour, and a lot of your audience won’t know him. Tell us why somebody who’s 20 should show up early for a musician whose most famous band is twice as old as they are?
MORELLO: If you’re a fan of anything related to punk music, you may want to check out the first punk-rock band, the MC5, the Motor City 5, which was part Sex Pistols, part James Brown, with all of the fire, fury and integrity you might imagine from radical Detroit. And Wayne, for his entire career, has kept his principles at the forefront. He’s not just an artist who plays good music—he’s an artist you can believe in.

McILRATH: The role [MC5] played in music activism is certainly inspiring. I see it as a lineage: What Rage Against the Machine are to my generation, the MC5 are to Morello and Rage Against the Machine’s generation. People should check out MC5 and what they did. MC5 were one of the most important bands in one of the most tumultuous times in American history, during the Vietnam War, when bands were really playing a significant role in the war and civil rights. Unfortunately, it was one of the last times that artists were really in the trenches.

Tom, how did the Rage Against the Machine reunion show go?
MORELLO: The first time that all four of us were ever in a room together was August 20th or 21st, 1991, so it was a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band.

Do you plan to play more shows?
MORELLO: No.

Definitely?
MORELLO: Yep. alt


The Justice Tour:

September 5. Madison, WI:  The Barrymore Theatre (all ages).

September 6. Cleveland, OH: Grog Shop (all ages).

September 7. Flint, MI: The Machine Shop (18+).

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tim mcilrath tom morello justice tour wayne kramer

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