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Members include Tim Bob (a.k.a. Timmy C.), bass; Tom Morello (Education: Graduated from Harvard University, 1986), guitar; Zack de la Rocha (left group, 2000), vocals; Brad Wilk, drums. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022- 3211. Website--Rage Against the Machine Official Website: http://www.ratm.net.
Greek philosopher Plato once wrote, "The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state, since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions." It is this idea that fueled the inspiration behind Rage Against the Machine. Combining the aggressiveness of metal with the vocal styling of rap, the band decided to use this hybrid to broadcast their societal message to anyone who would listen. Their self-titled debut album sold more than four million copies worldwide, and the musical message reached ears all over the world. "We're trying to do something most bands don't do," guitarist Tom Morello told Katherine Turman in Spin, "which is combine music and activism. The lofty goal would be bringing down an oppressive, racist, capitalistic system that feeds on the exploited and repressed."
Singer Zack de la Rocha met bassist Timmy C. (a.k.a. Tim Bob) in the sixth grade. De la Rocha and Timmy C. grew up in Orange County, California, an area known for its suburban conservatism. As a child, de la Rocha's parents put him in the middle of a heavy custody battle. He moved back and forth between his mother's home in Irvine, California, and his father's in East Los Angeles. His mother worked as a teacher's aide at the University of California at Irvine, while his father was a first-generation Mexican muralist.
De la Rocha compared his own career to his father's in an interview with Timothy White in Billboard. "Back in 1974, my father's paints were part of the first Chicano art exhibit ever organized at the L.A. County Museum of Art ['Los Four: Almarez, de la Rocha, Lugan, Romero']. That accomplishment was really something to be proud of. I want to make music that gives people that same sense of identity, and lets them see that human rights, civil rights, and spiritual rights are part of the same struggle we all face: to take the power back."
De la Rocha and Timmy C. met guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk in the early 1990s. Morello's father served as a member of the Mau Mau guerrilla organization that freed Kenya from colonial rule in the 1960s. His mother, Mary Morello, was a schoolteacher and later founded the anti-censorship organization Parents for Rock & Rap. Before moving to Los Angeles, Morello, originally from Libertyville, Illinois, graduated from Harvard University in 1986 with a degree in social services. He played in a punk band called Lock-Up, then cofounded Rage Against the Machine in 1991.
Performed with Popular Groups
The group recorded and released a self-produced, 12-song cassette in 1992, which included the song "Bullet in the Head," which later became a single from the band's debut album. The members sold the tape through their fan club and at live shows in the area, selling more than 5,000 copies. Before Rage Against the Machine ever hit the stores, the band had played with Porno for Pyros on that band's debut performance, a European tour with Suicidal Tendencies, and performances on the second stage of the Lollapallooza II tour. Rage Against the Machine had received its first contract offer from a major label after its second club performance. However, the group wanted to make sure they had the freedom to express their message and took their time before inking a deal with Epic Records. They came up against controversy as well, when critics asked--and continue to ask--if a group like Rage is being hypocritical by signing with a major record label. On November 6, 1992, Epic released the record, which included the singles "Killing in the Name," "Freedom," and "Take the Power Back."
Timothy White wrote of Rage Against the Machine in Billboard, "On the strength of the Epic album, they must be viewed as one of the most original and virtuosic new rock bands in the nation, capable of a latticed wall of stridor so deftly woven that it's destined to be the standard for any audacious headbangers who dare follow." Despite the band's obvious rap and hip-hop influences, they stayed true to their name and shunned electronic keyboards, samples, and drum machines. "You'd assume there was a DJ in the band if you didn't know better," Morello told Chuck Crusafulli in Guitar Player, "but all the sounds we make are guitar, bass, drums, and vocals."
Rage Against the Machine's first video for "Killing in the Name" did not receive any airplay in the United States because of the language in the song's refrain. However, it did receive substantial airplay in Europe and boosted the group's popularity and sales overseas far above its home country. Right out of the gate, Rage Against the Machine stood behind its activist message by participating in and producing many benefits for political organizations. On January 23, 1993, the band headlined a Rock for Choice show in support of pro-choice abortion organizations. On July 18, 1993, Rage Against the Machine created a silent protest onstage at Lollapallooza III in Philadelphia. Each member of the band stood naked without singing or playing a note for 25 minutes in a statement against censorship. With duct tape sealing their mouths, they each wore a letter spelling "P-M-R-C," for the Parents Music Resource Center. They also headlined a sold-out Anti-Nazi League benefit at Brixton Academy in London, England, to raise money and promote an anti-Nazi march that took place the next month.
Debut Had Lengthy Stay on Charts
Nearly a year after the album's release, Rage Against the Machine reached number 70 on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart without much radio or video exposure. On December 19, 1993, Rage Against the Machine released its first MTV-aired video, "Freedom." Directed by Peter Christopherson, the video mixed live footage of the band with scenes from Robert Redford's 1992 documentary Incident at Oglala and text from Peter Matthiessen's In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. The video argued for the innocence of American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier.
In 1994, Rage Against the Machine released the song "Year of tha Boomerang" on the soundtrack for the John Singleton film Higher Learning. The following year, the group organized and headlined a benefit concert at the Capitol Ballroom in Washington, D.C. The show raised more than $8,000 for the International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an activist sentenced to death. In 1996, Rage Against the Machine released their second effort, Evil Empire on Epic Records. Evelyn McDonnell wrote in Rolling Stone, "Rage's second album, Evil Empire, may be the most politically radical album ever to hit No. 1 on the pop charts," which it did in its first week. This album again focused on political and social commentary.
Despite the fact that Rage's motives hold them together as a band, there has been much--and greatly publicized--sparring within the band. Rage doesn't spend too much time together when they are not at work recording or touring. In fact, their rough times interpersonally have led to sporadic album releases. They also come up with new songs only for albums and not for tours because they spend limited time together.
In 1999, Rage released The Battle of Los Angeles. Like its predecessor, it debuted at number one and went double platinum within the year. Also within a year of the release, Commerford was arrested for disorderly conduct for a disruption of a Limp Bizkit acceptance speech at the MTV awards, and de la Rocha announced intentions of doing solo work. Soon after, de la Rocha left the band, supposedly on good terms, while the rest of Rage stated they were staying together--despite the fact that de la Rocha had written a vast majority of the band's lyrics up to that point--and continuing with a new vocalist. Renegades was released about that time, an album that uses the lyrics from songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Devo, and the music of Rage.
Remained Focused on Message
"We're able to make music that can reach a lot of people and contains a really potent message," Morello told James Rotondi in Guitar Player. "It's not merely about thinking for yourself, or supporting the occasional feel-good cause. It's about revolutionary values.... But there is a depth and importance to our message which completely transcends the artist side of it." Some argue that the angry-music venue which Rage uses means that they reach an audience who does not really listen to their message, but just to their music. Some critics also refuse to take Rage's political and social stances seriously. However, Mark Greif of the American Prospect writes, "The band's politics are the product of an explicitly intellectual and credible radical past, a past largely unknown to its audience." He continues to point out Morello's honors degree from Harvard for social studies, both Morello's and de la Rocha's uniquely political/liberal parentage, and Morello's time serving under Senator Alan Cranston as an aide. Criticism of the group's politics often result in accusations of hypocrisy, calling enemies by names such as Coca-Cola, NBC and ABC, and then appearing at venues sponsored by them. Greif says, "The contradiction mirrors the predicament of a whole generation reared by merchandisers."
Rage Against the Machine continues to stand at the forefront of rock music. Their work is consistently praised by critics and adored by fans. They are also one of the most active, outspoken, and involved bands, pioneering for many domestic and global causes "with increasing sophistication and success," as stated by Greif. They are known for their innovative music, which includes not only rock-punk-thrash hybrids, but unprecedented guitar work by Morello and the first successful introduction of rap into a rock format by de la Rocha. On top of it all, their diversity sets them apart from most of their contemporaries: de la Rocha is Irish, German and Chicano, and Morello is part African. Their backgrounds shaped them into workhorses for freedom, their similar "interest in hip hop and hard rock, coupled with ... leftist political views" melded them into a group, and their musical talent has boosted them to what Rolling Stone calls "one of America's most popular bands."
by Sonya Shelton
Rage Against the Machine's Career
Group formed in Orange County, CA, 1991; self-produced 12- song cassette, 1992; toured U.S. and Europe; signed with Epic Records and released self-titled debut, 1992; toured worldwide and organized benefits, 1993-94; video for "Freedom" reached number one, 1994; released Evil Empire on Epic, 1996; released The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999; Live and Renegades, 2000.
Rage Against the Machine's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Metal Performance for "Tire Me," 1996, and Best Hard Rock Performance for "Guerrilla Radio," 2000; Annual California Music Award (Tom Morello) for Best Guitarist, 1998-2001.
- Selected discography
- Rage Against the Machine , Epic, 1992.
- Evil Empire , Epic, 1996.
- The Battle of Los Angeles , Epic, 1999.
- Live , Sony, 2000.
- Renegades , Epic, 2000.
- American Prospect, January 17, 2000, p. 56.
- Anti-Matter, April 1993.
- Billboard, December 26, 1992; July 3, 1993; July 10, 1993; February 5, 1994; March 23, 1996.
- Desert Sun, June 6, 1996.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 1993; January 13, 1995; April 19, 1996.
- Guitar Player, July 1993; June 1994; June 1996; July 2000, p. 76.
- Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1993.
- New York Times, November 8, 1993.
- People, May 20, 1996.
- Playboy, February 1993.
- Rolling Stone, March 10, 1994; June 16, 1994; April 18, 1996; October 3, 1996; September 4, 1997.
- Spin, November 1993; February 1994.
- Stereo Review, August 1996.
- Time, September 23, 1996.
- All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 1, 2002).
- Grammy.com, http://www.grammy.com (April 1, 2002).
- MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com (April 1, 2002).
- Rage Against the Machine Official Website, http://www.ratm.net (April 1, 2002).
- Recording Industry Association of America, http://www.riaa.org (April 1, 2002).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Epic Records press material, 1996.
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