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Chuck D schools us on the 5 steps of a song


Prophets of Rage may seem like a supergroup built just for these times.

When the band — Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord and Cypress Hill’s B-Real — formed last year, Morello said they were “an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.”

But on their debut album, Prophets of Rage (Fantasy), released Sept. 15, the band doesn’t dwell on timely topics. Rage, according to Chuck D, is timeless.

“There would always be rage in the way we play,” says Chuck, calling from Los Angeles, where the band was rehearsing. “Rage is who we are … We didn’t need the world to be a disaster to have 12 songs. You want the world to be better. There’s always a topic to look into. There’s always some (expletive) going on.”

The video for the album’s first single, “Radical Eyes,” shows photos and videos of protests from the Vietnam era through the protests in Charlottesville, placing today’s demonstrations in the context of American history and global politics. That was part of the Prophets of Rage plan.

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“We’re not an American band,” Chuck says. “We’re a world band. I’m an ‘Earth-ist.’ I ain’t glued to one spot on the earth. You have to worry about a government who wants to chain people to one place.”

Even when songs refer to a specific place like “Living on the 110” and its tales of people living underneath the overpasses on I-110 in Los Angeles, Chuck says the band is looking to make songs that are more universal. “The song tackles the growing concern of, not just homelessness, but the general attitude about that, like it’s out of sight, out of mind, like if you turn away from it, it doesn’t exist,” he says.

“The world is not going to fix itself,” he continues, referring to another song “The World.”

“It spins around your axis. What are you going to do fix the world? … I’m on the downside of 50. When you get to my age, you have a concern not just for yourself, not just for people related to you. You take on things to make the world better than the one you had.”

For Prophets of Rage, the overall goal is to achieve what they call the “12345 Theory.”

“The first step is the song and the second step is to record it so that it enhances the idea,” Chuck explains. “Most record companies are happy with reaching Step 2 and having an incredible recording. Step 3 is performing the song so that it challenges the record. We want to be better than the recording and that’s not easy. Most people back off of it … Myself, Lord, Tim, Tom, Brad and B-Real are really happy when we achieve Step 3. Step 4 is believing the song — so that you truly believe what the song is saying and it kind of comes out organically.”

Chuck says the band has struggled a lot with that step since, at some point, all of them are playing songs they didn’t write. However, with the songs from the new album in the set, that is changing on the current tour.

“A lot of people can’t achieve Step 3 and if that happens, you go back to Step 1 because no one will ever believe anything you say,” he says. “That’s why you have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, until it flows out of you organically.”

Then, there is the elusive Step 5.

“The fifth step is when you are bleeding the song,” Chuck says. “It is euphoric. It transforms anything around it. We have other words for it like ‘synchronicity.’ Sometimes you get there and sometimes you don’t. You don’t get there most of the time.”

Most of last year’s tour was spent in and around Step 4. “We were just learning how to be with each other,” says Chuck, adding that they are a much tighter unit now. “We may have climbed to 5 at the end of the tour a few times for a little while.”

Chuck says the band has now crafted their own version of all the songs they play. “Remember, we had to learn ‘Guerrilla Radio,’ ” he says, recalling the Rage Against the Machine classic. “We had to be ‘Guerrilla Radio.’ And we are never gonna be able to match a 25-year-old Zach de la Rocha in power, speed and dexterity. We had to create a different dynamic. Prophets of Rage is a different dynamic. It is something else.”

TORONTO STAR

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