Interview: State Radio & Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine
Thu, 17 Apr 2008 08:22:59
Suburban Massachusetts doesn't typically foster revolutions of any kind. It's a barren commercial wasteland, void of much art or culture. Most of Greater Boston's denizens find themselves trapped in a perpetual cycle of archaic familial expectations: marry your high school sweetheart, work for your father's business, have your kids, die and repeat. Then there are the bad parts.... Needless to say, most Bostonians don't leave that bubble very often. However, that's not the case with Beantown reggae, punk trio, State Radio. The band are anything but one-dimensional, yet they're still "wicked" cool. On their debut Year of the Crow, State Radio spike jagged punk guitars with spacey reggae melodies and catchy choruses. Add in political, poetic lyrics, and you've got a recipe for revolutionary rock n' roll.
A long way from home, the band's flown into Los Angeles for a mere three days. This was all sparked by a call from rock's foremost revolutionary, Tom Morello [Audioslave, The Nightwatchman]. He asked State Radio to play on his Justice tour, and they responded with an enthusiastic "Yes." It's not your ordinary tour, but then again Morello and State Radio are anything but ordinary musicians. Each show on the jaunt is preceded by community service in the city. In Los Angeles, they help the homeless, in Boston they'll tackle healthcare issues and in New Orleans they work hurricane relief. It's definitely no small undertaking, but the boys are happy to oblige. After a day of work, Morello hits the stage as The Nightwatchman with a bevy of all-star friends popping up in each city to guest, while State Radio kicks off the party.
Before the Los Angeles date, State Radio vocalist/guitarist Chad Stokes relaxes upstairs at the Troubadour. He sits in what's known as the "Loft," VIP room. However, as is true about most clubs, it doesn't look so plush during the day with dust on the couches and a faint glimmer of light peering through a slightly cracked window. Suddenly, Morello saunters in, as usual, he's all smiles, and he fires off a wink of impending revolution. Shaking Chad's hand, he jokes, "You guys are so prompt, it's crazy! You're a responsible rock band!" Everyone laughs, and it's a big compliment. Morello is probably one of the most responsible rockers ever, taking on various causes throughout the years and constantly reminding fans that they can make a difference. Chad and Co. are already following in his footsteps as State Radio has taken on various benefit shows across the U.S. A long way from the suburbs of Massachusetts, Chad and Morello sat down with ARTISTdirect to discuss the Justice tour, State Radio and how you can help change the world.
How did everything come together with the Justice tour?
Chad: We thought it was a joke when Tom called. We were sure it was a friend of ours pretending to be Tom. So, we were totally psyched that it was really him [laughs]. I've been a big fan of his for a long time. As a band, there's nothing more that we want to do than put ourselves on the line. We don't want to "Just talk the talk," but we want to "Walk the walk." We want to be advocates for the peace movement and social awareness. Tom is doing such an amazing thing with the Justice tour. Yesterday, he took us all to the homeless shelter to wash dishes and prepare food, and tonight we're playing this show. It feels real to us, which is not a feeling that's all that prevalent on tour sometimes.
Tom: I discovered State Radio through the medium of video. I saw them on some late night video channel, and I thought their song was awesome. I iTunes-ed the record, and 'Gang of Thieves" was my number one iTunes jam for a while. I would run around the Hollywood Hills listening to their music on my iPod [laughs]. I found them, but believe me, they weren't easy to track down [laughs]. I called them up, and they were great. They flew themselves out 3000 miles away from home to play this show and come to PATH yesterday. They're also playing a number of shows on the tour."
Chad, have you guys done any other shows with a community service component before?
Chad: We've done a little bit of this on the East Coast. This branch of City Year, called Concert Corps, is trying to do the same thing. They're trying to harness the energy of all the people coming to see a show, by getting them to come four or five hours earlier on a Saturday and help restore a playground. We're trying to channel that energy for some real tangible good. This tour addresses various issues at each stop. In Boston, it's healthcare, and Michael Moore will be there trying to highlight some of the loopholes and corruption in our healthcare system. In D.C., the tour hooks up with Amnesty International and Iraq Veterans Against the War. In New Orleans, it'll be dealing with some of the fallout from Katrina and housing problems.
Did Rage Against the Machine inspire you to bring together social activism and music together?
Chad: Oh definitely. I unconsciously gravitated towards this kind of music as a kid, but I didn't really know why. I didn't formulate my own opinions of world issues, really, until I was 18, and I went to live in Zimbabwe for six months. That's when things came together. I realized the reason why I liked listening to Rage, Bob Dylan, The Who and Black Sabbath. They were awesome bands, but they had real substance in some of their tunes as well. The way reggae came from the underground also really inspired me. I went to Zimbabwe just to get away from my hometown. Through a friend, I knew a family that I could stay with. It all really came together when I was in Zimbabwe, and I was confronted with the inequities right in front of me.
Explain more about the tour, it seems like this is the perfect venue to spread social awareness and encourage change.
Tom: Before I left home, I was online and I looked up the lineup of Live Aid, and tonight's show is better [laughs]. We've got Jerry Cantrell, Steve Vai, Dave Navarro, Slash, Perry Farrell and Travis Barker, to name a few. Plus we keep it at the people's price of $10, which averages out to about 80 cents per superstar [laughs]. All the proceeds go to charity too.
Chad: It's important for us to remember we're a nation at war. We're trying to get people to think about these things and do their part, however small. When we talk to the Iraq veterans, I think it's frustrating for them to know life is going on normally over here, especially after they come back from a tour of duty and see that everything is still going on without a blink of an eye. It's rewarding for us as a band when people come back to us and say, "I didn't know about this." Or, "I've started a chapter in my school, I'm going to this march or I'm going to sign this petition." We just want to be worthy contributors to this movement of consciousness.
How important has Boston been in terms of revolutionary thought and socially conscious music?
Chad: For us, some of that's coming from being raised in a pretty liberal household, if I can speak for myself. Chuck [Bass] has a lot of the same beliefs that I do, and Mad Dog [Drums] as well. However, I was fostered and nurtured in that upbringing, and Chuck's beliefs are more of a rebellion in his parent's eyes. We come to common ground from different angles. Part of it, for me, has to do with growing up near a place called the "Peace Abbey" in Sherborn, MA. It's about a mile away from where I lived. It's a memorial to John Lennon, Mother Teresa and Ghandi. It's a really liberal place where activists from all over come and talk about ideas and pay homage to the great leaders of the peace movement. Boston has a great history. I think the most exciting thing about music in Boston is probably the punk era. What we like about the city is that cultural spirit coupled with that aggro sports mentality [laughs].
Tom: I haven't lived there in a long time frankly, but I would say that the rebellious state of Boston rock is alive and well in State Radio. Beyond that, I don't know about Boston. Now, I just go there and wander around Harvard Square once every two years [laughs].