‘We’re like the all-stars’ … Prophets of Rage perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington. Photograph: Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP
Prophets of Rage (named after a 1988 Public Enemy track) debuted with a few Make America Rage Again shows last summer, including two in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, reconfiguring highlights from their three back catalogues. “We wanted to make sure that what we saw on paper actually worked,” says B-Real. Their chemistry extended to songwriting, leading to an explosive self-titled album produced by Brendan O’Brien. They have coalesced because of Trump but they insist that they’d still be together even if Hillary Clinton was in the White House.
“We don’t want catastrophe to happen just so we can be a group,” says Chuck. “There’s plenty of shit to talk about.”
“I would suggest that the struggle for human liberation, both at home and abroad, preceded Trump and will be going on after Trump,” Morello says. “There’s plenty of fodder for Prophets to rage against.”
Nonetheless, the president makes for a great lightning rod. On 20 January, the band played an Anti-Inaugural Ball in Los Angeles, where Chris Cornell joined them to perform some Audioslave songs for the first time in 12 years. It was the last time they saw each other before Cornell’s suicide in May.
“There’s no silver lining to his passing but I feel better that we were able to share the stage again,” Morello says. “He was a good friend: ‘If it’s important to you to play Cuba, let’s go and play Cuba. If you’re playing a show to raise the minimum wage, I’d love to play some songs with you.’ He responded to the call.”
Another old friend, Michael Moore, directed the video for Prophets of Rage’s single Unfuck the World. Moore’s video for Rage’s 2000 single Sleep Now in the Fire has proved strangely prophetic in one respect. In one frame a Wall Street type holds a placard reading: “Donald J Trump for President.” Morello raises an eyebrow. “The joke became reality.”
You would expect Morello to bond with Moore. Less so with Ted Nugent, the arch-conservative rocker who recently dined with Trump at the White House and was once investigated by the secret service for making threatening comments about President Obama. How on earth does that friendship work?
“Ted Nugent’s a good friend to me. We have very similar views on freedom of speech,” he says with a shrug. “His libertarian edge and my anarchist edge overlap considerably. Sometimes, if he says something outrageous that will fire up his racist base, I’ll text him to say, ‘Dude. What are you on about?’ We’re able to talk about it as friends as opposed to people on the opposite sides of the barricade.”
Prophets of Rage are accustomed to controversy. In the early 90s, when Bill Clinton was denouncing Public Enemy associate Sister Souljah and George HW Bush was joining the campaign to ban Ice-T’s Cop Killer, they were all embroiled in media storms. By comparison, criticism of Prophets of Rage has been minimal, apart from rightwing conspiracy theory factory Infowars decrying them as “commie rockers”. “That’s not inaccurate,” Morello says mildly.
“People like Infowars can kiss my balls all day,” B-Real declares. “Spreaders of misinformation and whatnot. News outlets have become like social media. They’re not telling the whole story. They’re telling the story they wanna tell, and sometimes it’s complete bullshit. And when you’ve got a president who’s exacerbating this by putting out false information, and then claiming that the allegations against him were false, it’s just a circle of fuckery. There is a need for this music. As Tom always says, change doesn’t make itself, you have to fight for it, and we’re here to inspire that.”
He pauses for clarification. “But in a peaceful manner. Not any type of violent shit that would get people hospitalised or killed.”
“There’s an important lesson to be learned from this rainbow of disinformation,” Morello says. “It was always there but now it’s more obvious. No story tells the whole truth. Nothing is fair and balanced. Nothing is the full picture. The advantage music has is it’s a language that predates speech. When you get the right combination of rhythm and rhyme, it feels like the truth the way that nothing else does.” That’s where Prophets of Rage come in. “The resistance needs a soundtrack. That’s the job we’re auditioning for.”
A few days later, they headline Brixton Academy with a hair-raising display of what the president might describe as “fire and fury”. Songs written during the first Bush administration, such as Fight the Power and Killing in the Name, have lost none of their power to inflame a crowd.
At the hotel Morello told me that he was suspicious of the word “supergroup” but Chuck had no such reservations. “I love it,” he said, grinning. “When people are sceptical there’s only one job to do and that’s be super. With Prophets of Rage there’s not a lot of kumbaya songs. This is brutality.”
• Prophets of Rage is out now on Caroline International.