The Rage Against The Machine guitarist and political activist talks politics, Colin Kaepernick, sensitivity and dad skills
Hey Tom! How’s your day going?
It’s been a rock’n’roll start, let me tell you. I have two boys, aged seven and eight, and they get up around 6am. There was a time when I was up at that hour from the other side; now my kids are storming the barricades at 6am.
How would you describe your style of dadding?
I’m the Jedi dad. When there’s trouble in town, I use my Obi-Wan powers to set things right.
OK. My seven-year-old, who’s an excellent baseball player but is smaller than the other players, was told by a parent from the other team that he looked five. He came to me feeling dejected. I reminded him that baseball player José Altuve is also short. I said, “You’re the Altuve of this league. Get out there, kick some ass and shut them up!” That was my Jedi speech; he went on to hit two home-runs.
You have an extraordinarily pleasant voice. Have you considered reading stories for kids/29-year-old writers?
I’ve done children’s activist books in the past using my rich baritone voice. I was talking about Guatemalan labour unions, breaking them down for kids.
Oh, sweet dreams.
Ha. It was about solidarity and how nonviolent direct action can lead to more recess.
Unfortunately, rock music and male suicide continue to be bedfellows – a fact you know all too well after the death of your Audioslave bandmate Chris Cornell last year. What can be done to change things?
As someone who has not gone through it myself, I can’t fully understand how it feels. But I do feel that we’re getting closer to identifying the problem. The stigma around mental health is wearing away, and blaming issues on a lifestyle, I think, is in the past.
Has that rock’n’roll lifestyle relaxed?
I don’t know about that. I spent time making my new record with young hip-hop guys who are living in a world reminiscent of Led Zeppelin 1971. Tom Petty died not that long ago [from an accidental drug overdose]. There should be a sensitivity to the fact that life is precious, and if you don’t feel right, you need to be comfortable seeking help. What I do know is that there are people who love you, and professionals who can engage with you to make it better. The only way to overcome it is to seek help.
With a long history of activism against social injustices and certain multinationals, how does the Nike/Kaepernick campaign sit with you?
I’ve gone to jail for protesting Nike’s sweatshop abuses. Does social justice require capitalist advertising? Rage Against The Machine were signed to Sony. We hoped the music would play a role in abolishing the system through which it was distributed. I don’t know what Kaepernick’s opinions are about Nike’s labour abuses, but it has reignited the debate about the issues that he took a knee for.
Has your activism cooled down since becoming a father?
When you’re 22, it’s easier to go to jail. If you’re going to be a present parent, you have less capacity to be at the barricades. But while there’s less tear gas in my life now, there’s an even greater commitment – the fate of the planet is literally at stake. Women’s rights, civil rights, fighting racism – these are very important. But the planet is being destroyed because of our short-sighted foolishness. And that’s something that my kids and their kids will have to deal with, unless we act.
What does the US flag mean to you in 2018?
As a black person living in America, it’s loaded. It’s a symbol of freedom and oppression, liberty and wealth, and wars of aggression, that’s waved by Klansmen and kindergarteners. It encapsulates the country’s dualism. There are two Americas: that of Martin Luther King, and of those who dropped napalm in Vietnam. One flag flies for both. That’s what makes it complicated.
The Atlas Underground is out 12 Oct