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Tom Morello Explains How RATM Wrote Killing In The Name

Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello reveals the story behind their protest anthem, Killing In The Name

With the news frequently seeming like one big Rage Against The Machine song, has there ever been a better time for Tom Morello to take a dive into his band’s rebellious anthem Killing In The Name? Good news: that’s just what he’s done, in a chat with Rolling Stone.

He explains not only where the track’s incendiary Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ statement comes from, but also how the song itself was written. 

Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ is a universal sentiment,” he explains. While it’s a simple lyric, I think it’s one of [Zack de la Rocha’s, singer] most brilliant. And to me, it relates to [19th century U.S. abolitionist] Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass said that the moment he became free was not the moment that he was physically loosed from his bonds. It was the moment when master said, Yes.’ And he said, No.’ And that’s the essence of Fuck you, I will not do what you tell me.’ And that’s why it’s encouraging to hear it shouted at the Fed goons who are shooting tear gas at American citizens.”

Regarding how the actual music was written, he went on to say:

I was teaching guitar lesson to an accomplished local scenester musician and was showing them how to play drop‑D [tuning],” he recalls. Maynard Keenan of Tool had taught me how to do drop‑D. I was actually playing bass at the time, a crappy Ibanez bass. And I was like, When you play drop‑D tuning, it just sort of suggests different patterns to your fingers.’ And the first pattern I played was that riff. I said, hold on one sec, and got my little Radio Shack recorder and recorded that. 

It was originally an instrumental. There’s a Rage Against the Machine video from Cal State Northridge – which is our first public performance – where we open the show with an instrumental version of Killing In The Name and Timmy [Commerford, bass], I think, came up with hat really cool [bass riff]. [Brad Wilk’s] crowd-bouncing beat is there from the very, very beginning. 

And then Zack laced it with the historic lyrics. We actually left the lyrics off of the lyric sheet of the first record, because it’s I think it’s two lines, 16 fuck yous,’ and one motherfucker.’ And we’re like, in the midst of all this grand political poetry, let’s just that one stand for itself.”

He goes on to explain how their A&R guy – Michael Goldstone – wanted to take out the iconic dunna-dunt’ part, potentially feeling that it wouldn’t be a hit single with that crazy part where it just stops a lot”. Of course, he was wrong.

Rage Against The Machine reformed last year for a string of huge shows in 2020 including Coachella and Reading & Leeds festivals, which have of course been postponed. There’s no word on when they’ll return to the stage, but when they kick into Killing In The Name, you’ve gotta believe all hell is gonna break loose.

Read this: The 20 Greatest Rage Against The Machine Songs – Ranked

Posted on August 19th 2020, 1:45p.m.
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