August 20, 2008

Q and a With Zack De La Rocha

These days, the rock scene is low on mysterious figures. As the music has lost its countercultural edge, many of its champions have transformed into average celebrities, happy to speak into any microphone that wanders by. That's not true of Zack de la Rocha: The Rage Against the Machine vocalist is the rare rock star who keeps his distance from the hype.

He has a new musical project: One Day as a Lion, which pairs him with drummer Jon Theodore.

One Day as a Lion's self-titled debut EP, on Anti Records, hit No. 28 on the Billboard charts with minimal media attention and is gaining traction nationally on rock radio. A full release will come in the fall.

Q: How did One Day as a Lion come about?

A: I've known Jon for several years, and I saw some of his first performances as a member of the Mars Volta. It was clear that music in L.A. was never going to be the same now that he was here! I've worked with some great drummers, but I hadn't seen drumming like that in a long time. So I immediately felt compelled to ... pick his brain and find out what kind of music he was interested in.

Q: The first single is called "Wild International." That implies global politics from the get-go. How does your work fit into that scenario?

A: Most of the songs have to do with redemptive moments that come in the face of some real indignity. And that's the current that I'm trying to tap into, because I think that for a lot of people -- for the real participants who've been left out of the debate, who live in the shadows and work at car washes and are forced to cross the border and are struggling and facing the real economic consequences - - they're often left out of the debate, on the right and the left, because of the language they speak or even the terminology that they use.

So it stems from my own frustration. It stems from seeing how things have been developing politically, and watching so much dissatisfaction and people very upset about the way the country is going.

Q: How do those two elements of your own life -- activism and music-making -- intersect or diverge now?

A: I don't think the separation is valid, especially in these times. ...

Participating in the Son Jarochos work (his activist work with urban farmers in South Central Los Angeles, which included playing folk music with the group Son de Madera) felt more community-based, more collective. I was part of a collective voice and not on my own as an artist, and something about that attracted me.

Q: You've been touring with Rage again. What is your relationship like with those guys now?

A: So much has changed. When you get older, you look back on tensions and grievances and have another perspective on it. I think our relationship now is better than it's ever been.

We're going to keep playing shows -- we have a couple of big ones happening in front of both conventions. As far as us recording music in the future, I don't know where we all fit with that. We've all embraced each other's projects and support them, and that's great.

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