Photo Courtesy of Earache Records
Tim Commerford is best known for being the bassist in Rage Against the Machine, as well as disrupting Limp Bizkit’s MTV Award acceptance speech in 2000, and his giant blackened shoulder tats. Currently, in addition to playing with his Rage bandmates (minus vocalist Zack de la Rocha) and legendary MC’s Chuck D (Public Enemy) and B Real (Cypress Hill) in the supergroup Prophets of Rage, he’s also introduced the world to his new punk band Wakrat. The band is named for their French drummer Mathias Wakrat. In fact when the band was opening the Prophets of Rage tour this past summer, Commerford would announce that the band was from France, even though he’s writing all the lyrics. As such when I had the chance to speak to Commerford about this new band, I wanted to know how this unlikely trio came together.
“I met Mathias through Zack de la Rocha, and Zack and I came up listening to punk rock as little kids in elementary school” he says excitedly.
“Zack played guitar and knew all the songs on the (Sex Pistols’) Never Mind the Bollocks album. So we were in like fifth grade and we were playing those songs together, like in my bedroom on acoustic guitar and I would do the vocals. The love of punk rock has always been a big part of my musical influence, whether it’s The Sex Pistols, or whether it’s Bad Brains, or Fugazi, Minutemen, Minor Threat. I’ve always appreciated what I consider hardcore, especially the Orange County hardcore scene, or the D.C. hardcore scene, that was something that I was always really inspired by.”
Despite this enthusiasm for the genre, there wasn’t an instant musical connection between Commerford and Wakrat. But when the opporunity presented itself, Commerford was quick to jump on board. “Zack introduced me to Mathias and said ‘Hey, he’s a jazz drummer, he loves hardcore music and you should go mountain biking with him.' We mountain biked for a long time, talked about music all the time, but I don’t think I ever took him too seriously on a drummer level. Then one day he said ‘Hey I got this project with (guitarist) Laurent (Grangeon), my buddy, another Frenchman. Would you be willing to play bass on it?’ I listened to it and I was blown away. I’m blown away by the arrangements, I’m blown away by the time signatures. Mathias is a jazz fanatic, and he knows every jazz song in the be-bop era. He can not only tell you what song it is, but what record it’s on, and who the players are. He’s not square. He doesn’t see things squarely in a 4/4 gridded-out way. They played me those arrangements, (and) it was really challenging for me to play bass on them. I thought about finding a vocalist, I had some ideas and it didn’t really work out. Then I laid vocals on it and it just became a Rubick’s Cube of trying to figure out how to play those bass lines and sing them because I never, ever thought that I would ever be doing anything like this. I’m surprised, I’m proud, and I’m a better musician because of all of it. It’s crazy music and I love it so much.”
“Weird time signatures,” is in fact one of the random pieces of stage banter that he drops on the audience between songs. It’s definitely a highlight of the band, creating a tone that almost sounds like a punk Primus. I mention to Commerford that this is something that’s become quite prominent in heavy metal, but it’s surprising to hear in a punk context.
“It’s a contemporary take on punk rock. I love old-school punk rock, I do. But there’s not a lot of punk bands who mess around with time signatures for some reason, that’s not happened. There’s not a lot of music that changes time, even Rush, most of their music is 4/4 time. Every single song we play has got at least one part in it that’s not in 4/4 time. The time signature thing is really what I think makes us a unique, fresh take on punk rock. It’s an important part of the band. Mathias and Laurent, the craziness comes from them. I never thought I would be playing music in these kind of time signatures, and it takes a different thought process to wrap your head around it than it does to be playing groove-oriented Rage Against the Machine-style music.”
In addition to the prominent bass, Wakrat’s songs also come across as extremely beat-driven. But behind that lies an unexpected nod to electronic music. “A huge influence is also The Prodigy and I hear those drum beats” says Commerford with a serious tone.
“What Laurent does in guitar is akin to what Tom Morello does in his solos, in that when (Rage Against the Machine) first got with Tom he would play and his solos didn’t really sound like a guitar. Laurent doesn’t really play solos, (he) just plays rhythm. A lot of times his rhythm sounds like a loop, like a messed up glitchy loop and I love that. There is like a kind of electronic vibe to Wakrat as well that again, makes it sound contemporary to me.”
Starting a new band can be both a blessing and a curse for a member of a high-profile act like Rage. On the one hand their fans may be enthusiastic for the band members to explore new music. But on the other hand there’s a certain level of cynicism expressed by part of the audience who will always compare the artist’s new group with the best material of the band they’re primarily known for. Commerford seems to get fuel from both reactions. “I really feel like every show we play, I sense the enthusiasm as the show progresses. It’s not like people are leaving, people are coming and I like that” he says.
“That all being said, as much as I notice ‘wow that kid is really digging this,’ but those old folks that are frowning right now, they’re not digging it, and I like that too. I like that our music is not... like there’s no grey area, love it or hate it, that’s the way it is. I saw a tweet on one of our pages and some guy was like ‘I’ve easily been to 500 shows and Wakrat is the worst band I’ve ever seen,’ and we retweeted it, I thought it was badass! Cause we give love too, it’s love and hate. The music is crazy, and the lyrics are violent. I’ve always wanted to be in a band where I pulled no punches, and if somebody in that audience doesn’t dig it, it feels so good to be up there saying what I’m saying. We have a song called ‘Pigs in a Blanket,’ and the chorus of that song is ‘Fuck with me and I will kill you all.’ Every night I look out at those people who I think aren’t digging it, and I go like, ‘This next song goes out to you and all your loved ones.’ It just feels so good, man. That’s the type of person I am. When we played our first show at The Viper Room (in West Hollywood) and Zack was there, Zack just loved it. This is the kind of music that we grew up on and we love. He’s like our biggest fan and we talked after the first show, we talked for like two hours about everything. He’s like, ‘Dude you can do this. This is you, it comes from you. It’s real.’ These words are mine, it comes from me and I mean them.”
Before we finished up I had to ask Commerford about the audience reaction when Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters made a surprise appearance at the Prophets of Rage show in Toronto, joining the band in an appropriately-loud rendition of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.” A powerful set of Rage, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill classics had worked the audience into a frenzy, and Grohl showing up on top of all that pushed the noise level to deafening proportions. That being said, it seems as if the crowd may not have provoked much of a reaction from Commerford, and perhaps neither does Grohl’s current band. “We heard he was going to be at the show. He said he could do it so we learned (the song) in our little jam room, like moments before we went on, and did it” he says matter-of-factly.
“It was cool and I’m a huge fan of Nirvana. I love Nirvana, and I love Dave Grohl as the drummer of Nirvana (laughs), I love him as the drummer of Nirvana! I’m proud to be able to join the stage with him. But is it overshadowing that I get to be up on stage with Chuck D and B Real? No, I’m still kind of high from that. I’m still blown away that I get to reminisce about shows and talk about history of music and cultural history with Chuck D every day. It’s a dream come true. The whole thing’s a dream.”
Wakrat’s self-titled debut album is available now from Earache Records and iTunes. Check out the video for “Generation Fucked” below, where the band claims a section of Parliament Square in London as a sovereign state.