“There needs to be transparency.”“We need to know why we’re bombing people, the real reasons.”“We need to not be lied to.”“We need to be tearing walls down, not building walls.”
This is the political ideology of Tim Commerford: a man who has been at the forefront of political activism for over twenty years.
As one quarter of the dangerous and controversial Rage Against the Machine, the bassist became notorious in the 90s for causing a ruckus. With such incendiary lyrics as “Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes / Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal”, “No shelter if you’re looking for shade / I lick shots at the brutal charade” and “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”, the band soon became the voice of a disenfranchised, post-Cold War generation.
But even Rage Against the Machine’s lengthy hiatus – which began in 2011 and shows no signs of ending soon – hasn’t stopped Tim Commerford’s anti-establishment antics.
On 26th July, flanked by friends, fans and his brand new band, Wakrat, he brought the war to the British government’s doorstep with a protest in Parliament Square.
But what is it about the UK that made Tim want to broadcast a blatant “fuck you” to its political elite?
“Well it’s the same as it is in America,” the bassist explained, mere hours before hitting the streets of London.
“We call it the ‘United States’ but the states really aren’t united, they’re all different. The laws are different within each state and the people are different.“The United States could be seen as a microcosm of the world, and it needs to change. We’re all earthlings, the planet is priority number one and racism is not OK. That’s what it’s all about.“I’m not a political scientist; I’m a student of angry politics. I love throwing a wrench in the system. I get a kick out of it. Any time I have an opportunity to go out and make people mad, my hand goes up, I’m in!”
The British referendum to exit from the European Union in June also partially fuelled the protest. It was a vote that Commerford sees as a perpetuation of intracontinental division and politically-charged racism.
“I was at KLOS, a radio station in America, and I was on [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones’ ‘Jonesy’s Jukebox’. That was the day that Brexit happened and I was telling Steve Jones how much of a fan I was; I loved the Sex Pistols when I was a kid, they were my favourite. He asked ‘Do you want to do a song? What song do you want to do?’ So I said, with the whole Brexit thing, ‘Let’s do “Anarchy in the UK”.’“So I’ve been paying attention to what’s happening and again, to me – I’m just a simple person, I’m not a Harvard grad, I just like to break things down into their simplest form – it feels like racism. That’s what it feels like. You can’t just blame people in a blanket and say ‘All Muslims are this, that and the other.’ Here in England, I think you guys have a million and a half Muslims that live here, so it’s important that you’re careful and you’re not racist.”
His bandmates in Wakrat, who joined him at the London protest and played a show that same night at Camden’s Black Heart, have also had their eye on the state of the UK.
“Like Tim said, it’s just racism,” said drummer Mathias Wakrat.“It’s like what’s going on with Trump in the US. It’s the same reaction; people go and vote for this kind of thing because they’re becoming racist. They’re mixing up terrorism and Islam. My brother-in-law is Muslim, he’s from Jordan, and he’s shocked by it. People are getting confused.”
The protest peaked with Wakrat’s guitarist Laurent Grangeon planting a flag in Parliament Square’s centre, naming the ground the “Republic of Wakrat”. But, despite this, the band also refuses to be a one-note act that focusses only on politics.
“The band is not only about politics, it’s about the music too,” Mathias said.“It’s about playing something that you won’t hear on the radio and playing what we would like to hear. It became political when we said what we don’t like in the world. We play the music that we like and say the things that we like. So it turns political, but we never said ‘Let’s get political.’”“We didn’t do that with Rage either,” Tim added.“We never discussed that when we made our first album. It’s just that these are the people we are and this is the music we like.”
This came across in Wakrat’s first single, ‘Knucklehead’, which was unveiled in September 2015 and has been described as a dark, personal song by the band.
Of the decision to make that song the first taste people would get of his new musical endeavour, Tim explained: “It comes down to the music, first and foremost. We’re not choosing songs to lead with based on the message. It’s choosing a song to lead with based on the way it makes you feel. And ‘Knucklehead’ has the feeling that we wanted to use first. It’s unrelenting, it’s odd-timing, it’s angry, it’s unforgiving… it’s all the things that we want to hear in music and it felt right.“We thought it’d be great to make a t-shirt that says ‘Gimme the Gun, Fuck the Knife’, which we made. We’ve sold, like, three of them,” he laughed.
‘Knucklehead’ will be featured in Wakrat’s upcoming, self-titled debut, which is scheduled to be released in November. With the album containing half an hour of anarchic punk rock and the band having a fifty-minute set to fill for their show at the Black Heart, it was a wonder where they were going to get the other twenty minutes of material from.
“Well we have a couple of extended jams that we’ll do on two of our songs. We’ll just have to make a point of making them ten minutes each,” Tim replied.“We can just delve into Miles Davis or [John] Coltrane and pull from that. I actually enjoy the two spots that we do those jams in. You never really know what it’s going to sound like or how it’s going to feel or how people are going to react. It feels good to have that question mark in our set.”
Wakrat will be playing more shows throughout the summer in support of another of Tim Commerford’s projects, Prophets of Rage. The supergroup features the bassist’s old bandmates in guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk, alongside rappers Chuck D and B-Real, meaning Tim will be pulling double duty for every show on the tour.
“It’s going to be good,” he said.
“It’s a different thing for me. With Prophets, it’s a much more physical, aerobic thing, oddly enough; lots of jumping around, striking a pose and just being a bass player, whereas [Wakrat] is a singer/bass player thing and it’s a mental strain. So I feel like my brain is going to hurt after we’re done playing and then my fingers and legs are going to hurt after Prophets.”
Prophets of Rage are no strangers to controversy themselves, playing a total of three shows and marching in protest during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in July.
“We played a pop-up show at a speaker square area with megaphones, we played a protest show in a park, which was cool, and then we played a regular show,” recalled Commerford.
“But my favourite part of the whole thing, truth be told, was the most uncomfortable part, which was leading a march down as far as the police would allow us to go down. The police were out in force; there was almost more police than there were protesters.“And I, in that situation, felt obligated to just be an inch away from the police. And it’s uncomfortable, it feels crazy but I get a lot out of it. After that was over, Morello was like ‘You get the protest march award for the way you act.’ I was just mad-dogging the police the whole time [and] clearly they had been directed to not engage, so they were trying not to look at me.“They wanted to do something but they couldn’t. What are they gonna do? I’m just standing here. There’s no law that they can enforce for standing too close to a police officer. I’m not worried about that kind of shit, I don’t worry about it.”
With Wakrat’s upcoming supporting tour with Prophets of Rage, it’s almost a certified guarantee that we have not heard the last of the band’s unique brand of undiluted anarchy.
It’s a rebellious spirit that fuelled Rage Against the Machine and will continue to manifest in the trio’s debut album when it drops in November.
Wakrat’s self-titled, debut album will be available digitally on 8th November and physically on 11th November via Earache Records.Become the fourth person to own Wakrat’s ‘Gimme the Gun…’ t-shirt here.