Outside the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, a large crowd gathered around the public square where Tim Commerford and his Prophets Of Rage bandmates blasted their catalogue of songs while enticing the audience to stand their ground and rebel. Just a week later, in the wake of the monumental Brexit vote, Commerford was spotted leading a march down London’s Parliament Square, chanting protest messages through a megaphone with his bandmates of Wakrat. It seems that wherever political conflict emerges, Timmy C and his musical comrades will be found in the middle; it’s been that way for the past 26 years. Not to say it gets any easier over time. “To go and protest is uncomfortable, but it’s a character builder. I often reflect on the protests I’ve done, and what’s uncomfortable at the time generally feels great afterwards. People always ask me if I believe music can change the way people think, and I tell them I do, because I speak from experience.”
What is innately comfortable to Commerford, however, is reuniting with other members of Rage Against The Machine with their new identity, Prophets Of Rage. Enlisting legendary hip-hoppers Chuck D (Public Enemy) and B-Real (Cypress Hill) to replace Zack De La Rocha, Rage is back with a new EP and a renewed drive to fight the system. At the same time, Commerford is fronting the new alternative-punk outfit Wakrat, featuring drummer Mathias Wakrat and guitarist Laurent Grangeon. The trio’s aggressive, odd-timed, unorthodox music suits the 48-year-old Commerford’s M.O., while also challenging his finger dexterity and vocal threshold. With albums from both bands wrapped and subsequent tours in progress, Tim is harnessing the same fury he first channeled when he picked up a bass as a teen, only now his flame for playing and his penchant for political rebellion has ignited into a wildfire.
What sparked you to take on so many projects in the last three years?
It’s luck and love of playing the bass guitar. Truth be told, I just love playing the bass, and I’m not going to do something I don’t want to do. Being able to play music is as much the 10,000 hours of playing your instrument as it is being in the right place at the right time. I’ve been blessed in that I’ve put in the time and have gotten these opportunities. I’m never going to complain, and I’m only going to get more excited about being the best bass player I can be in all of my bands.
How did Prophets Of Rage come about?
Tom Morello made it all happen; it was very similar to back in 1990, when Zack [De La Rocha], Brad [Wilk], Tom, and I first came together. Here we are in 2016 and Tom called me and asked if I was interested in playing with Chuck D and B-Real, and I told him absolutely. If there were no Chuck D, there would be no Rage Against The Machine—he was the inspiration for so much of our music and lyrics and drive, as was B-Real. We got together and started playing Rage songs and Rage-ifying Public Enemy and Cypress Hill songs, and we have a nice 30-song catalogue now. I pinch myself every time I walk into a room with those guys; it’s a blessing to be there with them.
It seems like hip-hop has always influenced your playing.
I love hip-hop, whether it is Gangstarr or Ghetto Boys. What I love about the music is the hypnosis of the bass lines. It’s a repetitive vibe, and I’ve always liked that; it has definitely inspired my playing. There are so many cool bass lines in hip-hop, whether they’re samples of great bass lines or samples of shitty lines that sound good when they’re cut up. I look to hip-hop for inspiration as often as I look to Louis Johnson or Bernard Edwards—both of whom I’ve been geeking out on lately. I don’t close my door to anything musically.
With your previous project, Future User, you were using a three-finger technique for speed. Are you back to using two fingers with Prophets?
Yes, because that’s all I need for this music. The tempos are all pretty similar and I can play the songs with two fingers or even one, which I often do because it sounds great. But with Wakrat, it’s a three-finger gig, and I’m thankful I have that technique under my belt. Having gained the speed from using three fingers in Future User helps me in Wakrat, where we have a lot of 16th-note runs.
How did Wakrat form?
I met Mathias Wakrat through Zack De La Rocha. Mathias owns a French restaurant that Zack always goes to, and he connected us because we both love mountain biking. We started riding together, and he told me he was a drummer, and he asked if I would play on some music of his. I told him I’d listen to it and I didn’t expect much, but I was blown away. I had never played that kind of music before, even though it goes into some of my punk, electronic, and jazz influence. I played bass and sang on it, and then it became an obsession of mine. I’m so proud of this music and what I’ve pulled off in this band, and I’m very excited to go on tour and punch the audience in the face with this music.
How have you been preparing for the upcoming tours with both bands?
I usually ride my bike every day, but lately I haven’t because I’ve been so obsessed with playing bass. Mainly I’ve been working on my breathing while I play. When you’re singing and playing, you’re thinking about those elements, but I never realized how little I thought about breathing. When you’re playing bass you just hold your breath and play your parts and it doesn’t matter. When you’re singing you have to find the right times to breathe. And, of course, I always want to be better as a bass player. I constantly wonder what it would be like to be someone like Jaco, where you can get on an instrument and have everything you think come out through your hands. I want to be more improvisational and have my ideas emerge more immediately. I’m not that type of player, but one day I hope to be.
Prophets Of Rage, The Party’s Over [prophetsofrage.com]
Bass With Prophets Of Rage: Ernie Ball Music Man HH, Ernie Ball Music Man HS; with Wakrat: Lakland Joe Osborn
Rig Ampeg SVT-IIPRO, 1970 Ampeg Blueline SVT (x2), 1972 & 1974 Ampeg Blackline SVTs, Barefaced Audio Eight 10, Four 10, Two 10
Pedals Source Audio Soundblox Pro Classic distortion, homemade distortion pedal, EBS MultiComp Compressor, Boss OC-2 Octave, Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah (x2)
Strings Rotosound Tru Bass 88 Black Nylon Flatwounds, Ernie Ball Slinky Roundwound Mediums