Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine returns with a new band, Wakrat. We have a word with the renegade of bass.
When Rage Against The Machine bassist Tim Commerford gets an idea in his head, the authorities start to get nervous.
Wakrat's odd time signatures have pushed me to try to play 16th notes with three fingers
Commerford is back playing with his new band, Wakrat (pronounced ‘wok-rat’) with his longtime friends Mathias Wakrat on drums and Laurent Grangeon on guitar. Their unique fusion of convulsive hardcore punk and jazz is accompanied by some of Commerford’s most enduring bass parts to date.
“I’ve never been in a band like this,” he says. “Laurent and Mathias write the arrangements, work it out and they hand it off to me. That’s how we got started - they asked me if I wanted to play bass over their tracks and I was like, ‘Let me hear them.’ When I heard them I said, ‘Wow, that’s some seriously crazy music!’
“I always write in the rehearsal room, sweating out the arrangements, but this band’s different because those two guys go into the laboratory and figure out these interesting musical compositions with crazy odd time signatures, leaving me to figure it out. I’ve never done anything like that before. It’s pushed me to try to play 16th notes with three fingers.”
Learning to breathe
Although Commerford also took to the microphone with his previous project, Future User, it’s with Wakrat that he really has to bust his vocal chops. How does he cope being a frontman, we ask?
I’m still learning how to be a singer and I’m still learning how to play and look people in the eye and have conviction
“Wrapping my head around odd time signatures was tough. Outside of learning King Crimson songs or Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ when I was a kid, I had never previously done anything like this or played any music in odd time signatures. It took me a while to get my head around that.
“Learning when to breathe was a big part of it,” he explains. “I’ve never had to focus on that before. I have to breathe or else I’m not going to be able to pull off that bass part or that singing part. At the end of the day, I’m a bass player and my main focus goes into playing the bass. I’m still learning how to be a singer and I’m still learning how to play and look people in the eye and have conviction.”
Readers may recall that Commerford graced the cover of Bass Guitar Magazine last year, sporting a rather fetching Steinberger XT-2. Since that issue, Commerford is back with his old RATM bandmates Tom Morello (guitar) and Brad Wilk (drums) alongside Public Enemy and Cypress Hill MCs Chuck D and B-Real, under the name Prophets Of Rage. What does this mean for his bass set-up, we wonder?
“For the Wakrat album, I recorded the music with a Lakland Joe Osborn Jazz bass. Then recently I got approached by Brian Ball, who’s the grandson of Ernie Ball and he wanted to make me a bass.
“He gave me this Music Man Stingray - I think they call it the HH model. I was blown away by the construction, by the way that it sounds, the way it plays acoustically in my living room.
I’ve never been more inspired to play the bass more than I have right now
“I plug it in and I have to drastically change my settings on my amps: it sounded really, really good with my set-up. The Music Man was the bass I grew up on and recorded the fi rst Rage record with, I love those basses.”
He continues: “For Prophets, Music Man made me these Stingrays, which are the HS models. They are the closest thing I have ever felt to a Steinberger bass. There isn’t a single dead spot on the neck, because they have this integrated nut so everything on the bass is just smoothed out. When it comes to hitting really hard, you don’t have to worry about your fi ngers hitting a sharp magnet or anything like it. Everything is just so solid and they just feel really good.”
With both Prophets Of Rage and Wakrat touring together, it’s a busy time for Commerford as he has to pull a double shift every show. By the looks of things, however, he seems to be totally in his element.
“I’m really excited to be going out on this tour and to be playing multiple shows weekly. I’m as excited as I have ever been right in this moment in time. I’m grabbing my bass and I’m just kidding around in the living room or in a hotel room somewhere and just singing along, working out the nuances of it all. I just love it - and I’ve never been more inspired to play the bass more than I have right now.”