The Rage Against The Machine bassist and Wakrat frontman on why he thinks ISIS is a construct and Theresa May is a terrorist
Wakrat is the latest project from Tim Commerford, bassist with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and, currently, ‘supergroup’ Prophets of Rage – the collective featuring RATM bandmates Tom Morello and Brad Wilk, and fronted by Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Based in California, this new band is completed by drummer Mathias Wakrat and guitarist Laurent Grangeon.
But take a look at Wakrat’s (pronounced WOK-rat) online presence and it’s clear that they’re not your conventional big rock band spin-off project. There’s the normal stuff – tour dates, merch, videos – but visit sister site republicofwakrat.com and you’ll find a constitution, an ideological declaration and open letters to political leaders. There are doctored images of Theresa May and Donald Trump emblazoned with “wanted for terrorism” slogans, and photos of Tony Blair and George W Bush mocked up with blood on their hands.
Back in the summer, shortly after Brexit, Commerford filmed the video for the band’s lead single ‘Generation Fucked’ in Central London. In it, he leads a protest through Westminster. Following that, he claimed that by exploiting a technicality in ancient micro-nation law he has created a new sovereign state – the Republic of Wakrat – on the site of London’s iconic Parliament Square.
This isn’t only Commerford’s most intense musical statement so far (faster, punchier, fiercer than RATM), but also his most direct, confrontational and transparent. Wakrat’s self-titled debut album is released, deliberately, on US election day (November 8).
He spoke to NME about the status of Rage Against The Machine, how he won’t be casting a conventional vote in next week’s election and why he believes IS, as we’re familiar with it, doesn’t exist…
You’ve recently finished a US tour – the ‘Make America Rage Again’ tour – where you played with both Wakrat and Prophets of Rage every night. How was it?
It was great. We would go on stage with Wakrat and sometimes we’d be in venues that might hold 10,000 people and there might be 1,000 there when we went on. As a member of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and now Prophets of Rage I’m pretty used to coming on stage and there’s a full house. It was a little bit of a mind-fuck for me!
With Wakrat, we don’t have a record out, no one knew who we were. There were people there who I could tell loved what we were doing and there were people there who hated what we were doing. Wakrat: you either love it or you hate it, that’s the truth of it. The tour was like a therapy session – I really got a lot out of it. I loved it.
What impact do you think the tour had? What were the conversations you were having with fans while doing the shows?
Whenever we would speak with anyone, the first question was always about the election. I’m in a band with Chuck D and Tom Morello right now, and both of those guys have a very poignant opinion on things. I was as much a student as I was, sometimes, a teacher. I know that music can change people because I’m different right now. I would not be the person that I am today if it were not for music, and for being around Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello, being around the left-of-centre politics that I’ve been exposed to
With Wakrat you’re the frontman – you’re singing your lyrics. Why did you feel the urge to do a project like this?
I wish I could tell you that I had sat in my home and thought about this band and went out and put it together, but that’s not the way it worked. Luck has a lot to do with being a musician. Wakrat is another very lucky situation where I happened to be introduced to Mathias Wakrat through Zack de la Rocha. We met each other through mountain biking, got to know each other before we even talked about music. He’s a fan of some of the same punk rock music that I love. It’s still a work in progress and I’m still learning. I feel really empowered and I’m very proud of what I’m doing with Wakrat.
Wakrat is obviously more than just a band. You filmed the video for ‘Generation Fucked’ in London and you’ve christened Parliament Square as the Republic of Wakrat. To some people that would look like a stunt, but you’re serious?
To me, music is not a stunt. Music is not a joke. I take every lick of music that I’ve ever played very serious. When I’m coming up with the lyrics I take it very serious. To me, protesting and playing music go hand in hand. That’s the only time I ever protest or take it to the streets is when there’s music involved. Wakrat is an extension of my politics and an extension of my personal feelings and my love of the kind of music that I want to do. It felt fitting that we were out there in the UK playing shows in the wake of Brexit. I felt like taking it to Parliament Square and letting the people know what I felt was important.
Visit republicofwakrat.com and there’s a constitution for this ‘sovereign state’. What are the core beliefs of the Republic of Wakrat?
It’s so much. It’s everything. It’s this world that we live in. In a nutshell… Brexit, to me, at least it appears to me, to be very racist and we live in a racist world and I have a racist candidate running for president in my country. We’re building walls and we’re trying to separate ourselves from each other, when in reality, as Chuck D puts it, we’re all Earthizens – we’re all citizens of the planet Earth. We live here and we should be united and we should not be divided. We should be building bridges, not building walls. It’s about every walk of life feeling like they have a voice and every colour, and every type of person feeling like they are equally represented in the world that we live in.
You mentioned Brexit. It left some people in the UK feeling conflicted about their own national identity. How does it feel to be an American and have the candidates you have running for office?
It’s embarrassing. But does it feel any different to Ronald Reagan or George Bush or any of those idiots who’ve run for president and have actually been elected? For me, what we should all take out of this is that the president really isn’t running the show. The president is nothing but a figurehead in our establishment. Voting for a president, in my opinion, is a waste of time. I live in California. It wouldn’t matter – let’s say I wanted to vote for Trump, which I don’t, but it wouldn’t matter if I did because the Democrats vote is going to win here in California, that’s just the way it is.
I’m not a believer that a president comes in every four years – some actor or some asshole comes in every four years – and sits in the White House and starts telling the Generals who’ve been there for their entire career or the pharmaceutical CEOs who’ve put them in office, what to do. I just don’t believe it and I think that we should all pay attention to this election because it proves what I’m saying. I look at it like this. Think global, vote local. Vote on the local political level because you have actually voted for a proposition or a local candidate and you can see change and see things happen. If you think that voting for a president is going to make any difference I would have to argue with that.
Do you believe this is a systemic, global thing? On the website there are pictures of Theresa May, Donald Trump and Tony Blair saying they’re wanted for terrorism. Your views are that this is a global issue?
It’s global. At the core of it are the bombs that get dropped. That’s what we should all be focusing on as citizens of the planet Earth. Figuring out a way to stop the bombs because the bombs create the hatred and the hatred is what we all are scared of in what’s happening in this world. So let’s focus on the cause rather than focusing on the effect.
You’re not going to vote on November 8. But you are releasing the album on that day. Why?
Oddly enough, I registered to vote. I mean, I register to vote locally but I’ve never voted for president. I’ve registered to vote for president this year. I have a plan. I’m not going to vote in the traditional way, believe me. I can’t stop myself from trying to make a statement, so time will tell the story. Believe me, I have a plan.
Will it be a private statement or a public one?
It’s going to be a public statement. Some people will see it, some people won’t, kind of like I did at Parliament Square.
We view big political events through the lens of the media – Brexit and the US presidential election, for example. What do you make of their coverage?
Brexit is much different. Maybe for you guys over there it’s played out more like a television series like our election has here. I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t just gripped for the debates. I’m dying to see what’s said and look at the reactions. All of these things are so addictive. But yeah, the media is benefitting ultimately from all of this. The media is who is scaring us into believing that that it’s OK to go places and kill people and it’s the media who cleans up the battlefield and makes sure that we don’t see the dead bodies and it’s the media is who is not telling us that there’s been close to a million people that have died over in the Middle East since 9/11. The media is really running the show. The media is the voice. So here we go, this is their opportunity to ultimately distract us with some dumbass election. Meanwhile the powers that be make other things happen when we’re all paying attention on something else.
You believe those two things are in coalition?
I kinda do, yeah.
The lead single is ‘Generation Fucked’. You must have met a lot of young fans out on the tour, having real face-to-face conversations. Which generation are you talking about? Yours? The next one?
I’m talking about where we are right now. I’m talking about what has led to where we are right now. The inspiration for that song, the thing that made me say “We’re fucked” is Jihadi John. I saw the Jihadi John beheading videos. I looked at them with a discerning eye and I said, “You know what, those don’t look real to me. They look fake, they don’t look real. I think that they’re fake.” I became skeptical of them and that’s ultimately what inspired me. Because that is used as the catalyst to go drop bombs and wage war on Syria and continue this battle against terrorism. Ultimately, this battle against terrorism is causing this refugee problem and the refugees are innocent folks but they’re being bastardised by the world. It’s feedback. It’s the output becoming the input and I’ve been focusing a lot on that.
But that Jihadi John thing is really what inspired me to write those lyrics. It’s odd. I talked to a lot of people about that, and I recently got hit, a bunch of people sent me emails and were like ‘Have you seen this?’ and it’s the Pentagon spending $540m in four years giving money to a British PR firm to make fake terrorist videos. That’s where I’m at. We’re in this world where governments fake terrorist videos so that they can justify dropping bombs and killing people – and then we go kill people and then those people that live in those countries get angry, rightfully so, so angry that they want to capture people and cut their heads off and do things like that.
I’m saying, again, cause and effect. Instead of looking at the decapitated heads, let’s look at the bomb itself first. That’s what that song is about. It’s the world we live in. We turn on the TV and we’re seeing death and more death and more death and people aren’t saying “How do we stop the death?” People are saying, we need to go kill more people because of it. It’s fucked up.
Do you think IS as a whole is a construct?
People get me wrong on that. People were like, “Tim Commerford doesn’t believe in ISIS” and I don’t. I don’t believe that terrorist organisations have all come together and decided to be a unified army called ISIS. I don’t believe it. I believe that there are terrorists in the world that are angry, rightfully so. And I believe that there are people that aren’t terrorists that are angry, rightfully so. But I do not believe that there is a terrorist organisation that justifies our carpet bombing. I definitely don’t. Ultimately, ISIS was pretty convenient. It came at a very convenient time and it’s very questionable at best to me.
On republicofwakrat.com you’ve written an open letter of solidarity to Nicola Sturgeon after Brexit. Did she write back?
No [laughs]. No, nobody gives a fuck about us. It’s not about getting a reply, it’s about sending out the letter. That’s what it’s all about. Just like in the declaration, everyone should have a voice and we have a voice and we’re using it. Whether or not someone replies to it, doesn’t make a difference to me.
What are your plans with Wakrat beyond the album coming out?
I want to continue. We already have stuff booked, we have a festival coming up in South America in March. We have a whole slew of European festivals that we haven’t yet announced. The future is bright, there is a lot of work to be done. There’s a lot more music that we want to write.
With Prophets of Rage you’ve been performing RATM material each night with Brad Wilk and Tom Morello. Do you imagine playing those songs with Rage Against The Machine again?
I mean, I’m hopeful, man. I’m a fan of Rage Against The Machine as much as I’m a member of the band. As a fan I have my fingers crossed. We have never broken up. I still talk to Zack a lot. I still respect him on the highest level and, like I said, I’m very hopeful that the future will one day be very bright.
The fact is that Zack was instrumental in this Wakrat project coming together anyway, right?
If it wasn’t for Zack I wouldn’t be in Wakrat. And I love talking to Zack about Wakrat and he came to our very first show. We have another show in LA and I’m sure he’ll be there. He gives me great advice and we both come from the same musical background and Wakrat hits on a lot of those bands – whether that be the Bad Brains, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Minutemen or the Sex Pistols. Those are all bands we grew up on.