Wakrat’s Tim Commerford Talks Debut Album, Live Show + the Power of Presentation
Tim Commerford has had a busy year, not only rocking with Prophets of Rage, but also fronting the new band Wakrat. The group offers a different sound and style for the bassist and he spoke with Loudwire about the band's debut disc, getting in sync with their live show and the power of message and presentation. Check out the chat below.
Give me a little bit of the history of you, Matt and Laurent and how the band came together.
Actually, I have to credit Zack De La Rocha for connecting with Mathias. At the time, Zack was living in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. Mathias owns a French restaurant there in Eagle Rock. Cafe Beaujolais. Zack would go there quite often. They knew each other, obviously, because Zack was there a lot and he would call me and tell me hey there's this French guy who says he can kick your ass on a mountain bike. One thing led to another and we started riding, and he wasn't able to kick my ass but that's another story.
But we became riding buddies and we rode for a long time, but we talked about music. When you go riding with people, generally speaking, you spend a few hours out on the mountain. You don't just talk about bikes and riding, you talk about other stuff. So we would talk about music and we realized that we shared the love of the beat bop era, jazz music -- Coltrane, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Pharaoh Sanders. We also enjoyed punk rock. Mathias is a huge John Steiner fan from Helmet and he's one of my favorite drummers. We would talk a lot and I knew that Mathias played drums, but I didn't take it too seriously. And then I would go to his restaurant, there were other people -- his restaurant is very authentic. It really feels like you've walked into France when you're there. They are all French people. It's different -- no American people working there. It's people from all over the world, mainly French people. There was another guy that worked there, Laurent, and one day Mathias was like, "Hey, me and Laurent have been - he plays guitar and we've been jamming and recording music, and would you be interested in playing bass on it?" I said, "Let me hear it." I was sort of skeptical but they played it for me and it just, it blew me away -- how different it sounded, how exciting it was to me. I was blown away. I played bass on it and ultimately ending up singing on it as well. Here I am.
Can you talk about the excitement and challenge of writing and singing to this? It's maybe a little bit out of what you're normally doing.
It was a challenge to even play bass to it. Truth be told, I couldn't really wrap my head around it. I could kind of listen to each part and go, "Ok, I know what I would like to play here or here but the way the connections the transitions between the parts is - that was difficult." I ended up recording the bass piece by piece and I would have a few ideas prepared for each part and I would kind of go into this studio with Laurent and Matthias and say, "Hey, here's an idea I have for this part, here's another idea. We like the second one." So then I would play the second one and be like, "Ok, that's the verse. Take me to the first verse." I would play it, take me to the second verse, I would play it. Then I would do that for every part, here's the chorus ideas I have. Oh, we like the fourth one. OK cool, I'll play that one. So I Frankensteined the bass together on the songs and ultimately did the same thing with the vocals. We recorded all of our music like that.
I didn't feel really good about that, but that's the way we did it. Then, we got to a point where we had enough music to actually start to rehearse and maybe potentially play. I sort of was like, "Oh maybe we'll get a bass player or a singer." They were very confident that I could do it. They were like, "No, you can do it." I was like, "That might be wishful thinking." The bass lines are a challenge on their own. I had not been in a band that played that tempo, really. I hadn't been in a band that played in odd time signatures so I was a little skeptical about the whole thing.
Once I started learning it at my house, acoustically, I started to figure it out and I got through one song and I was like, "Ok, I got this song ready. I think we can try to rehearse it." Then we went to try it and I quickly realized that what I had done vocally was pushing the limits of my range, vocally, and that yeah, I can sing these notes but not confidently and maybe not in my voice, not if my voice starts to get tired. I felt like the notes were too hard for me to hit. So we were like, "Ok, we need to retune our songs by a half step. That'll make it a lot easier to hit the notes and feel comfortable." So we did that. We detuned, and sure enough it made it easier and I was able to sing the notes and play the parts together. We did that with every song that we had and after we got to a point where I was able to singe and play the music, and we were able to play the songs.
Then it was like, you know what, what we thought was our record, which sounded great is really not our record and it's our demo tape. We need to go back into the studio and re record. That was my idea. I was like, we need to re record all of our songs again and play them in the right key and play them front to back as if we were recording to 2" tape and be authentic, and do this for real. So we did that, we went back in and we recorded drums and bass together and we played the songs from to back. I sang them all multiple times, front to back and like I said, like as if we were recording on 2" tape.
I'm really happy that that happened and I'm really excited about the way that we write songs and that's still that we write songs. I let Mathias and Laurent hammer out the arrangements, and i'm excited to hear them and they let me do whatever I want to do with bass and vocals. It's really exciting. But it'll be very exciting to record the next batch, which they've already begun that process. So, it's gonna be awesome to see if it continues on the same vein or not, but I'll know we'll continue to detune. We're either in C# or D# and those are our tunings, it's gonna be fun.
Had a chance to catch you earlier this fall with Prophets of Rage. Having that tour under your belt now, did you learn anything from the whole live process that maybe applies to what you do in the future?
For sure, that's how you become a band. That's how you go from playing music to playing a show. They're different. I don’t know how early on you saw us, when was that?
At The Forum here in LA.
At that point we were, I feel like we were playing a show. We started the tour as a band trying to play all nine of our songs in 30 minutes, and that required trimming the fat between songs and really trying to be efficient onstage. We got to that point, but then somewhere in about the third week of the tour I was having a conversation with B-Real and he was telling me a story about a friend of his and there was something he said during that story that resonated with me. Just a sentence. I was like, I was thinking about it while we were talking. I left that conversation and called Mathias and Laurent right away when I got back to the hotel. I was like, we need to make some music around a lyric. We kind of did it over the phone and I said we need to implement this idea into our set, and in order to do that we have to change the set list around and potentially eliminate a song so we have time to do this and we started crafting our set around the lyric. That's the last thing that we play in our set, and we did it that very next day. We did it, we actually didn't play the music but I said it, and I said the lyric. After that first time, where I literally went to the mic and go, we were just feeding back and I said, this is the part of the set where I'm supposed to say this, and I said it.
After it was over, some people came up to me and there were people - they had a meet and greet. Tom Morello actually came to me and said like, "Hey Tim you should go into the meet and greet room, there are some WAKRAT fans in there that really want to talk to you." I went in there and sure enough there was a group of people in there and this one guy came up to me and he was like, "Hey man, I really loved your set. I loved the time signatures, the music, it really was special for me. I'm a musician, blah, but I gotta tell you. What you said at the end of the set, it moved me and it was just special. I just want to let you know how powerful it was." I was like, "Awesome man. I feel the same way." I've been thinking about it a lot, and I had been up to that point. I had been putting a lot of thought into it. So I was really excited about that and then this other guy comes up to me and says, "Hey man, I just love the way that the singing and the playing". He was blown away that I was able to do that. He's like, what you said at the end, "I can't tell you how powerful that was." I was like, right on!
There was another person who brought it up. So it's not just me that feels like this thing I'm saying is powerful. So then we kept evolving it and we began playing the music with it. Then I started tailoring what I was saying between songs to pave the way for it. Like I said, it went from a band playing their songs to a band putting on a show. It's continued to evolve and it's still evolving today. I'm so excited about it, I dream about it. I tell people that I've even started getting to a point where before we get to that point I let people know I dream about this while we're playing. I have dreams about it, I wake up in the night and I think about this. I think of things I can say to make this make more sense. I let people know that, the whole experience has become therapeutic. It really is.
I was nervous about being a singer and a bass player when we first started the tour and when I would think about it before we even began the tour, and it was uncomfortable for me to walk out on stage for the first few shows that we played on this Prophets of Rage tour. I'm not used to walking onto a stage when there's not that many people there. You play a venue that holds 13,000 or 15,000 people and there's 2,000 in the venue that are scattered around the seats. That's like walking into a club that holds 500 and there's only 40 people there. It was a little intimidating, and those are the hardest shows to play. Now I did it, we played like 30 shows. You saw The Forum, I was psyched after that one. I thought that show was amazing. For both WAKRAT and the Prophets, I was blown away by how good it felt. Like I said, it's just ... I am no longer nervous. I don't care if there's no one there, it doesn't matter. It's become therapy and it's a beautiful thing.
One thing that's followed you throughout your bands is the social commentary. In terms of the writing, you mentioned the other guys were writing as well. Can you talk about the writing process and in terms of everybody being on point in terms of what the message is?
Lyrically they are not writing. I've been writing lyrics, I sort of tore a page out of the Rage book and even Audioslave, where we wrote the music and the singer is the singer. The singer does his thing, which is the lyrics and the melody and the bass player does his thing. I wrote the lyrics, and yeah, we talk about the message. When I come in, I'll let them know what I'm thinking when I do it, but there's no preconceived notions and it's not like we, in the same way when Rage first formed we never said, "OK we're gonna be a political band and our message is going to be left of center." This was never discussed, it just happened because that's the type of people we were and this is what the music is, what came out of it. Same goes with Wakrat.
There's no discussion of the politics or whether or not the music is even going to be political and truth be told, not all of it is. What is or isn't political is actually pretty vague anyways. They come up with the musical arrangement, guitar and drums. They come up with it, and record it and then hand it off. Then I play bass and then I take it home once it's got bass, guitar and drums and start to think about vocals and then when I do the vocals sometimes it requires, hey we need to edit this part, or make this part go three times instead of four. We need to trim this extra two bars off so that I can land here vocally and then we can get into this next part here. So that's how we do it. Then, we went back and re recorded everything authentically.
"Generation Fucked" is great. "Sober Addiction" I love. "Nail in the Snail" I really like a lot as well, but for you, is there one song that's maybe a personal favorite?
I really love it all and I listened to the whole record. I have the CD in my truck. It's all I listen to. I love the way it sounds and I love the music and how interesting it is. I don't get tired of it, which is - I can't believe that I don't, but I don't. I really love "Liberté." It's fun to play, it's about conspiracy and I'm a conspiracy theorist so it's like, that's my song about it. It reminds me of a lot of things that I think about a lot, whether it be the lunar hoax, or 911 or Jihadi John or ISIS or OJ Simpson. I love conspiracies, so that song is about that. I love the message in that song and I also very much enjoy the music. Laurent and I'll do these backing vocals parts and I wasn't sure how we were going to do them and Laurent's been working his ass off to sing all the backing vocal parts. That song has a real cool harmony behind the chorus that I enjoy. It's all intact when we play it. I'm not kidding when I tell you, I dream about the ending. I don’t know if you remember the ending of our set but that's the part I love the most. "F--k you, I won't do what you tell me" -- that's a lyric that you can't say that better than that. You can't. There's no way to say that better than that.
The lyric that I'm saying at the end of that is "What are you looking at? You don't give a f--k about me." That means something to me. That means, that's me as a child. I had an abusive father and that's how I felt when he looked at me and that's the woman in France who's not allowed to wear her Burqa to the beach. That's her. That's her looking at those people that are judging her for what she's wearing, telling her that she cannot wear it. Like, what the f--k are you looking at? You don't give a f--k about me. It's a graphic statement, it can be very aggressive when said in the right way. But it's also very emotional and I don’t think there's a better way to say it.
Oddly enough, I've had this discussion with Zack De La Rocha and it's exciting. It's exciting, even if it's just one lyric. It's that powerful. So that, to me, has become what it's all about. I think about that when I'm rolling around during the day before we play and when we start the very first note of our first song, my mind is on that. I let people know, I got to a point where I'm like, "Hey - thanks for showing up on time." You should pay attention because there's going to be a test at the end of this.
Our thanks to Wakrat's Tim Commerford for the interview. Wakrat's self-titled debut disc is due Nov. 11 and is available to pre-order in a variety of formats at this location. If you sign up to be a member of the Republic of Wakrat here, you can also check out a stream of the new album before the release. Having finished their tour with Prophets of Rage, the band will end the year with a Nov. 16 show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.
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