Why the world needs a band like Wakrat more than ever
Rage Against The Machine's Tim Commerford on politics and destroying modern music
Wakrat – pronounced "wok-rat" – are a hardcore power trio from Los Angeles. And you might recognise the man in the middle.
That's Rage Against The Machine bassist Tim Commerford, who's been busy of late with his electronic project Future User and most recently, Prophets Of Rage – who feature Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello and Brad Wilk, along with Public Enemy's Chuck D and DJ Lord and Cypress Hill's B-Real.
Wakrat – who feature guitarist Laurent Grangeon and drummer Mathias Wakrat – will release their debut album Generation Fucked through Earache in November to coincide with the US presidential election.
We caught up with the trio ahead of their live debut at London's Black Heart and got the lowdown on the band, their album and what makes Commerford angry.
It's not often bands are named after the drummer.
Mathias: “Tim just thought it would be a cool name for a band.”
Tim: “Let me tell you, the first time I properly hung out with this guy was at the last Rage show in Los Angeles at the Coliseum, and I’d invited him along to the show but I realised I didn’t know what his last name was. At the time, he had this girlfriend and they were sort of on the rocks and he said to me, ‘You got a pen? It’s W-A-K-R-A-T.’ I was like, ‘Wakrat? What the fuck kind of last name is that?’ I’d never heard anything like it and was like, ‘No wonder your girlfriend doesn’t wanna be with you, man.’ (laughs) So his name always stood out to me.”
Laurent: “Yeah, it’s a way better name than Grangeon or Commerford!"
It seems inevitable that you'd end up in a band together, then.
Mathias: “Well, I met Laurent through Jay-Z, who’s one of my closest friends. He’d seen me play before and I knew he was a good guitar player because I’d heard some records with him on, and we weren’t really up to much at the time so we decided to go and jam together and just have some fun, and then it turned into this. It was as simple as that, really.”
Laurent: “Yeah, Mathias came up with the idea of this fast-paced project and straight away I was in. That’s why we started this thing: we wanted something fast and a little different to what’s out there right now. We jammed a couple of times and I remember telling Mat, ‘What we’re doing right now is exactly what I want to be doing.’ So we recorded some songs and that’s when Tim heard it.”
Tim: “They played it to me and I loved it right away. I’d never played any music that wasn’t in 4/4 time before, and all the songs on this album are in crazy time signatures. I still don’t really understand a lot of them. I love punk rock, electronic and jazz music too, and I hear all those influences in this band. So I was blown away when I heard the arrangements that they’d come up with, and it worked out that I was able to not only play bass but also sing and do vocals on them. I’m so proud of what we’re doing: it’s fast, chaotic and contemporary.”
Was Wakrat always intended to be a political band from the off?
Tim: “We never had any preconceived notion of what the lyrics were going to be about. We just let them evolve in whatever way they were going to evolve. We’re all interested in the world and the state of things though, and I sort of liken this time to 1968 in America when there was so much death and destruction going on. Here we are again: literally every day there’s a mass killing somewhere. Every day there’s a new wall that’s put up. Every day there’s a new genetically modified food. Every day there’s a new racist that wants to become leader. And every day there’s more fear that scares us all into making horrible decisions and supporting horrible people, and because of that so many people die. Hitler and Stalin may have killed millions of people, but guess what, America and Great Britain are responsible for a lot more deaths than them post-World War II, and I’m not surprised that there’s people in the world that hate us and want to cut our heads off. It makes me sick, and that’s what comes out of me and I can’t control it.”
Is Generation Fucked a reflection of what’s going on right now?
Tim: “For sure. We’re the most powerful governments and we have the most influence on the world. We’re shaping the world more than other places, and you’d think that we would want to shape it in a positive way but I don’t feel like it’s positive at all. We’re all earthlings and we all live on the planet earth: borders should not apply, and we should all be concerned with the things that are happening in the world right now. So we’re taking this album to the earth.”
Mathias: “It’s not all about politics though. The music is different too, and when it was only Laurent and I we were just trying to go after music that we’d never heard before. Then Tim came in and he wanted to say things that he wanted to hear too, and things that he wanted people to know.”
Tim: “Well, music is the international language and that’s the beauty of it. Again, we’re earthlings and we’re speaking the earth’s language, which is music. This music punched me in the face and I felt like the lyrics needed to be the counterpunch to that.”
Did the music dictate the lyrics then?
Tim: “Absolutely. What these guys created without me is what inspired everything, and that’s still the way that this band writes songs and I love that. I love that they go into the rehearsal room without me and come up with musical arrangements that inspire me to both play bass and sing.”
Laurent: “The lyrics certainly mirror the music in the sense that they’re not the type of lyrics you hear on typical rock ‘n’ roll or punk records these days. We all know that the system has been rigged for a long time, and the bankers and corporations tell our governments how to run things. They have their own private agenda and they continue to back each other, and it’s just gotten to a point where it’s really out of control.”
Do you feel disappointed by the state of modern music?
Tim: “It’s all made on a computer and gridded out perfectly, and that seems to be what people want to hear nowadays. Our goal is to smash that grid and destroy that music.”
Mathias: “People have been fed shitty music for so long, and now they just like it because there are no other options. It’s like if you go to a market and all the food is shitty then you’ll end up buying shitty food. We’re trying to give people another option.”
Tim: “It’s all cause and effect, man. If you put shitty music on the radio then that’s going to inspire some cool shit that’s different and interesting. If you make violent video games and feed kids chemicals and raise them badly then they’re going to go into school with a gun and kill a bunch of people. It’s all cause and effect, and our music is a microcosm of the world we’re living in right now.”
What does the future hold for Wakrat?
Tim: “We’re looking to get better by playing multiple shows every week, and we’re excited to travel around America and play for audiences that might appreciate what we’re doing. Or maybe they’ll hate us, but if they do then we’ve got lyrics for them too!”
Laurent: “Yeah, I think we’re going to piss off a bunch of people, but that’s OK.”
Mathias: “I’m incredibly excited to be going out on tour with these guys [Prophets of Rage] and I can’t wait to watch them play after us every night. What other band would we want to go out on the road with? It couldn’t be better.”
Tim: “We get to be in the same vicinity as Chuck D, man. What more could you want?”
Wakrat will release Generation Fucked on November 8 through Earache.