Prophets Of Rage: Tim Commerford's Guide To Life
The man behind Rage Against The Machine, Prophets Of Rage and Wakrat opens up on religion, nu-metal and mortality
Tim Commerford's never been one to hold back when it comes to his opinions on the world. Whether storming Parliament with new band Wakrat, shutting down Wall Street as part of Rage Against The Machine's march against capitalism, or denouncing Donald Trump as the new “Adolf Hitler”, he certainly isn't shy of railing against the established world order. Here, he discusses the thoughts and philosophies that shape his worldview.
"I definitely went around the spectrum of music. When I was a little kid and I was just learning how to play my instrument, there were instructional videos that you could buy, and you could learn bass lines from a video that you would put in. The bass player who played on Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, Louis Johnson, he had one, and I had the Jaco Pastorious ones, and those instruction videos were big in me learning how to play the bass, and also exposing me to different types of music. I would bounce around between the Sex Pistols, to Rush, to Jaco, to Louis Johnson and The Brothers Johnson, to Chic, and to even Duran Duran, and Iron Maiden. It was a very broad spectrum of music that I liked, but it was always music that I would consider good bass lines. That's the music that I love."
"To be in a band that's challenging the system politically, that's an amazing thing, but I also have been politicised by [Rage Against The Machine], and by the music that I've made and the people I've been around. And now here I am with this opportunity to be hanging out with not only Tom Morello, but Chuck D, and being able to be politicised by them, and changed, and turned into a better person. And knowing that that happened to me is an inspiration for me to want to make that kind of music because I know that music can change the way people think, because I look at myself and I think 'God, I wonder who I would be today if it weren't for the music I was playing and what I was listening to'. So, it's exciting, and I'm proud – so proud."
"I believe religion – along with money, racism – is at the root of everything bad in this world. I'm not a believer in anything religious. I don't believe in any of it, I think it's all there to control people, and give people a crutch, and I feel like it's at the root of all the evil in this world. Right now I'm working on the next Wakrat video, and that's a part of it. I was actually thinking about the video before I fleshed it out to where I have it right now, and one of the things I was thinking was 'Okay, I'm going to focus only on religion, and it's going to be every religion, and I'm going to expose them all.' And then I grew it from there, so religion's just part of it – it's everything from Starbucks to Christianity."
Shutting down Wall Street [during the filming of Rage Against The Machine's Sleep Now In The Fire video, 1999] was amazing. It's another thing I'm totally proud of, and I'd forgotten how long we closed it down for – it was eight minutes or something like that. Michael Moore actually summed it up, he said, 'You guys should be so proud – you shut down capitalism”. That's not an easy thing to do, and we actually did that, and that video was planned out, every move that we made was planned out, and it went perfectly according to plan. To be able to shut down capitalism – that was the goal, and that's what happened, that's what we did. The police were protesting the whole thing. That was a very proud moment in my life.
"I believe the freedom of speech is important. There's no better way to express that freedom than to take it to the streets, and to speak up against something you don't agree with. It's always uncomfortable, truth be told. There's no protest that feels comfortable. It always feels very uncomfortable because you know there's people who don't agree with you, that are there, and they might be right next to you, whether it's a police officer or just someone who doesn't agree. It's a character builder to be able to go do something like that. Ultimately I was politicised by Zack [de la Rocha] and Tom and Chuck D, and I feel like kids who see people like me go do that, take to the streets and put themselves in that uncomfortable situation, and come out of it proud, I think it empowers more than just me – it makes other people go 'I need to do that too'. An important part of living in this world is expressing your freedoms."
"I have two boys, Xavier and Quentin, 14 and 12. They're not big music fans, but my younger son Quentin, he can play drums, and we have a drum set here at the house so he and I play music together, which is really cool. But they don't really listen to music necessarily, and the music that they listen to and the times that they're exposed to music truth be told is when they come to a Prophets Of Rage gig or a Wakrat show. And it's interesting because obviously Wakrat is not that kid friendly, so there's a lot of explaining that goes along with them seeing a Wakrat show. It's more than just 'Hey, did you like the show?' 'Yeah, we loved it!' 'Cool!'. It's not like that, it's like 'Hey, do you understand why I said that? And are you okay with it? And if you're not, then let's talk about it'. So actually, it's been good, because it opens up a nice healthy line of communication."
"I don't liken us to nu metal. I don't even know what nu metal is, truth be told. I see reviews of Wakrat that are like 'Oh, they sound nu metal', and I'm like, 'Nu metal?! What are you talking about? I don't even know what that is'. If we sound like that, then I don't know where we would've gotten that from. I believe that Rage, we had a really unique approach to the way that we made music, and I never considered our music metal. I just didn't. So I always recognised that yeah, there was a Black Sabbath influence in Rage Against The Machine, or Led Zeppelin in Rage Against The Machine, but I also felt like there was a spirit, and the spirit to me was closer to The Clash or the Sex Pistols or something like that. So we had that, but then obviously hip-hop music was such a huge influence in Rage, so I always felt that we were very unique in that blend between rock, punk and hip-hop. To me, nu metal music, I don't recognise any punk in that, so right then and there I just went 'that's different than what we're doing'. And maybe that's why we're still here. Even though we're not playing music right now, we are still here, we're still a viable entity."
"I'm not afraid of death. There have been times in my life where I did fear it maybe, and that was during a time in my life when I was unsure about religion and what it meant. I took a drug one time called DMT, Dimethyltryptamine, and I went to a place that I lived a lifetime in, and I was okay with that place, and it felt good to me. I did it only one time, and I would never do it again; I don't think I need to do it again, because it's such a life-changing thing. That feeling that I had, that feeling was, 'You know what? There's an electrical charge that runs through all of us, and everything in the universe is charged by that same electricity', and at the end of the day, I really believe that that's where we go. We go back to that electricity, and I went there – or at least I believe that I went there, and I was okay with it. It erased the feeling of religion – I will never be concerned with 'Who's God?' or whether there is even a god. I'm not worried about that anymore. I know that where I'm gonna go, it's going to be a place that I'm going to be okay with, and it's the place that we all go."