Under the Influence: Tim Commerford

Feature by Dave Kerr | 28 Jul 2016

Famous for holding down Rage Against the Machine’s low-end, Tim Commerford pulls double duty this summer as politicised supergroup Prophets of Rage and neo-punk nihilists WAKRAT steamroll across North America. He pauses for breath to run us through ten of the most incendiary corners of his record collection

HelmetStrap It On [1990]
Helmet is a band I’ve always really loved, which is something I share with [WAKRAT drummer] Mathias. I enjoy Meantime and Betty, but their first record Strap It On was a big influence of mine. I loved that song Repetition – that’s my jam on that record. I can go back and listen to that today and still get a great vibe off of it, unlike a lot of records of my youth, where I may think, ‘Y’know, that doesn’t sound as good as it did back then.’ They seemed to have the most success of hardcore bands. I love hardcore punk – the whole DC punk movement, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Fugazi – Helmet had that vibe although they weren’t from there. They still took it the furthest, I think. Rage played with Helmet quite a few times so I got to see them up close. And dude, John Stanier is the sickest drummer ever. Stanier and Henry Bogdan, killer rhythm section.

Miles Davis – Nefertiti [1968]
I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately and I went through a bit of a phase in the 90s. I have a couple of upright basses – I was taking lessons and got into the whole bebop and post-bop era; my favourite period of jazz. Obviously on those terms you have to pay respect to the Miles Davis quartet (or in this case, ‘second great quintet’). Nefertiti was mostly written by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and it’s just one of his records that I really love. Hand Jive is the jam I’d recommend here. I’m a student of Miles Davis; I still listen to him and some of the other greats from that time and am truly blown away. I believe that bebop jazz is where the real genius lies in music – it’s not in Beethoven and Bach, as far as I'm concerned. Miles and Coltrane are the greatest musicians that ever lived. It was part of them.

Bad Brains – I Against I [1986]
A must; the track I appreciate the most on this record is House of Suffering. It’s fast, it’s chaotic – as they are. I’ve always loved the Bad Brains, I feel like they missed their calling. They could’ve been one of the biggest bands of all time had they wanted to be. So I guess they didn’t miss their calling – ha! They did what they wanted to do, so they were a true punk band. The quintessential punk band, as far as I’m concerned.

Branford Marsalis Quartet – Crazy People Music [1990]
Another jazz record, led by the great saxophonist. I love Crazy People Music; the track to look out for is number one, Spartacus. Again, this is rule-breaking genius beyond my comprehension. All I can do is just enjoy it and never understand it on the level this man did. This album was a bit of a breakthrough.

Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks: Here's the Sex Pistols [1977]
Now, when I just told you that the Bad Brains were the quintessential punk band, my brain was going ‘really? I don’t know that they are?’ I think the Sex Pistols are. Never Mind the Bollocks is simply one of the greatest, rawest albums ever made. The song that I still appreciate the most here is Bodies; as a kid I certainly dug the amount of swearing in there. I hadn’t heard anything like that as a child. Zack de la Rocha and I were little kids at the time – we’ve been friends since elementary school – and this was the record that we listened to. There was a time when he could play every song from that record on guitar. I had no idea how to play an instrument in elementary school, so I’d play the drum parts on books with skateboard rails and sing the songs. I’d try to be Johnny Rotten. Recently I had an opportunity to sing Anarchy in the UK on Jonesy’s Jukebox [radio show hosted by ex-Pistol Steve Jones] the morning after the Brexit vote – that was epic shit right there! That was all I listened to for many years of my life, that record. I had it on 8-track.

The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land [1997]
A classic. Whether it’s Firestarter, Smack My Bitch Up, or the other single – Breathe. I really dug the bassline on that… man, I love The Prodigy. WAKRAT is heavily influenced by this; we’re not an electronic band but we’re going for the same visceral energy with guitar, bass, drums and vocals. We almost strive to go electronic – ha! There’s a lot of Prodigy-esque drumbeats that Mathias plays. The guitar parts that Laurent goes after often sound to me like a fucked up loop. That’s really influenced by the Prodigy – big time!

KRS-One – Return of the Boom Bap [1993]
On the hip-hop side of things, I think KRS is one of the greatest lyricists of all time. I was watching Ride Along 2 the other day – that movie with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube – and at the very end credits they had Sound of Da Police. I just love the lyrics, the whole message… the genius of that is, dare I say, Coltrane-esque. It’s beyond me; the dude’s an intellect on the highest level. He was huge for Rage Against the Machine – for us, the most direct hip-hop influences were KRS-One, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. When I was 20 years old, those were the first hip-hop bands I loved.

Fugazi – Repeater [1990]
My favourite Fugazi album, without a doubt. I especially appreciate Shut The Door. They’re definitely another influence on WAKRAT – punk rock but not your classic punk rock. I love all kinds of punk, but I don’t consider WAKRAT a classic punk rock band either. We’re more of a new school thing – we play in odd time signatures and do it in a different way. Fugazi were the same; I hadn’t heard punk rock played like that when I encountered them for the first time. I was really into Minor Threat, too. I’d love to meet Ian Mackaye; he’s one of the greatest frontmen… ever! I’d put him on that list with H.R. and Zack de la Rocha. He brought the intensity to the stage, for sure.

Geto Boys – The Geto Boys [1990]
Another hip-hop group – and some people hate that I love ‘em. Recently I’ve had opportunity to talk to Chuck D and B-Real a lot more and run this by them. There was maybe a time where I was a little embarrassed to love this group. Honestly, I still think this is one of the greatest hip-hop records ever made, and so does Chuck D – ha! Which is fucking beautiful. There’s a track on here called Mind of a Lunatic which is hard to listen to but an incredible song. I’ve gotta say, I loved it. Lyrically, it’s coming from really hard dudes. It’s real. That’s been an inspiration.

John Coltrane – Giant Steps [1960]
Last one. Coltrane! I can’t list ten artists and records that had an impact on me without bringing this man up. I looooove Coltrane, man. The ballad on this album – Naima – I’ve always loved that melody. He’s the greatest musician that has ever lived on this planet, y’know? That’s where I’m at. I read Miles Davis’ book where he talks about Coltrane being in his band, Davis would look over at Coltrane while he was onstage and see he was asleep on the bandstand while they’re in the middle of the set. Then it comes time for Coltrane to play his solo and a second before he wakes up and starts killing it – ha!

WAKRAT's self-titled debut album is out on 11 Nov via Earache. http://wakratband.com