Rage Against the Machine bassist, former Audioslave member and Wakrat co-founder Tim Commerford has already sounded off on Limp Bizkit and other rap-rock bands that came in the wake of the group’s massive success. But in a wide-ranging talk with Rolling Stone, the opinionated musician opened up about the status of RATM, the band’s Hall of Fame chances and Zack de la Rocha’s latest musical endeavor.
At 47, the self-described “conspiracy theorist” still adheres to the “question everything” motto that defined so much of Rage Against the Machine’s ethos. “I can’t stop myself from finding information that makes me mad and writing about it,” Commerford says. It’s this mindset that informs the bassist’s non-traditional views, which include notions of staged moon landings and ISIS not really existing. “You don’t really want to get me started on this,” Commerford says about his conspiracy theorist leanings. We disagree.
It’s been 15 years since Rage Against the Machine released their last album. Do you think rock music is in a better or worse spot now compared to 2000?
We’re definitely not in the same spot now; there’s not a lot going on in the world of rock, and that’s a shame. I credit that to the computer. There’s a lot of computer rock happening right now. It’s an instrument that you don’t need to go woodshed in your bedroom to learn how to play. You can not know anything about music and play that thing awesome.
I hear music that’s gridded out in a perfect way, and I think kids don’t realize that that’s what they expect, whether they know it or not. They expect to get this perfect syncopated rhythm, where every snare drum is exactly the same distance apart. Humans can’t do that. I’m a fan of “real” music — I love the whole grunge scene and rock music in the Sixties through the Nineties — and it’s real; it’s guys and girls who spent time learning how to play their instrument and making it sound badass.
“[Rage] are still a band. We might play again.”
What do you consider “unreal” music?
I don’t necessarily consider it “unreal,” but it’s subjective whether or not the computer is an instrument. I can look at the computer and say, “Yeah, it’s an instrument. If it weren’t for the computer, there wouldn’t be hip-hop or electronic music. It’s making some amazing shit, and it can sound amazing.” And I respect that. But I’m a believer in John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. That, to me, is real music. Guys who took their instrument to a place where no other human has ever taken it.
Rage Against the Machine is approaching their first year of eligibility for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you care?
It would be funny to me if we got in there. I don’t know that I would go because I look at that as, if you take part in that, you’re admitting that you’re no longer relevant. You’re saying, “OK, I’m done. Look, I made it.”
Green Day got in this year, and they still release albums.
[Pauses] I hear ya. [Long pause, laughs] If Rage gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’ll be interesting to see who shows up. I think it’s pretty obvious. I think there’s somebody who’s going to show up and somebody who’s not going to show up and maybe somebody who’s going to show up with an enema filled with food coloring and shit all over the red carpet.
Would you guys play if asked?
Anything’s possible. We are still a band, and we still might play again. We don’t have anything scheduled right now, but you never know what the future will bring. [Editor’s Note: Following publication of this interview, RATM guitarist Tom Morello tweeted about possible future shows, “If we do, I hope to be there.”]
The band’s Wikipedia page lists 2011 as your last active year.
I read something on the Internet the other day where it said, “Former Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford.” I was like, “Fuck you, man. I still play bass in that band. I’m not the ‘former’ guy. I’m the guy.”
When was the last time all four of you were in the same room?
Well, here’s something cool: We just played our first show with Wakrat and Zack and Tom [Morello] were there. Zack is my biggest fan and supporter right now. What I’m doing musically is his shit and what he’s an expert on. He and I talked for two hours after the show. He loves what I’m doing. I asked him to play a guitar solo for this track I’m working on and he was like, “Oh, I’m in.”
He released the One Day as a Lion EP in 2008 and appeared on Run the Jewels’ last album, but his solo album has become the Detox of rock.
He’s been working his ass off here in the last couple of years. The kid is an amazing musician. He built a studio in his house, and he’s there all the time making a One Day as a Lion full album. That’s his band, and he’s a “one band” kind of guy.
Switching gears, you released a video as Future User showing your actual back surgery as an indictment of the current U.S. health care system. Which presidential candidate would be the best option to fix the problem?
I don’t buy into the hype. My advice would be none of them. They’re all the same; their campaigns are all funded by the same corrupt corporations that accept the same favors. And I don’t care whether a Republican or Democrat wins; the same shit’s going to happen. That’s why you’ll never see me at the ballot box ever.
Does that include Bernie Sanders?
Yes. I don’t believe in any of it. It’s all bullshit. They’re not the ones calling the shots. Whether it’s the heads of the corporations or the military guys that have been in there for 30 years, there’s no president coming in every four years and telling those motherfuckers what to do.
Donald Trump doesn’t need corporate backing.
Oh, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen right now. He has united these racist people in America to focus on immigration and at the last minute — mark my words — he’s going to drop out and he’s going to hand the sword over to Jeb [Bush], and Jeb will get all the supporters that Trump has. It’ll probably be another eight years of Bush, which sucks but I don’t know that that’s any different than eight years of Obama. It’s a bunch of bullshit just like, “I’m going to get out of Afghanistan and pull the troops out of Iraq.” I’m a conspiracy theorist, so you don’t really want to get me started on this.
“I don’t believe ISIS is real. Go look at those videos, and see if you don’t think they’re fake.”
Yes, I do.
Like, ISIS? I don’t believe ISIS is real. ISIS has been an inspiration for a lot of the songs that I wrote with Wakrat. I don’t believe that all the different factions in the Middle East have gotten together and said, “OK, we all hate each other and we all hate America, so let’s all put on the ISIS uniform and join forces and just become ISIS.” That’s a bunch of shit. I don’t believe the Jihadi John beheading video. Go look at those videos and study them, and see if you don’t think they’re fake.
You think they’re doctored?
They’re not real. They’re high-def. They have a soundtrack. The parts of those videos that you couldn’t fake are edited out. At first, I thought it was edited out by our government so our kids wouldn’t be seeing it on the Internet, but no. That’s the way those videos came. The knife starts to cut the neck, and then it fades out. There’s too much stuff that doesn’t look real. They’ve edited out the parts that would be too hard to fake. We created Jihadi John and ISIS so we can go drop bombs.
What happened to the people who ISIS claimed to have killed in the videos?
They were already dead.
There seems to be a lot of proof of their actual existence. Do you think the U.S. government made it up?
Oh, I think it goes so much deeper than just the U.S. government. It’s the same people that put presidents in office all over the world. It’s a global conspiracy of people whose names we’ll never know, but they’re the ones who really run the show because they’re the ones with the deepest pockets. [After a Rage Against the Machine fan tweeted a question to RATM guitarist Tom Morello about Commerford’s conspiracy theory leanings, Morello replied, “That’s just scratching the surface.”]
How much of this ideology plays into your lyrics?
It does a lot. I’m a conspiracy theorist. I can’t help but look at the lunar landing and go, “We didn’t go to the moon.” We never went there. My dad worked for NASA on the Apollo missions, and I’ve always felt it’s been fake since I was a kid. The one thing I always questioned: We put the flag on the moon. Why did we put a metal rod on the top of it? Why wouldn’t we just plant it into the moon’s surface and have the astronaut pull it out and let it go and we can watch it do its dance on the moon? It would’ve been an image we couldn’t have faked and one that we would have never forgotten.
Have you ever been able to tell any astronaut your theory?
I got into it with Buzz Aldrin five years ago at a John Cusack movie premiere. There were a bunch of people gathered around, and I said, “I have a question: You have all these missions to the moon. How come there’s no pictures of the flags on the moon?” He said, “Well, those are highly degraded by radiation by now.” I said, “You left a lot of stuff on the moon. It seems that somebody with a telescope or satellite would snap a picture of that so we could see it. It’d be on the cover of every newspaper.”
You could tell he was getting frustrated, and I asked him why he put a metal rod on top of the flag instead of just letting the flag out and do its thing. He gets all frustrated and says, “I’m just trying to remember what they told me to say.” That’s what he said! Those were his exact words! Then he and his wife — all plastic surgery-ed up and fake as they can be — bolted out, and I watched them walking down the street and he was just yelling at her. It made him so mad. There are so many different facets of the lunar landing that are just bullshit. It was such a powerful propaganda tool at the time.
Most conspiracy theorists are looked at with a certain amount of skepticism or ridicule, but you seem to take pride in it.
I say, “Question everything.” It feels good to find information that doesn’t mesh out. I’m into it. I’m proud of who I am. When you hear the [Wakrat] record, it’s there for sure.