Rise Against

And tonight, we bring you the conclusion of our three part interview with Rise Against. Earlier this year, Punknews.org spoke with both bassist Joe Principe and vocalist Tim McIlrath about their new album, The Sufferer & the Witness.

Over the course of about two hours and more than 15,000 words, Tim and Joe talked about everything from Black Flag to 88 Fingers Louie to life on a major label. In this final segment, Tim talks about being one of three Fat bands who made the jump to a major label in the last few years, as well as AFI, Anti-Flag and of course, the Killing Tree.

On the album that came out before you signed I mean you had a line, "I have an American dream that involves black masks and gasoline." Did you ever imagine that a band who said something like that would be able to work….I mean major labels have so many connections- some of them I’m not saying yours does, but I know some are connected to defense contractors. Did you ever think that you guys might be too risky for a major to handle

Anti-Flag were a little leery and giving us some shit for it- their rockstar jokes were flying back and forth and its funny to look back at that because they signed too. We all did. I guess I only hope that Anti-Flag and Against Me! find what we found in Geffen which is a really supportive label.

I remember around that time a lot of our friends were signing to majors- Thursday, Thrice, Poison the Well, all these bands were on majors so it was on people’s minds all of a sudden. Majors are paying attention to us all of a sudden. And to be honest it never even occurred to me that any label would be interested in us. I remember watching those bands get signed and they were stoked and were going to be able to do all this stuff and have big records and be played on radio. I remember thinking that it’s nice for them and

I’m happy for those guys but I don’t’ play in one of those bands. I play in a band that chose to take this stance on things and it’s never going to fit with any major labels format. I kind of resigned myself to that and that’s fine. I didn’t think they’d be interested in us so when then when they started calling us and coming around I thought they’d only be coming until they get to the lyrics.

Maybe they heard that one song on the Tony Hawk game but once they get to the lyrics they’re not going to want anything to do with us. Then we met with DreamWorks and talking to the A&R guy that we used to have, he was such a political guy and he was so into subversive art and just such a cool guy and I loved hanging out with him.

He no longer works for the label or is involved with anything that we do and whenever I go to LA I still hang out with him to this day. He’s a real cool guy that was so excited about what Rise Against was doing like "

"Tim, you’ve got to sign with us we’re going to make a fucking crazy record I want you to say some serious shit. "

This was to the point that he’d even be like almost trying to make us more political than we are. I didn’t want to create Rage Against the Machine part 2. I want to maintain who we are. But just seeing how supportive he was of the ideas we had it, we thought if we can find this support with a label and that could get us out to more people that would be amazing.

So, it’s crazy for me to think about that; lines from that song "Black Mask" or the entire song "State of the Union"

That somebody is putting this record out and putting it in places like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart. That within itself, I’m sure if the people at Wal-Mart just listened to "State of the Union" once they’d want to pull this record.

Your videos have been similarly controversial. Obviously the video you did for RPM was banned and the first video for Siren Song was pretty incendiary.

There were scenes (in "Heaven Knows") when the guy was bleeding and MTV wasn’t down with, they wouldn’t play it.

We were new to the whole TV thing anyway so we didn’t know what we could play or not play. Then we did "Give it All"- here’s a video that’s encouraging kids to take it to the streets and change billboards to what they want to say because that’s your right to do that if you don’t see your perspective being represented in modern media- then go fuck it up and make it represented. That’s your right to do that.

So there’s this video of us rolling around Chicago on a train with spray-paint cans and doing all kinds of anti-animal industry, anti-militarism messages going on and it was great to do. It was so funny we did half of it with a Chicago cop supervising it because they hired him we were thinking "You’re letting us do this? You’re letting us get away with this, are you sure? "

We had to sneak into that zoo though to do that one scene with the tiger where it says my whole life is spent in a cage because they were like real leery to what we were doing. They said you can’t put that sticker there and our director fucking did it and filmed it and we just took off.

It’s cool that you can still do that with DreamWorks.

The new video ("Ready to Fall") is easily the most important video of our career and just an important video that transcends Rise Against, punk rock, and everything. It’s got much less to do with us than it does to deal with stuff that people shouldn’t have to see. We really went totally overboard on it and we just put a whole lot of images on it that are going to make people think. I’m really excited that it’s going to be out- it’s a big video and I’m super happy that we made it and watching the final cut just reminds me of why we do this band and why we signed to a major label and why it’s all making sense to me.

I was talking to Joe yesterday he was in 88 Fingers Louie you were in Baxter. You’ve done Rise Against for the past six years but you were in fairly known bands before that.

I’ve been in this scene for way too long, I’m a dinosaur.

Well I’m with you on that so don’t worry…

Oh ok, (laughing)

I just wanted to ask you how you feel, I mean obviously you’re playing the Warped Tour again- and things have changed quite a bit in terms of - the first couple warped tours was like NUFAN and NOFX and now it’s From First to Last.

Bands have definitely taken a different more visual - I’m going to say to be polite - kind of style to them and obviously you’ve got Anti-Flag and Against Me! on there too but the tour has diversified in some ways and I’m just wondering what you think of where you fit on that kind of bill now.

I don’t know that we do fit on that bill but I know that we’re there. I don’t know if anyone really fits on that bill anymore- it’s such a diverse roster of bands playing Warped. Fucking Helmet is playing it, that shit’s crazy. Helmet’s back… what a different band. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. There’s a lot of bands on there- punk has certainly changed from NUFAN, Lagwagon, NOFX… to obviously.. There’s so much of it that has changed in the last 10 years.

Punk is so much more commercialized, so much more accessible, there’s a lot more image conscious bands out there and they’re still great bands- Just because somebody throws makeup on doesn’t make them a shitty band. There are people out there who grew up on the Misfits and bands like that and so many awesome bands and they’re just emulating their influence in that style in the same way that we’re emulating Minor Threat and Black Flag. Who knows, maybe if Ian MacKaye was wearing eyeliner then I would be .

They’re just emulating their influence in that style in the same way that we’re emulating Minor Threat and Black Flag. Who knows, maybe if Ian MacKaye was wearing eyeliner then I would be

They’re just taking from their influences. It certainly makes for a more confusing punk scene.

There’s all kind of walks of life out there, like the reason I started a band was because of bands like the Descendents and Dead Kennedy’s and now you have kids out there and the reason they started a band is because of Thursday and Blink 182.

It’s just crazy, but that’s what generations are, that’s what generations of punk are and will be. I guess I would just hope that bands are looking- if these young kids who are 18 years old and getting in bands when they’re super young I just hope those bands are more like Thursday, Thrice, Poison the Well and less like Simple Plan or whoever and they’re taking something from those bands a little more because I think those bands are still great bands who are doing great things.

It makes Warped Tour an interesting place where you end up on tour with a lot of bands that you don’t like but you also end up there with bands like Against Me! Anti-Flag, and Thursday’s out there and bands that you do like.

That part is actually weird because you three were all on Fat together and now all three of you (Anti-Flag, Against Me!, Rise Against) are on majors.

It was the Death of a Nation Tour I believe, with None More Black as well. And I think we had just signed. Anti-Flag were a little leery and giving us some shit for it- their rockstar jokes were flying back and forth and its funny to look back at that because they signed too. We all did. I guess I only hope that Anti-Flag and Against Me! find what we found in Geffen which is a really supportive label.

Each label is different and people are always asking do you support major labels saying these labels are good? I’m not saying I support major labels anymore than I’m saying I 100% support independent labels.

There’s just a case-by-case situation. It’s the people behind it. I have friends who are on independent labels who are being sent back to the studio to write radio singles. Who would’ve thought that would happen on an indie label?

I have friends who are on independent labels who say their label won’t print their lyrics in the artwork because they want to save money on packaging. Since when could you not print lyrics on a punk rock record?

Indies have their issues too or you have majors, the one that was shelving that International Noise Conspiracy record last year or all that bullshit which is happening with so many bands being run through the ringer. It just happens that us and Against Me! and Anti-Flag are on different labels and I’m really happy 2 years later with what we’ve done and our record and now our second record and I’m really happy that we’ve found a label that for the most part lets us do our own thing and I hope they find a happiness too.

To be honest I want to hear Anti-Flag songs on the radio. I want to hear that shit and see the look on people’s faces when Anti-Flag is going to be played in a mall. I love to see the reaction - both good and bad. I want to see that. I’m hoping Anti-Flag blows up because I can’t wait to see that shit you know.

They’ve been using their higher profile for a lot of good things. That depleted uranium bill, the congressman who passed it specifically credits them with helping

I’ve spent a lot of time with those guys and I know a lot of people give those guys shit in the punk scene especially. You write for punknews.org so you know what I’m talking about.

We love those guys. They’ve given us amazing interviews and I think Chris #2 spent two hours on the phone with me when they first signed, just so everything was out in the open.

Chris is so awesome. Those guys walk the fucking walk. They walk the walk and they talk the talk. Those guys are behind their shit 100%. They live eat breath it. They’re so dedicated to struggle and to the movement of change and awareness and they’ve been doing it for so long - for what over 10 years now? Justin and Pat at least?

It’s just incredible. I back those guys 100% and I love seeing what they do. We were just in Baltimore with them last weekend and I love seeing what they do calling the Marines out because the military recruiters were there. I just love what they do on stage and they really inspire me so I want to see them do well for sure. And Against Me! too for that matter because Against Me! are such articulate individuals with amazing lyrics and amazing songs and I think their songs are all really moving and I think they need to be heard by lots and lots of people

Your record leaked pretty early, any thoughts on that?

I think it leaked 8 weeks prior to its and for the most part no record goes to the release date without leaking anymore- it just happens. The only ones that don’t are records that no one gives a shit about anyway but when I first heard it happened - and it’s kind of like that day when you know it’s going to come eventually. The day it came it was like I remember talking to #2 from Anti-Flag and he said "Tim you know why it doesn’t matter that your record leaked? Because it’s such a fucking awesome record…."

I just want them to hear it. I was reading an interview with Ian MacKaye about downloading, and his quote was "I’d rather have 100 people hear my song than $100 in my pocket."

That guy sets the bar right?

He totally sets the bar! And he’s right. Is it really worth that $100 in my pocket if 100 people didn’t hear the songs? I want people to hear this record- I think it’s an important record. Our songs are about way more than the schematics of record sales and marketing and all that bullshit. I want people to hear it, I want people to take the time to do all their internet nerd shit to actually find it. Check it out and come out and see us play.

But it goes to show you that even though it’s on the internet people are still going to pick it up. There are still people who want to own records who want the lyrics and everything and feel like supporting the band is important. I could’ve downloaded that new AFI album this morning pretty easily but I went out and bought it instead. I want the artwork, I want the lyrics, I want to see what crazy pictures there are of Davey in it now.

What did you think of it?

I’ve only made it halfway through so far but there’s some big ass songs on there. New Order- Depeche Mode kind of things but I think it’s cool at the same time, it’s still AFI, it’s still Davey and knowing those guys and watching the progression it’s all that they’ve been leading up to. It’s all that they’ve been going for. I think there are so many better songs on there than their single as well.

I’ve been listening to the single on the radio for the last month or so and I think that there’s so many even better songs on there. I’m going to have to really chew on it for a little while but so far I’m really backing it. We played with them in Phoenix recently and Davey was complaining about his voice and whatever, but he played that show and fucking nailed it- every fucking note- it was just unbelievable. They are just on top of their game right now. Their live show is going to blow people away this year for sure.

They’re the nicest people too.

I still love the Killing Tree and what we’ve created. I love the record, it was a lot of fun. But, there’s no real mystery to why we’re not doing records- it’s simply because there’s no time.

They come from that hardcore scene, they’ve been at it for so fucking long. They’ve done the shows, they’ve slept on the floors, they’ve driven in the van- they’ve done it all and it’s cool to see them where they’re at- at a place where a bunch of other bands are but they’re the guys who know what it’s like to get paid $20 to play a show and sleep on a promoter’s floor that night. And there’s not a lot of people out there playing shows who can say that.

I remember seeing them with Good Riddance in like 96’.

Holy Shit! Yeah….

Davey still took 5 minutes to talk to me. After the show he talked to every kid who came up to him.

He’s such a nice dude and those guys are all the same people, they stand by animal rights, homeboy is still straight-edge. So it’s like just good people and it’s good to see them do well.

One thing I must ask you - and if I don’t ask you this the kids are going to kill me, - any word on when you are going to have time to do the Killing Tree? Obviously with the schedule you’re on…..

I would love to. I would love to right now. I’d love to call those guys and just fucking write a record right now if we could. I think Neil is getting back from Europe today and I’m going to hang out with him later tonight. Todd is out of LA right now doing a bunch of graphic design stuff and Jeff is doing Holy Roman and also doing his masters degree at UIC.

For me and Neil to actually have lunch together though, that’s like the stars are aligned. It’s a fucking miracle. I would love to and I think that I still love the Killing Tree and what we’ve created. I love the record, it was a lot of fun. But, there’s no real mystery to why we’re not doing records- it’s simply because there’s no time. If there was, we’d all be having a lot of fun and writing some new songs or at least playing some shows. But who knows, we tend to do a show every year or so in Chicago somewhere..