Chicagoís Biggest Political Punk-Rock Band
by Randy J. Klodz
Being a politically-charged, hard-rocking punk rock band from Chicagoís suburbs sure isnít going to woo the chicks, but Rise Against is winning over fans across the globe.
Northwest-suburban Arlington Heights native Tim McIlrath, 25, singer and guitarist for Rise Against called SOAK amid moving from what he called his ďglorified atticĒ of an apartment in Chicago to another place within Chicago city limits. Also joining McIlrath in Rise Against includes the Chicago-area native Joe Principe on bass, Boston-native guitarist Chris Chasse and Colorado-native Brandon Barnes on drums.
McIlrath talked to SOAK about beating around the political Bush, joining the bandís unique version of the Mile High Club in Denver and what itís like to be a sandwich artist backstage.
SOAK: Whatís it like having ďSiren Song of the Counter CultureĒ on Geffen Records, a major record label?
McIlrath: It has definitely been cool. Itís definitely what we expected. Itís been different, of course. We signed with a major to just get our band out there and as big as possible, and to have our message reach different sorts of outlets than we were reaching at the time. We kind of felt like we had done a lot in the punk rock scene, almost in sort of a glass ceiling and it was really a vacuum for our kind of a music, a void for the kind of music we and the rest of the world were doing. We wanted to have our songs played for people who donít normally have their thought processes challenged at all, see what happens, see what we could do. If it worked out it worked out, and if it didnít work out, we know we could just go back to doing what we normally do.
SOAK: Did you have fans that lashed out because you switched to a major label?
McIlrath: Yeah, but in ways we had fans lash out when we signed to Fat Wreck Chords, saying we sold out because we signed to Fat. We have fans that lashed out because they disagreed with us on all kinds of things. And those are the same kind of fans thatíll be around until the end of time that every band hasÖthe people that are just out there to criticize your every move. But theyíre really not our concern; weíre just four guys playing in a band and following our hearts, wherever that takes us, and this is where itís taken us. And so far itís been something weíve been comfortable with thatís turned out really good. It hasnít changed us as a band or as people. Weíre still the same band playing the same shows; itís just that our record is out to more people now.
Once I was at that point where I would chastise bands for making decisions that I disagreed with. I was that kid sending emails to bands, and when Bad Religion put out a record on a major, I was pissed too. You grow up and you realize that thereís more to this world, and you also learn more about what it means to be on a major label. And you realize that just because youíre doing it, it doesnít mean that there are people twisting your favorite bandís arm to write pop songs.
SOAK: So weíre not going to see you guys on MTVís Total Request Live tomorrow?
McIlrath: You wonít see us on TRL. You wonít see us signing autographs for Samsung phones. You wonít see us on a tour sponsored by Dodge. Itís just not going to happen. And things like this have been presented to us; people have called, ĎHey, we love Rise Against and we want you to sponsor our product.í Just because weíre on a major label doesnít mean that weíre there for the taking. We say no to these things. Itís just not us. It has nothing to do with Rise Against.
SOAK: Are there still people that get pissed off by your bandís music and political message?
McIlrath: I think there are people who are definitely offended by what we do. There are people that deem what we do un-American, people that deem what we do criticizing the government and the way of life that 90 percent of Americans are living. Our band and music attacks that lifestyle--that consumerist nine-to-five rat race lifestyle. Obviously thatís going to offend a lot of people who put their blood, sweat and tears into that lifestyle and donít know anything else. And they believed in that their entire life, because itís been force-fed to them, and nobodyís come along and challenged that thought process. We live in this sort of punk-rock bubble where, when Rise Against has a show, generally weíre not playing a show for people on Wall Street. Weíre not playing a show for your typical pro-war American dudes. Weíre playing a show for punk-rock kids. Which is in itself a punk-rock bubble because you have to already agree with each other, like preaching to the converted. Weíre not shoving anything down anybodyís throat, but weíre letting them know, ĎHey, hereís an alternate way of thinking.í
SOAK: How were you approached to be included within the ďRock Against Bush Vol.1Ē compilation album?
McIlrath: A representative at PunkVoter.com contacted us and said ĎListen, Iím pretty sure this is up your alley, but I donít want to speak for you. Iím doing PunkVoter, Iím doing ďRock against Bush,Ē Iíd like to include Rise Against in this because I feel like the message you guys have is parallel with our message,í and we said that we would help out in any way possible. And we helped out by contributing a song to ďRock Against Bush Vol. 1.Ē And I also personally went out to the Iowa caucuses, the Black and Brown debate, with Number 2 from Anti-Flag, Billy Gould from Faith No More, and Wayne Kramer from MC5, and we went out there as delegates from PunkVoter and spoke to a bunch of candidates and spoke to the people out there. Essentially, our goal was to let people know what PunkVoter was, and to let them know that weíre mobilizing one-half million 18-24 year olds to vote, and these kids are from the punk rock world, which is typically a leftist world. We just want you to know that weíre there. We want you to pay attention to us and our concerns. It was a really successful weekend there in Iowa.
SOAK: Rise Against was part of last summerís Vans Warped tour. Whatís that tour like with all the heat and rough travel?
McIlrath: Itís definitely the hardest tour that we do year-round. But itís difficult to even say that a tourís hard, because itís a tour and itís playing in a band. Itís so hard to complain because the second you think, ĎOh man, itís 110 degrees, Iím in Jacksonville, FL and the humidity is killing me, itís about to rain for the fourth time today and Iím going to have to pack up our T-shirts again and load our gear through a bunch of mud,í and then you gotta pinch yourself and be like, ĎWait a minute, Iím playing in a band. What am I complaining about?í You can say a lot of things about the drives and eating the same thing almost every day and showering in a disgusting locker room at Mile High Stadium in Denver, but at the same time, itís the Warped tour and itís an amazing community of people and a lot of fun. You meet a lot of kids and you get a chance to play your music for a lot of music fans who donít necessarily come to Rise Against shows, but they come to see Flogging Molly. Or they come to see whoever else is on the tour, like Taking Back Sunday, Thursday or NOFX, and you get a chance to get those people who may not ever check out your band to walk by your stage, and be like ĎHey, whoís this?í
SOAK: What is the Rise Against fan base like?
McIlrath: Our Chicago fan base is awesome. We started here. We played our first shows here. Itís rad to see the faces that have been there since our first couple shows at the Fireside Bowl and all that, and thatís amazing. But as far as our fan base, itís no bigger here than it is anywhere else, we have a very steady fan base all around the world--really cool Rise Against fans all over the place. Itís an amazing thing be able to show up and play in a town far away from your own town and have several hundred kids come out and see you play. We donít have the super-loud violent Ďshow us your titsí fans. We have fans that I respect.
SOAK: A lot of punk-rock bands have a slew of girls following them from city to city.
McIlrath: [laughs] We donít have any girls that follow us around. We donít have the romantic Van Halen/Poison idea of groupies following us around [laughs]. It might be different if we were all a bunch of super good looking single guys, but I donít think thatís the kind of people that we attract. Not that theyíre not out there, but when we show up to a show, itís not like weíre the Beatles, where everybodyís screaming and stuff, which is fine by me.
SOAK: So you donít have any backstage love?
McIlrath: I think everyone has this romantic idea that backstage is champagne flowing, and everybodyís partying and having a great time with lots of celebrities back there and everyoneís famous. Thatís definitely not our backstage. Maybe for some bands it is. Youíll find us back there telling fart jokes and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Thatís about it.
For more on Rise Against, check out riseagainst.com.