Interview: Rise Against (Tim McIlrath & Joe Principe)

photos courtesy of  Jared Kaszuba

 Formed in 1999, these Chicago natives have been tearing up the punk scene ever since. With each album since their first (The Unraveling), the band has grown immensly lyrically, musiclly with an ultra-loyal fanbase. Their latest release, The Sufferer and the Witness is no different. Granted with such things as Avril Lavigne, Hot Topic and fashionable faux hawks, the word punk has all but lost it's meaning. Not if the members of Rise Against have anything to do with it. Although recently signed to Geffen Records and poised for mainstream success, Rise Against have yet to soften their socially & politically charged views. If anything, the bands only solidified their stance silencing the elitists crying sellout while bringing their blend of hardcore and punk to the masses. C'mon just think of how different the world would be if bands with a concious message like Bad Religion, Minor Threat or Operation Ivy had been transmitted out on the airwaves to millions of people. The only question is, Will the world listen?
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Big D - You had an album come out on July 4th, The Sufferer and the Witness, what's the story behind the name?

Tim- Thematicly the record is dealing with alot of different things but what the title is referencing is certainly there is alot of suffering that happens on this planet, you know, and all of us bear witness to that and so it really changes your perspective when you consider yourself a witness to the suffering instead of just an innocent bystander or someone that doesn't know that it's going on. It's talking alot about cause and effect, you know, action/reaction, our relationship with the world around us.
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Big D -  Ready to Fall's video is a little deeper than the cookie cutter shit you see on the tube these days. What was the inspiration behind the video itself, and please touch on some of the topics it covers?

Tim- Well the video was alot of Kevin Kearse our director, he went with this really great idea that we back 100%. The video is obviously considered an enviromental piece and it talks alot about what the record is talking about, the title of the album and this action/reaction theme about how we effect the word around us and ya know, I think that growing up in punk rock ya always think if someone gives you a stage or if someone gives you a bunch of money to make a video, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to hire a bunch of strippers and a limo and some champagne? Or are you going to make something that is going to be seen by millions of people and have an impact on their lives? And that's something we've always tried to do with this band, to use what we have to make an impact on ourselves, the world around us and our fans and the people around us. The video is just in line with that. Kevin Kearse did a great job, the video came out great and it's really starting to affect alot of people.
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Big D - No kidding, it really got my wheels turning. Did you do anything differently from previous albums?

Tim- We have our friend Emily from Holy Roman Empire out of Chicago,she sings on a few of the songs. That's something we've never done before.

Big D - 
 You guys have been known to be champions of animal rights and the enviroment, what do think are the issues that most need addressed?

Tim- Without getting into specific issues there's so many different things that you can talk about. I think that just creating an awareness about what's going on will change what people think, everything from locally to globally, if we could create just a little more awareness about how important it is to change the direction the world is heading in right now. I think there are tiny little changes in your life that you can make that will have big effects on the world around you.

Big D - 
 Obivously, your not going to readily find information on making a positive impact, I mean the media seems intent to cover our decline as a society?

Tim- I guess off the top of my head just being out here at Warped Tour you have The One Campaign booth, which is a great place to get information on poverty in the world and how it's affecting the world and how it can be solved and what you can do about it. You have the Take Action tent, I think it's , check that out. They certainly have alot of important messages about empowering women and stuff like that. Just really cool stuff, they do alot of stuff with army recruitment in public schools. PETA is certainly out here. PETA does really great work and I think that what's so inspiring about PETA is that they do really effective work, like what they do actually makes a difference. When PETA goes to Ralph Lauren and says " Ralph, stop making fur", Ralph goes "Ok". Like when they go to Old Navy and a couple different people and say "Stop making animal products, stop selling animal products in their stores", they do. For the most part they win, and that's really cool. Once they go at something, they really achieve that goal.
So those are definitely three places you can start right there. And check out a DVD called Earthlings, it's at, go to that, there's a trailer on there that's free, watch it. Joaquin Phoenix narrates the whole thing, that's a really interesting documentary. I haven't seen An Inconveniant Truth, but I hear that it's a pretty eye opening piece as well. It's in theatres right now. Yeah, I mean if you just look out there, there's a ton of stuff and a ton of information. You don't have to look very far to find something that's going to open your eyes.
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Big D - I used to date a girl who was vegan, she kind of made me an aspiring vegetarian, but I'm addicted to meat,

Tim- We we're all once addicted to meat.
*Dorian- Well, she had quite a bit of health problems (from not eating enough protein I imagine), most notably an extremely weak immune system, is there anywhere an aspiring vegetarian could learn about a balanced diet?
Tim- PETA again actually.

Joe- They have a vegetarian starter kit. Whether your a vegetarian, carnivore or omnivore, you can eat unhealthy, you just have be careful of what you're eating and watch what your eating, a good balance is the key I think.

Tim- PETA is a good place to start.The literature they provided hardcore bands that I used to see like Earth Crisis....

Big D - 
 Wait, How old are you?

Tim- 27
Big D -  Same here.

Tim- So yeah yeah, you know what I'm talking about, all these bands like Earth Crisis or Snapcase or whoever, they'd bring literature with them. I'd go to buy a CD and a t-shirt and someone would stuff a pamphlet in my pocket, and I was always like "Fuck this. I'm never gonna not eat meat". You know these pamphlets would be in my pocket days later and I'd be waiting for the bus and I'd find it and be like "What is this crap" then you're reading it and you're like "Holy Shit". After a while it actually....It wasn't like I made descison to be a vegetarian it was like I couldn't even stomach it. Like putting the fork to my mouth, I was like "Awwww, I can't fucking eat this anymore". That was when I became a vegetarian and I haven't looked back. But I think even if you cut the amount of meat people eat, I think that's certainly a positive change. You know if they limit the amount of meat in their diet, that makes a huge impact, for sure.
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Big D -  Alright, let's lighten this up a bit, This is your third stint on the Warped Tour (I must have missed you the first time),

Tim- In '03 we did half of it. I don't think we did Florida that year. Then in '04 we did all of it.

Big D -  Right on, what's the difference between touring with 3 bands vs 30?

Tim-Big difference.Everyone assembles there own little cliches,

Big D -  Yeah I kind of noticed that at the dining area. I also noticed after everybody's eaten they put the leftovers out for us derelicts. I scored a mean fruit salad earlier.

Tim- (haha) Cool.

Big D - So, walk us through an ordinary day on the Warped Tour.

Tim- We pull in at like 7 in the morning, all the crew and all the techs wake up, they're up by 8 usually setting up the stages, unloading the gear, just setting up this massive circus out here, you know, then production sets up and gets the schedule going. You don't find out when your playing until about 10:30 -11 that day. So you have no idea when your playing. You could play at noon, you could play at 8 o'clock at night, you won't know until 11. Nobody finds out until then, there's no special privelages whether your NOFX or your the BBQ band, you know it doesn't matter. And um yeah, the whole shit gets rollin' around noon usually, sometimes around 11, sometimes earlier. And then it's a long hot day of loud music and everyone trying to sell you something. But it's a good time, it's alot of fun. You know when the last kid goes home, everyone starts to hang out around 8 o'clock and that's a good time too. We barbecue, and have bonfires and parties and whatever. It's a good chance to meet alot of people you wouldn't normally meet. Tonight we rollout at 11, last night we rolled out at at 1:30 in the morning.

Big D -  Is it a big Warped caravan or what?

Tim- Pretty much, it all depends on how long the drive is the next day.

Big D -  Whereas tourmates NOFX have seemingly written off any hope of reversing the current state of life in America, your lyrics often point to a sense of hope, how do you still have hope after enduring the Bush administration and their all-out disregard for our nation's well being?

Tim- I guess 'cause I still see changes happening, you know what I mean? You certainly see everything from Bush's approval rating, which is changing drasticly nowadays, That's evidence of hope I think. You know what I mean. You see in the news the other day that they're bringing alot of troops home. There's a sense of hope there. You certainly see changes like that happening. People are starting to come around to the fact that this war wasn't justified. It didn't make alot of sense. The reasons that they told us we were going to war, turned out to be different reasons then why we actually went to war. And I think alot of America is waking up to that fact. And to me, there's a sense of hope there. Hope that people are becoming a little more aware of what's going on. Specificlly the war, but there's also alot of things you know that.... there's alot more vegetarians, there's alot more people caring about the enviroment, there's alot more people giving a shit. And all those things are signs of hope.

Big D -  How do we get the kids to stop being so apathetic about politics and get them into the polls?

Tim- I think Rock Against Bush and are certainly a great places for punk rockers to start.

Big D -  Not to mention bands like yourselves

Tim- Definitely Rise Against, we take what we do (which is play music), and we put a message to it. I think that if you take whatever it is you do, you don't have to play in a band, but whatever it is that you excel at, and do it for more reasons other than your own personal agenda and actually give a little bit back to the world you know, I think anybody can do that. No matter what it is that your doing, just give a little bit of yourself to something bigger than you.

Big D -  Do you think punk rock has lost some it's personality now that bands shy away from the poltical aspects in favor of singing about botched relationships, social ineptness and getting a C on their midterms?

Tim- Well there's certainly that aspect to punk right now, which is sort of disheartening. I think there needs to be more of a balance. I mean, if you want to sing about the grade you got on your midterm or your girlfriend breaking up with you that's fine, I was a big fan of Screeching Weasel and.....~I show Tim my Screeching Weasel tattoo~ and so are you, that's cool. I don't think they ever delved into anything too political. I don't think the Decendents did anything political and what a great band. Those are amazingly great bands. I was a huge fan of Jawbreaker and they never really got political either. But there was always a great balance. There was a great balance in punk rock. You would still have bands that talked about important things. Now that balance is sort of skewed it seems. There are alot less bands talking about important issues. And now the whole world is taking that route. You know, there certainly is a place for it but after awhile it gets mundane. I don't bash bands out there for singing about whatever they want to sing about. But as a band that grew up with bands like Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, bands that had an important message, it's kind of disheartening to see the overwhelming number of bands that aren't singing about important things.

Big D -  What do you say to the elitist kids who feel you've (dare I say it) soldout since your move to a major label?

Tim- Labels don't change people, people change people you know what I mean? If your band sold out, they sold out, that's their personal choice. You can blame it on the label they're on, but it was the people in the band. Something that we've learned is that alot of the descisions you make as a band, no matter what label you're on, are still your own descisions. So we make each descision very carefully. If somebody gives you the chance to be heard by 10 times as many people as you are now, who wouldn't jump at that opportunity? That's in line with why we do records and songs and why we did our video, so people could see it. What's the point of doing something if nobody is going to see or hear it. I mean it's great for me to be driving around and hear a song like A Life Less Frightening on the radio. I'm glad radio is playing something like that. People who aren't used to a song challenging their thought process are hearing that song as they're driving to work. I think that's awesome. I get stoked when bands like us or Anti-Flag or Bad Religion are on the radio. I think it's important music people need to hear.

Big D -  If I'm not mistaken Siren Song's art was done by the cult hero Shephard Fairey, how did that come about?
Tim- Shephard, amazing designer. Legendary designer. The Obey campaign is something that's been in skate punk for a long time, so of course it was an honor to work with him and have him be a part of that record. Alot of what he does ties into the theme alot of Siren Song for the Counter Culture. And so it was rad to have him be a part of that. It's cool.

Big D - 
 Sufferer and the Witness has some interesting artwork as well, who's responsible for it?

Tim- This guy named Andrew Zbihlyj out of Vancouver, he has a website called . Amazing designer, I saw one of his political cartoons in a magazine once and I was blown away by it. I gave him a call and he was totally down to do the record. He really loved what we were about. It came out really great. I think it's a really unique cover. He hasn't really done any record covers before so it was cool to get him in on this record. I think it's something different for us and something different as far as the album cover.

Big D - 
 The members of Rise Against have a pedigree in punk, tell us who's who and a brief history of the members former bands.

Joe- Well, I was in 88 Fingers Louie, Brandon is from Pinhead Circus, Chris is from Reach the Sky and Tim here is from Baxter.

Big D -  You guys tour quite alot, how do you maintain your sanity on the 

Tim- We don't lose our minds, we lost them a long time ago. (laughter)

Big D - 
 Although you guys have proven to be quite versatile, Rise Against has a very distinct sound, who are some of your musical influences?

Joe- I'd say Minor Threat, Bad Brains and then bands like Pegboy and Naked Raygun and things like that. I mean we all have pretty eclectic tastes. We all like different things, for different reasons. That's the common ground right there.

Big D -  As a band your often very political, but sometimes shift to very personal subject matter with an underlying sense of honesty. Does writing and performing these songs ever open old wounds emotionally?

Tim- Alot of times when I see a kid singing along with me, and I see something that's from my past that I've gotten over and wrote about, documenting it in a song, say off the Unraveling you know, when I see a the kid singing along, I can see it in their eyes that this kid is going through it right now at this exact moment and it means alot to him. And it certainly reminds me of why I wrote that song and those things certainly come to life on stage for sure. That's what makes playing in this band an emotional process. For the most part everything that I've sung about I did for that exact reason, to put it in my past. It's very therapeutic.

Big D -  What's up with the Journey (Any Way You Want It) cover at the end of RPM? I myself have never been overly fond of them, but you guys just rock it.

Tim- I don't think any of us were Journey fans either, but everyone knows Journey. They know Journey songs, they're just engrained into your system somewhere. We were driving from Chicago to Fort Collins to do RPM,  Me, Joe & Todd in the van and Brandon was following us in his car and we had toyed around with covers at our live shows like Minor Threat and Black Flag, and Creedance Clearwater Revival.

Big D -  Whoa, what CCR song?

Tim- Yeah, we did Fortunate Son.

Big D - A punk rock staple.

Tim- Yeah, on tour we did alot of songs. They were alot of fun for us to play but alot of our fans didn't know them. Alot of our fans don't know Minor Threat songs and that's really a bummer. We thought "Oh man, the kids are gonna go crazy", and people would be like "What are they playing?" So it was sort of in desperation, we were like "fuck it, let's just do a Journey song". We had Journey's greatest hits playing in the van on that ride from Chicago to Fort Collins to do our record. And that song came on while we were having that conversation and we were like "What if we just covered this"? And everyone was like "whatever, let's do it". And we did it, so I think we did it out of frustration, we also did it to show, you know, we're a very serious band and sing about alot of serious things but we also have a sense of humor. We're all just like everybody else, we like to have a good time. So covering a Journey song was like "hey we like to have a good time".

Big D -  Obviously performing every day has got to take a toll on your voice when you're on tour, what do you do to keep your pipes healthy?

Tim- I warm up before I go on, and try to warm down when I'm done. Try not to stay out too late, avoid loud smokey bars. These sets (at Warped Tour) are pretty easy, 30 minutes, no big deal. But we play for 1:15 when we headline usually. That's when I have to be real careful about it. It's really just basic shit, stay hydrated, stay healthy, that's what it's all about. Your voice is simply another element of your entire system. Stay healthy and your voice will stay healthy. When you get sick, and you don't eat right or whatever, it shows.

Big D -  Yeah you guys got my voice at the Friday show, man I was out there screaming along with you guys, hell of a show.

Tim- Thanks.

Big D - 
 Ok, let's finish this, What kind of gameplan do you gents have for the future?

Joe- Touring! Ha! Touring, touring and more touring.

Tim- Finishing up Warped Tour, UK, Europe, back to the States for a tour, Australia, Canada
*Dorian- Antartica?

Tim- Maybe. We'll be on tour for the next year pretty much.
*Dorian- Well, I really appreciate your time.

Tim- Cool, cool

Joe- Yeah man our pleasure.

Big D -  Alright good luck!

Tim & Joe- Yeah man back at ya.

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