Rise Against have steadily risen in popularly from their punk and hardcore roots into a major label backed group that nearly topped the Billboard charts. In spite of their success the band has continued to set forth a political-minded assault on the music world. Scene Point Blank corresponded with vocalist Tim McIlrath about the band's latest full-length, Appeal to Reason.
Scene Point Blank: Since the last time the site had a chance to speak with you Rise Against have seen a fairly significant increase in popularity. Though there has always been an ardent political theme to your music, does the idea of more people listening change the way you write lyrics? Do you feel as if it has made you rethink the focus of your songs?
Tim McIlrath: I guess I can see that, from an outside perspective, we might appear to be getting significantly more popular, but from the inside, it's still a very slow and gradual process that is allowing us to grow into without too many growing pains. We've been fortunate enough to do everything on our own terms, which has made doing all of this a lot of fun and pretty easy and natural. The only thing I approach differently lyrically is that I try hard not to repeat myself. I'm sure I fail inevitably in some ways, but I make a conscious effort not to have our records be redundant. I want to plug into culture right now as it is happening and have the record be a reflection of that culture, while maintaining the roots of punk and hardcore, where we came from. It's a tricky balance, and only the listener can really decide if we accomplish it.
Scene Point Blank: Who do you write the songs for - yourself or for the people who will eventually listen?
Tim McIlrath: I guess the simple answer is both. But it's important to note that we don't cater to anybody specifically. We write what we want and what we think people might be able to relate to. We've been lucky that apparently what we like is also what the fans like, so it's easy.
Scene Point Blank: With a growing popularity there may be some fans who are less concerned about the message/themes behind your music, and are just looking for something rocking to listen to. How do you react to that?
Tim McIlrath: I think that tide is turning. I think the fact that a band like us had the third best selling record in America the week it came out is evidence of that. I don't think we hit #3 on Billboard because we are so awesome or something like that, I think it's a wake up call that people are looking for something deeper in their music. I mean we never expected to even crack the Billboard charts. People are attracted to music because it reflects the complex emotions of human beings, and makes us feel a certain way. Right now, we live in uncertain times, and some people want music that reflects that, not music that ignores that. That's encouraging.
Scene Point Blank: We recently saw the release of the music video for "Re Education." The imagery used in the video suggests a drastic stance to the problems faced in every day society, with a fictional bike gang eventually setting fire to a city. While I know that the video works as a metaphor, would you mind explaining to me how its concept came about and how you think it reflects the band/song?
Tim McIlrath: The video starts with a quote from JFK that says "Those who make non-violent revolution impossible only make violent revolution inevitable." That's the jumping off point for the video. The video takes you on a journey with a fictional group of people who represent someone who has been muzzled by America, someone who has been left with no options. When people are backed into a corner, they take desperate measures. This video is about those desperate measures, as a reminder that we need to fight for the freedoms to voice opinions, lest the voiceless lash out in other ways.
Scene Point Blank: Though I know a lot of the subject was addressed in the "making of" that can be found on your website, is there any fear of negative reaction from those who might view it as a "pro-bombing" message?
Tim McIlrath: We can't hold every viewers hand through everything we do, and we can't hold back from creating something important even if it might be controversial. MTV plays videos that degrade women, glorify gang violence and suicide, and emphasize that money is the answer to all your problems. It's hard to jar people awake and get them talking, and it takes a strong video to do that.
Scene Point Blank: The JFK quote used at the beginning of the "Re Education" video suggests that violence might be needed when a peaceful revolution is impossible. I know I touched on this the last time we had the opportunity to talk, but do you feel that awareness in activism is enough? Is it necessary to do more than just understand problems/does knowledge force you to act?
Tim McIlrath: I don't think that JFK was suggesting that violence is ever needed. JFK was warning that if we don't allow people to protest, to voice their opinions, and even encourage that, than people will look for other ways to make their voice heard. I think violence is the inevitable response to irresponsible government. People are only going to watch so many documentaries about election fraud, healthcare, and the illegal occupation of Iraq before they get fed up. It's time these people get listened to, because if no one listens to them, the alternative is ugly.
Scene Point Blank: The last time an election was being held in the U.S. there was a huge up cry from the punk community in regards to an Anti-Bush stance. Though the stakes on the current election seem as high or higher than the last, we've seen fewer people making statements in regards to politics. Why do you think this is?
Tim McIlrath: I think these statements are being made, but mass media tends to ignore them. I wish more of the music and art of today reflected the tumultuous time we live in, but I also think that people like Strike Anywhere or Banksy or Amy Goodman are doing a great job getting the word out. I think the Bush Administration has done a pretty effective job of scaring people into silence, and that is only beginning to thaw now.
Scene Point Blank: There is a really great quote you had that said, "When you leave people without options there are repercussions, and maybe you leave people with one option." Do you think it takes a drastic change to get the general population to pay attention to anything?
Tim McIlrath: Unfortunately I think that is the case sometimes. Perhaps if any good comes out of the last eight years it will be a country hungry for change.
Scene Point Blank: What do you think the effects of another conservative might be on America?
Tim McIlrath: I really don't want to think about that. I think it could get ugly.
Scene Point Blank: On a lighter note, the band recently did a cover of "Making Christmas" for Nightmare Revisited. Can you tell me how that came about?
Tim McIlrath: We get approached to do lots of covers, and we usually turn them down. But we loved this movie and its legacy, which is strangely intertwined with the punk scene, so we jumped at the chance. Danny Elfman is a brilliant composer, so for a bunch of punks to take a stab at his work was certainly challenging, but in the end, and with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore's help, we were all really happy. We even got a note from Danny Elfman the other day saying he loved our version! Listen for Bill Stevenson singing on it too, it's brilliant.
Scene Point Blank: I also came across a version of Rise Against doing the former "Weeds" theme song, was that ever going to be used on the show?
Tim McIlrath: I don't know; we're not sure to be honest. We were not only fans of the show but also fans of the song and its tongue-in-cheek message about suburban sprawl. It was right up our alley. I'm not sure our version was up their alley though!
Scene Point Blank: "Hairline Fracture" has a coloration with Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio fame. What was it like working with him in a studio setting?
Tim McIlrath: This isn't true, though it's a great idea!
Scene Point Blank: I'd like to see if the answer of this question has changed since the last time I asked it. If the fans take any message from your music, what would you like it to be?
Tim McIlrath: I don't know what I said last time, but I would like people to take away the idea that change is possible, and it takes each of us to create the awareness that will be its foundation.
Scene Point Blank: Thanks very much for taking the time to do this. Anything you'd like to add?
Tim McIlrath: Thanks to all of our amazing fans, we're glad everyone is digging the new record and we can't wait to play your town.
- Official Website: http://www.riseagainst.com