After the success of their recent record "The Sufferer and the Witness", the melodic punk/hardcore scene's favourites, Rise Against, continue to promote their political ideas with a keen emphasis on provoking thought rather than sloganeering and preaching. Our man Graham put together some questions for frontman Tim McIlrath; here's what he said.
Scene Point Blank: The new CD "The Sufferer and the Witness" sees a fairly wide range; from a spoken word short story written on a tour with the Mad Caddies in 'The Approaching Curve', to the band's softer bits and a duet with Emily Schambra in 'Roadside', to your classic melodic punk sound of the first single. So tell me a bit about where all of these concepts came from?
Tim: Well those specific concepts came pretty naturally as we were writing the songs. Roadside was a song I'd been working on for awhile. It started as a part that I thought might fit into a different song, and it slowly became it's own monster. We weren't planning on including it in the record, but after playing it for Bill and talking about it, we decided to work on it and see what comes out. After playing around with the song and putting it together, we just started hearing female vocals on the song, as well as some other songs. Emily plays in a band called Holy Roman Empire and is a friend, so we decided to fly her out to the studio so she could grace us with her beautiful voice. It came out amazing, and she actually sang on a few other songs on the record if you listen closely. The Approaching Curve was a song we had written together, instrumentally, but I never added lyrics or vocals to it until we arrived in the studio. I just had a lot on my plate as far as songs we were working on, so I put that one off. By the time I got around to working on it, I was brainstorming ideas, and I had done so much singing around that time, that it sounded like fun to try something different, so I did.
Scene Point Blank: The major topic with you guys as of late has seemed to be over the 'Ready to Fall' video. I'm sure I'm not the first to ask this one, and I know you covered it briefly on your website, but would you mind explaining the video in general, its PETA connection, and the reason you chose present all this imagery?
Tim: The video is definitely an environmental piece, and a comment on what is going on in our world right now. So much of what is happening to our environment is just not shown on TV or presented to the public, and we were given the opportunity to do just that. It's a huge privilege for someone to say, "Here's some money to make a video, and we'll do all we can to get it on TV where you will have the chance to share whatever you want to millions of people. So what are you going to share?" With that, we decided that instead of strippers and SUVs or videos of us looking like rock-stars, we wanted to use this specific video to expose people to some real life imagery about the suffering that our world endures everyday. There's also a lot of truth to the expression 'a picture is worth thousand words'. Sometimes we can talk until we are blue in the face about the world's problems, but until you see these images, some people don't really get it. I was one of those people. It took movies like "Meat Is Murder" for ideas like vegetarianism to sink in. Our video manages to show the viewer these images without interjecting an opinion into the subject matter. That allows the viewers to decide for themselves about how they feel about what's happening in the video.
Scene Point Blank: Rise Against was involved heavily with the Punk Voter, and the Rock Against Bush campaigns. During that time we saw a lot of bands, and people, who had never necessarily been involved politically take strong stances on significant social issues. After Bush won the election, and now a few years after that fact, there has been a large decline within the punk community, and the population in general, in reaction towards these same issues. As a band that has been socially conscious from the beginning how do you react to this dramatic change in various scenes across North America?
Tim: It was very encouraging to see so many people and bands within the punk community really amped on politics, change and awareness during the last election, but I think most of us knew that wouldn't last. But for some people and bands, it did have a profound effect on them and they have stuck around and held fast to their ideals long after the hype was gone. That, in itself, is a victory for punk. We didn't change everything, but we changed something and left a lasting impact on many people.
Scene Point Blank: So what do you think is the aftermath of the Anti Bush Bandwagon?
Tim: I think the problems of this world are so much bigger than the Bush Administration. Bush is simply one element to a much bigger problem. I think so much of the Anti-Bush movement led people to believe that the world's problems would be solved if we could just get Bush out of office. But, in reality, we need so much more than that. While the Anti-Bush Bandwagon definitely attracted people who were simply in it to be a part of the flavor of the week, it also served to motivate a mass amount of people and introduce politics into their lives, and for that, I don't think it should be discounted.
Scene Point Blank: A lot of people seem to lose interest in political/social consciousness because they don't know what to do with it. What would you suggest to those looking to become actively involved?
Tim: Find something that is close to your heart, and a place where you feel like you can be effective. I'm a big believer in the fact that sometimes revolution happens more often at kitchen tables than it does at some imaginary 'front line'. Revolution happens when you are sitting there with a friend or a family member and speaking your mind and questioning what is happening around you. It happens every time you stop someone after they make a racist or sexist or homophobic joke and tell them why it is wrong to do that. There are lots of places to be actively involved, and it's very easy to become overwhelmed with the world's problems. When I feel frustrated I remember two things: 1) Just because you can't change everything, doesn't mean you shouldn't try to change anything, and 2) the lyric in the Minor Threat song 'In My Eyes': "You tell me that I make no difference, but at least I'm fucking trying".
Scene Point Blank: Almost all the independent reviews and interviews I've read have been quick to mention your association with Geffen label, or how your songs have appeared in video games, or on certain compilations, and the like. Though you've explained the major label conflict many times, with the numerous naysayers out there do you ever feel the need to justify any of your actions as a band?
Tim: I think all of the justifications we ever felt we needed to provide are in our records, our music, our lyrics, and our actions.
Scene Point Blank: In a previous interview you were quoted as saying that you didn't feel many bands were carrying the torch of true punk rock ideology, and a lot of that feeling was being lost. As we've digested a growing number of pop punk bands, as well as the growth in popularity with bands such as yourselves, do you feel that statement still holds true? Who do you think is doing it right?
Tim: I really try to focus on the positive parts of the punk scene instead falling into the bottom-less pit of people who get lost in their own shit-talking about our scene or the current state of punk. That said, obviously there are some aspects of the punk scene today, especially some bands, that can be very frustrating for someone like myself to witness. But you can't discount the fact that there is a scene out here that is very much alive and vibrant and thriving on subversive material. There are people out here that are working hard to open so many eyes and it's working. Bands like Strike Anywhere, Anti-Flag, Against Me!, Boysetsfire, Pennywise, the International Noise Conspiracy, Propaghandi, and NOFX are reaching so many people everyday. Those bands are just examples of some of the bigger bands out here, but there are so many smaller bands that I?m not even aware of and bands that are starting everyday, inspired by some of the above bands. There are local bands that are just as relevant, regardless of how big their crowds are or how many records they sell.
Scene Point Blank: When I told my girlfriend I'd be doing this interview she replied with "Rise Against? They're that band that does the cute 'Swing Life Away' one, right?" Ironically a lot of the success of 'Siren Song Of The Counter Culture' came because of that single As a band with a melodic hardcore sound, how do you react to those who simply know you for that song?
Tim: I hope that a song like that, which I'm very proud of and stand by, may serve as a gateway drug to our band and lead people to the rest of our songs and records and hopefully a show, and not just one song.
Scene Point Blank: One of your ambitions as a band was to get over to South Africa and help with Aids awareness, as well as some fundraising. Are you any closer to that goal?
Tim: We had one tour fall through prematurely due to circumstances beyond our control, but since then we've met with another promoter who is trying to bring us over. Our schedule is busier this year than ever, so we are having a challenging enough time trying to play for our existing fans in areas of the world like the UK/Europe/Australia/Japan much less try to break ground in new areas like South Africa. But it remains on our grand 'to-do' list.
Scene Point Blank: We'll close up with a couple of one liners: If the fans take any message away from your music what would you want it to be? If you could suggest any piece of literature to read, what would it be, and why? And lastly why should people listen to Rise Against?
Tim: I'd like to think that our band puts forth a message of change and awareness; and the belief that both of these ideas are within our grasp. Books? I just recently read the book 'Ishmael' which a really interesting read that I'm glad someone turned me on to. Why should people listen to Rise Against? Because they want to. I'm not out here to sell myself to anyone, and our band is not meant for everyone.
Scene Point Blank: Anything you'd like to add?
Tim: Much love to all the Rise Against fans out there, you guys never cease to amaze me.