Rise Against: Image is Nothing

With the release of their second major label offering The Sufferer & The Witness, Chicago’s Rise Against have cemented themselves as a punk rock tour-de-force; releasing one consistently strong album after another. They’ve brought a heightened sense of awareness to the masses and unlike some of their counterparts whose form “rebellion” comes packaged and produced, Rise Against share their message the old fashioned way- by touring like there’s no tomorrow. With the new record making waves and an ever-increasing tour itinerary, Tim McIlrath recently had a chat with Sound the Sirens about their current role in the musical landscape and how honesty in what they do, means everything to them and their fans.

The Sufferer & The Witness is a fantastic record through and through; did a lot of its success come from learning from recording Siren Song…?

McIlrath: To be honest, what I think really helped shape this record was the fact that we didn’t over-think it too much. We wrote these songs in a very short period of time, and they just seemed to flow out of us. With few exceptions, these songs just seemed to write themselves and the roads that we chose to follow with each one were clearly marked. That said, we certainly learn something every time we record, so our Siren Song sessions played a role in our continuing education on how to be this band.

Did the approach to the new material differ to what you’ve done in the past?

McIlrath: I think just being in a good place, mentally, really had a huge impact on this record. We were over label transitions and member changes and becoming acquainted with new people we work with and we found ourselves really happy with our situation all around. We are surrounded by supportive people and supportive fans and that helped fuel these songs. We were able to focus 100% on the music and keep our heads completely in the game. But we’ve approached each record the same, regardless of what label put it out.

It must have been a blast working with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore.

McIlrath: Bill and Jason are the best production team in punk rock right now; no one can touch them. In addition to that, they are some of this band’s best friends and fifth and sixth members, so it was really the most ideal situation.

Your music is more than just about social change. There are songs about personal issues, human emotion, and a constant struggle to find our place in life.

McIlrath: That’s because there is more to life than social change, and our songs have been about life. Social change is definitely a predominant theme to a lot of what we do, but we don’t ignore the fact that we are all human and have emotions and feelings that transcend anything political. Life is complex, and I think our songs span those complexities.

Is that what songs like Injection are about? In a way, finding ourselves in this vast world?

McIlrath: Definitely.

Has politics and “rebellion,” in the wake of the Green Days of the world, become a rather “commercialized entity” not so much a “force for change” anymore? Can it still be?

McIlrath: Rebellion and revolution will always be commercialized once it reaches a certain point of exposure. Revolution has been and will be commodified and sold back to us by big business. The system is not afraid of the rhetoric of revolution; that shit has been floating around since the days of the hippies. What they fear is education. That’s why subversive music, literature and art are so important. This type of artistic output is definitely a force of change and I hope that its torch is carried to the next generation, as it was carried to people like me from the previous generation.

What sorts of projects are you involved with outside of music?

McIlrath: You need only to peek at our tour schedule to know that we don’t have a life outside of music. We’ve chosen an occupation that really doesn’t allow for such luxuries unless you’re a giant rockstar who can afford to take vacations from the road. In the wake of downloading and filesharing, the only way we keep a roof over our heads is through constant touring.

It’s been seven years since you came together. How true are you to the original vision now? Are you where you expected to be after seven years?

McIlrath: To be honest, there was no real original vision. We just started playing together for fun. We didn’t map any of this out and I honestly never thought it would ever get this big. The ideas around this band just sort of manifested themselves as we continued to write and play. We’ve always been honest with our fans and ourselves and we’ve never relied on an image or a gimmick. In that sense, Rise Against is it’s own monster, and we are just vessels of what it’s become. We’ve grown with our fanbase and they’ve played a significant role in fueling what we started years ago.

With the popularity of earlier albums, and an ever-growing diehard fanbase, do you ever find yourselves making decisions/changes because you don’t want to let your fans down?

McIlrath: Our fans mean the world to us, and we trust that they would never want us to compromise anything in our drive to be ourselves and be true to ourselves. Obviously, there are people who don’t always understand that, but I’m not out here trying desperately to please everyone. I’m out here to be myself and to give something back to a scene that gave me so much.

Where’s your favorite place to gig on tour? Chicago, maybe?

McIlrath: We have so many favorites. Chicago is certainly a favorite for obvious reasons. To play on the same stages that we saw so many of our favorite bands play on, that’s a great feeling. Canada, Denver, San Diego, and Australia have shown us a lot of love as well.

What sorts of things outside of music inspire you to do what you do at the moment?

McIlrath: Reading. I think literature is such an important part of life. There’s an endless fountain of knowledge out there and books like Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 have as much to with the person I am as bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag. That’s why there’s a short reading list inside the liner notes of our new record.

Rise Against’s latest album, The Sufferer & The Witness is out now on Geffen.