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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

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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.

Interviews

Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool

We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single

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On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.

It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.

I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.

Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.

They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.

“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves

– Jenna maranga, okay cool

Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”

“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”

Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?

Listen to “Back To You”

Okay Cool’s new single “Back To You” will be available July 10th on all streaming services. You can find more Okay Cool on their website, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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Interviews

A New Tomorrow: An interview with Lee Resistant & The Lost

Lee Resistant & The Lost find life in old songs and a path to a new tomorrow

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Sometimes you have to look into the past to find the future. It is a sentiment that UK transplant Lee Resistant understands quite well. Once a member of UK punk band Fletcher, Lee has found new life in old songs, revisiting material he wrote for his previous bands while giving them a new sheen for current times. With a solo career established, Lee Resistant formed his latest outfit, Lee Resistant & The Lost, during the close of 2017. He found that some of his old material not only held up over time, but still had much to give in way of connecting with new listeners.

Now with two EPs under their belts, Lee Resistant & The Lost are finding that sometimes looking back into your past is a great way to move forward. Their latest EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, features reworked and re-recorded songs from Lee’s previous efforts, songs that are part of the catalyst that propels the band towards all new material on the horizon.

We spoke to Lee Resistant not long after the release of their new EP and talked the past, the present, and the future.

The EP has been out for a little bit now- you’ve been getting a good response to it- how does it feel?

It feels really good, the reaction we’ve had to it so far has been very positive. The songs themselves had a good reaction when they were originally released back in the day, so the issue for me was releasing re-recorded versions that I felt had to be better than the originals, otherwise what would be the point?

The lead track “Least Resistant” is a rework of a Fletcher track from back in 2003- are the other songs on the EP as well or were they songs you had written outside of the band?

“Least Resistant” and “Where Would You Run?” are from the 2003 Fletcher full-length My Revenge, and “Wishlist” is from the 2002 Six Track Sound EP. “For The Few” is a song I wrote for the band I started after coming to Canada, RUCKS, which was active from 2007-2009. Brian (bass) and Alex (drums) from LRATL were in that band too, so we have a long history of playing together now.

Share with us a little of your reasons why you’re looking at some of these songs you wrote and giving them a revisit and re-recording.

I’ve been concentrating on playing solo acoustic shows for the last few years but, really, I’ve always been a ‘band’ guy, so when I decided I wanted to end 2018 with a full band show it was a chance to dust off a few of my favorite songs from the back catalog, several of which I never actually sang back in those days! It was exciting because I genuinely never thought I’d get to play those songs in a band situation again, and I think they’re great songs that stand the test of time.

With regard to recording them, I’d been writing for a LRATL full-length, and the collection of songs I have for it feel like a more solid piece of work together, so I didn’t really want to cull a separate EP from it. Revisiting some of the older material seemed like a perfect way to bridge the gap between my musical past to where I’m at now, and also break the guys into my production process with a little less pressure! [laughs]

Thirteen Years Gone By…

Tell us a little bit about your history with Fletcher- you guys were together from a few years from 2000-2005?

That’s right. We were signed to Deck Cheese Records in the UK at the tail end of 2001 and Pyropit Records in Japan in either late 2003 or early 2004. We got to do a lot of cool stuff and played with most of my favorite bands… I have really good memories of those days, and it felt like we were on the cusp of doing so much more when things pretty much fell apart. We were touring as much as we could while holding down full-time jobs at the same time, and things were basically at the point where the next opportunity on the table would have involved quitting our jobs and going on the road for three and a half months across North America and, from my viewpoint at least, that seemed like too much of a chance to take for the other guys.

Did it end on good terms?

For me, no it didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because I’m stubborn or a complete asshole, but Fletcher played our last show together on July 17th, 2005 and I walked out of the venue afterwards and didn’t talk to any of the others for ten years. For me, playing music has never been about being famous, or getting rich, or any of that bullshit, but I think the disappointment of seeing what we could have done together collapse was really hard to take at that particular time.

You’re originally from the UK- what prompted the move to Canada?

Hahaha, let’s just say MySpace has a lot to answer for, and leave it at that!!

How did Lee Resistant & The Lost get started?

LRATL actually started as a solo recording project at the end of 2017. I was writing songs that I was hearing in my head as ‘full band’ productions more than strictly acoustic material, so my aim was to put out a song on the first of every month for the whole of 2018. That was a pretty ambitious schedule at that time, so it ended up being a five-song EP called 42/43. I have the word LOST tattooed on the knuckles of my right hand, so I called the project Lee Resistant & The Lost, as it was basically me and my right hand doing everything! [laughs]

Putting the band together with Jakob, Brian and Alex for that 2018 show was a bit of a revelation, and I was like “this feels REALLY good!”, and it’s progressed from there.

So my favorite track on the new EP is “For the Few”- how did that song come together?

I think “For The Few” was written in late ’07/ early ’08. We were doing shows at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 28 in Chatham, Ontario, and there was a mural thing on the back wall with the Laurence Binyon poem ‘For The Fallen’ on it. That World War One poetry has always resonated with me for some reason, so it got me thinking about people of all walks of life who have laid down their lives or sacrificed everything they have, for something they believe in. I think there is no more honor in life than that, so “For The Few” is my humble tribute to them.

I really enjoyed the EP- but it’s not the most recent music you’ve released- as a solo artist, you co-released an EP with Curt Murder. How did that collaboration come about?

Yeah, I kinda screwed up my scheduling and both records were out within a week of each other! Curt and I have been buddies for a while and we’d been planning to do a split since August of last year, so once we figured out when we could get together I recorded it at my home studio in Chatham. Curt runs Reel Too Real Records, which is a DIY, cassette-based, limited run deal, so we released it via that and digital. The record is called Split The Difference, basically because we look like brothers! Haha

The song on there- “Over and Out”- it’s brilliant- evoking, haunting. Do you approach songwriting as a solo artist different to when you write for The Lost?

Thank you, I appreciate that! My approach to songwriting tends to stay the same… I’m not one of those people that records or writes down every single idea I ever have in the hopes of making something out of them. To me, that’s a recipe for utter crap! [laughs]

If  ideas come to me I will keep them in my head, and if they’re good then I will remember them. Some songs come together pretty quickly, but others will make themselves known to me when the time is right. It’s a pretty fluid process for me, and I feel like more of a conduit than a ‘composer’ most of the time. I never force a song just for the sake of getting it done, I still have unfinished songs from 2011 or so kicking around in my skull.. they’ll let me know when they’re ready!

You’re currently working on new material for Lee Resistant & The Lost- how have these currently reworked songs helped shape the material and the direction for the new music?

It’s more like the new material helped shape the reworking of the old songs… I feel a bit more capable as a writer and arranger these days, and I find I ‘hear’ a lot more layers within songs but also have more of an ability to manifest those ideas too.

When are you hoping to have the new album done by?

The current plan is to have the full-length finished by the fall, and hopefully find a label willing to put it out early next year. We’re going to do a standalone single release in early September to keep things ticking over, and a video for ‘Where Would You Run?’ from ‘Thirteen Years Gone By…’ is in production at the moment. I’m also figuring out my next acoustic record, and I do everything DIY so there’s plenty to keep me busy! [laughs]

Lee Resistant & The Lost’s new EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, is out now. Stream and purchase via Bandcamp. Photo by: Chris Forrest at Synicalist Photography.

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