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Interview: Rise Against

At Download 2022, we had a backstage chat with Rise Against vocalist Tim McIlrath.

Tim tells us what made him want to discuss social justice issues in their music, and if there’s ever been an issue he was afraid to talk about – plus, how he predicted the pandemic (kind of) in new track ‘Last Man Standing’…

You guys are pretty much Download veterans at this point – this is your 5th time playing. What’s your favourite Download memory?

Tim: I remember specifically 2012, the Black Sabbath and Soundgarden year. That was a lot of fun. Soundgarden had reunited, I was watching them play and I just remember how amazing they were. And then Black Sabbath too, it was cool to see them play close to where they’re from. I felt very lucky to be able to witness that. That was my favourite Download.

Rise Against have always spoken out about important topics. Was there anything in particular that made you want your music to be a force for change?

Tim: I guess I grew up on punk and hardcore music, that was the kind of music that interested me when I was young. That triggered my interest in music: I didn’t have guitar hero, rock star dreams, it was about the power of music to change minds or inform people, that was what was interesting to me. So I knew that if I was given a microphone, that was what I’d want to do with it. This band is just an extension of the music I grew up on.

Has there even been any issue you’ve written about that made you second guess, ‘maybe I shouldn’t talk about this’?

Tim: Oh, that’s an interesting one! You know, it’s dicier now than it was before, but I’ve never thought twice about saying anything. That’s a good question… When we were younger playing in this band in the punk and hardcore scene, there were so many times where it felt like we were preaching to the converted. Everyone kind of agreed with us. If there was a critique of what we were doing, it was that “Rise Against are preaching to the choir, their fans already agree with them, is it really that controversial that they’re against the war in Iraq? Is it really courageous for their singer to say that in front of his fans?”. So you always look for ways to create friction and get people to really think about the world around them.

Then, as we became more mainstream, the things I was saying that I thought were very normal became a bit more controversial, because we were playing to the everyman. Now I feel like, even in punk rock and hardcore, there’s a lot of conservative thinking that’s made their way into these scenes. So now our messages do have a little more weight. There was a time you could accuse us of preaching to the converted, but that time has kinda gone. There are people listening to my band that have views I would really like to address. It pains me to think that there are people who listen to my music and make conclusions that are the opposite of what I’m saying. It’s a different world nowadays, but it’s a new challenge.

You’ve just dropped new EP ‘Nowhere Generation II’, after ‘Nowhere Generation’ came out last year. How did this happen, were these tracks left on the cutting room floor?

Tim: I’ll tell ya what happened: little secret, ‘Nowhere Generation’ was originally 16 songs. Then the pandemic happened. We also knew 16 songs was a lot of songs. Someone smarter than me said “let’s break ’em apart, into 11 songs and 5 songs. Let’s release the 5 when we know we can tour overseas”. Because at that point, touring overseas was a fantasy, we didn’t know if it was ever gonna happen again. And we knew that if it did happen, it would be at least a year after the album came out. So we thought instead of showing up to the shores of the UK with a 12 month old record, let’s show up with some brand new material. So we shelved those 5 songs, and unveiled them just now.

So you were always planning to release them?

Tim: Oh they were always going to come out. They weren’t B-sides, in fact some of them were some of the better songs! We just saved them, to inject a new breath of life into a year old album for our international fans. Europe is a huge part of our story, a huge part of who we are. We have a family of fans out here.

Let’s talk about the new single, ‘Last Man Standing’.

Tim: Today was the second time we ever performed it! We played it in Prague 2 nights ago for the first time. The first time we were nervous, but today we really had fun. A director named Ryan Valdez did the video. The story behind it is just really enduring the elements around you, and committing to still being there after the storm passes.

It was written before COVID, but it’s weird how some of the lines make even more sense now. “Today the world looks like a broken toy, once capable of endless joy”: I look at that now like, whoa, no one’s gonna believe that I wrote this before COVID! But Rise Against has always been dystopian in nature, and like any good dystopia, you’re trying to predict where we’re gonna go. I didn’t think I’d be as dead on as I ended up being, though!

We had a blast at Download 2022 – but tickets for DL2023 are on sale now! It takes place in Donington Park on 8th-11th June.