Rise Against are maybe the most important punk band on the planet. They’re certainly one of the best. Since 1999 the Chicago band have taken their sharp, severe left, politically astute punk rock around and around and around the globe, connecting with an audience that, like the band, have had enough of this shit. And, with last year’s excellent 'Wolves', their eighth studio album, more people are now listening to Rise Against’s message than ever before.
They’ve just released ‘Ghost Note Symphonies Vol 1’. a collection of their best or most interesting songs, reworked and reimagined. What better time, then, to catch-up with singer and rhythm guitarist Tim McIlrath.
Hello Tim. Where’s your head at right now?
“The thing that depresses me most about the state of world, is that it appears we’re moving away from progress. We’re becoming a less evolved civilisation, where ideas like racism, sexism and fascism are getting traction again. At the same time, what excites me, is how many people are standing up and resisting these ideas. There’s a whole generation saying, ‘that is not the world in which I want to live’. I think what’s happening right now is a reminder that apathy will always come back and bite you in the ass. Ideas like racism and sexism never went away. They’re ideas we must always resist. Every time we ignore them, they inch forward…”
How did ‘Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1’ come about?
“Well, we’ve had an idea like that for years. I always thought one day we’d get around to it. Then we had a gap in our schedule last winter and the label asked if we wanted to be back in the studio. We didn’t have anything new, so it came about that way. We did it Colorado in January with Bill Stevenson from Black Flag. It’s a lot of new territory for us, reworking the songs like we have, and I’m really proud of it. I’m especially proud of what we did with the song Faint Resemblance. It was the last song on our first record [‘The Unravelling’, 2001] and we recorded it using a ukulele I had lying around the house that my daughter was learning to play. A seventeen-year-old punk rock song recorded on ukulele!”
You worked with Indecline to make the video for Megaphone. I don’t know who they are…
“They’re an underground activist group. They work with street art a lot. They’re all anonymous. We met because they’d already done a lot of stuff independent of us, using Rise Against songs to soundtrack their videos. We thought “what if we actually did something together?” Getting our record label to pay for it was the hard part. We’re on Capitol Records and they didn’t want to put their name to it. We ended up paying for it ourselves. The person we talk to at our label is normally a pretty cool person, into the same stuff we are, but it’s when they have to involve the legal department that things get difficult. I always just picture a room of people in suits, saying ‘No’. In my experience, it’s normally better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”
You’ve also recently worked with Tom Morello and Steve Aoki on a song that’s due to feature on Tom’s forthcoming solo record. What was that like?
“It was pretty amazing. The song is called How Long. Tom came to me at the eleventh hour saying he’d written a song with Steve Aoki but that it didn’t have any vocal on it, and would I like to be part of it. They just wanted to take a short sample of my voice, but when I actually heard the song I heard all of these things in it I could do. They asked for a little, but they got a lot! I don’t really know anything about that EDM and DJ world, but I trust Tom’s compass.”
I’ve got to ask. You say that Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1 came about because your label asked if you wanted to go into the studio. Where are you at with a properly new Rise Against album?
“It’s not time yet. We haven’t turned the page. We’re still focusing on touring Wolves. In lots of ways, the politics on that record become more relevant to me every time I open a newspaper. I like to think our band talk about the problems the world faces, but also the roads that might lead to problems. Like a warning siren. It’s kind of eerie to me that lots of things I thought might happen when we were writing Wolves have sadly gone on to. But like I say, being on the road, meeting the people we do… it’s inspiring seeing so much resistance.”
‘Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1’ as well as ‘Wolves’ are both available to buy or stream now.