Let’s face it: you don’t want to read an intro to this interview. You’d much rather cut straight to the interview with Tim McIlrath of Rise Against – one of the most charged and prolific bands of recent times. So, I’ll cut right to the chase. Suffice it to say, however, that Tim is quite articulate, intelligent, focused, and as both a fan and admirer, conducing an interview with him was one of the most pleasing experiences I’ve had thus far, while working on SPS.
DT: You guys have an album out this year. Can you give us the inside scoop, as to what it’s all about?
Tim: Sure. It’s called Siren Song of the Counter Culture. We did the whole record up in Vancouver with Garth Richardson. The central theme of the record is sort of… about the time in any person’s life when their identity is kinda starting
to take root – they’re starting to become their own person. That time in your life where you decide whether you’re going to join the volleyball team or you’re gonna start skateboarding. The time in your life where you’re gonna listen to this
music or this music – you know what I mean? Like what you do with your time, and what you want to do with your life – you know what I mean? I think everybody, and especially Rise Against fans, have been at that crossroads in their life, where it’s gonna be either go one way or another. That’s what The Siren Song of the Counter Culture is all about, as being part of Punk rock or part of a counter culture, or part of a culture that goes against mainstream culture. So, that’s something I went through, something the guys in the band went through, something I think a lot of our fans went through, so it’s kind of the essential theme of the record.
DT: Did the last album meet up to your expectations and hopes? And I’ve read that you claim it was more mature than maybe your previous stuff. And we’re wondering, did the fans react to it the way you wanted?
Tim: The last record? It surpassed our expectations by tenfold. We had no idea people would really embrace that record the way they did. We couldn’t hope for that. It was just amazing. We had a lot of fun with the unravelling, we did a lot of shows, we had a lot of cool, cool fans that we acquired through that record, and when we did RPM, we were just having a good time and wanted to write a good Punk rock record, you know? It came out of our relationship with Bill Stevenson who did the record – he was amazing. And I remember doing that record, and just being so content with the the four of us. You know what I mean? Just being so… yeah. And so yeah – it surpassed our expectations. We were glad with ourselves, and we were so glad that the people were also happy with it.
Savanna: Since you claim your music has matured since then, was the recording different than with any of your previous albums?
Tim: On (Siren Song of the Counter Culture)? Um, we spent a lot more time on it. We had a bigger budget to work with, so we spent a lot more time – we had the luxury of really trying different ideas out, without being pressed for time. So that’s definitely a major difference. We had a lot to work with – which is a lot of fun.
DT: It’s been said you guys are very Pro-animal rights. You guys are organized or are you affiliated with PETA? Or do you follow them at all?
Tim: We are affiliated with PETA – yeah, we are. We were on PETA and PETA2.com. We’ve been to the headquarters in Norfolk, you know – we do whatever we can. It wasn’t like a prerequisite of this band, but it just so happens the four of us are vegetarians; none of us eat meat. So it’s kind of like “Oh, you don’t eat meat? I don’t eat meat. You don’t eat meat? I don’t eat meat,” you know – it’s something we all care about. We’re all vegetarians. We all feel pretty strongly about it, so because all four of us are really into that – and even our crew guys, like our stage guy’s a vegan. Our merch guy is a vegetarian; actually, he just went vegan. Um… it was something that was just a natural step for us. We were just like hey, let’s bring people into what we do.
Savanna: Are you vegan, or are you vegetarian?
Tim: I’m vegetarian. I’m trying.
Savanna: Do you eat dairy products?
Tim: I do, yeah. I’m trying, I’m trying. That’s my next step. I want to ease into it, so I’m not one of those vegans who goes vegan for a couple months, and then just stops.
Savanna: So do you agree with everything that PETA does? Because I’m very pro-animal. I love protecting animals – I’m against hunting, I’m against fishing, I’m against all that. I went vegetarian for a year. But, I think PETA goes a little
Tim: As far as?
Savanna: We have little books – they’re giving them out at Warped Tour, and they have pictures of slaughtered animals inside it, and stuff like that, and I just don’t think that they should be putting those images out.
Tim: Well for me personally, PETA is actually a direct reason why I’m a vegetarian. I used to go to Earth Crisis shows, and Strikes(?) shows – you know, back in the day, when they would come through Chicago. Those guys would bring PETA literature to me, and they would be playing videos, and they would be of the graphic nature that you’re talking about. And it’s that kind of stuff that I was wasn’t aware of as a fifteen year old kid going to these shows. And it was kind of stuff that really… I mean, once the show’s over, once those songs faded away, once those records stopped getting spun, it was those images that were were caught in my head. Those images that were kind of like, you know — because when I first saw the stuff, I was like yeah, that’s really terrible, but there’s no way I’m gonna give up meat. There’s just no way – like whatever. Hey I love it; being in my mouth it won’t kill me. But it was that literature and those images that really stirred me, because they’re not creating that – it’s really happening. And I’m a big fan of really letting people know the truth about what’s going on. I think that a lot of this world… people in this world put up with so much stuff, because they don’t see it happening. they don’t know it’s happening, and they don’t want to know it’s happening. You know what I mean? Like, my parents don’t want to visit the slaughterhouses, they don’t want to know what’s in that room. They just want to eat it – they just want to do what they’ve been doing, and they don’t want to think about it. I think PETA makes people really think about it.
DT: You guys are active in PETA, right? You guys take part in protests and demonstrations and stuff like that?
Tim: We do whatever we can, yeah. I’ve been to a few PETA protests, and uh… we basically do whatever we can as a band, to really follow up what they do. We loaned out our pictures for the ad their doing in Alternative Press and Revolver, which is like you win free tickets to Warped Tour and we’re in background and stuff. We did a contest with them recently, to promote awareness about Kentucky Fried Chicken, and their animal abuse going on there. So… basically, they are the think tank. They know what’s going on – they spened nine to five thinking about, and researching what’s going on in the world, and they let us know if there’s something we can fit in and do, and help them out with it, and we do.
DT: What are your views on the upcoming election? Are you comfortable talking about that?
Tim: Oh yeah. Um… you know, I’m not going to Vote for Bush. I’ll say that much. I think if you voted for Bush, I think it’s a big mistake, it’s a terrible mistake. Even if you’re a Republican, I think just for humanity in general, I think it’s a big mistake. I don’t even think that he’s a good representative of the Republican party. I think he’s a great representative of maybe the Nazi party. As a human being he’s not qualified to be President of the United States, and it’s
just really sad that he is. It’s been a true example of what you can do with the right kind of tricks and the right party. You can get all the way to the top. All the way to the President of the United States, and it’s really sad, and I think that it’s very important to register to vote. I think it’s important to vote, because after November, you know, it’s not gonna matter what your stance is, it’s too late.
DT: We’ll be stuck.
Tim: Right. It’s like, we’re being given a very real chance to make a difference in what’s going on.
DT: You guys have a price counter on your page, counting how much the war in Iraq is costing us here in America. Whose idea was that, to put it on the site?
Tim: It was originally Punk Voter’s idea, because they have it on their site. I was just kinda browsing the Punk Voter site, and I saw it there, and I was like that’s really cool. I clicked on it, and it went to this site that they have – costofwar.com, and it had this little thing that said “If you want this on your website…” It was as simple as that. I was just in the studio browsing over that, and I found that. So I e-mailed it to Juan, our webmaster, and was like “Hey, what do you think about this?” And he was like “This is great. Let’s put it on the site.” So Punk Voter had it first for sure, so I got the idea from them.
Savanna: It was a great idea, because when I went onto the site, that was the first thing I saw was the numbers scrolling, and I was like “What is that?”
Tim: Yeah, yeah. You want to know what it is, yeah.
Savanna: Then you can scroll through and see how much it costs in your state alone.
Tim: Yeah, I wish more bands would do that. It was as simple as me dicking around, you know what I mean, saw it and was like “Aw, that’s cool,”, I called up Juan “Hey, would you up that up on the site?” “Yeah dude – give me a second – all good!” As simple as that – we didn’t like spending weeks and weeks on paperwork trying to do it; just put it on the site, and it’s a great little awareness tool.
DT: Did you guys take part in the Punk Voter tour? I know you guys didn’t play here.
Tim: No, we were in the studio during that whole time. I know me and Number Two from Anti-Flag, and Wayne Kramer from The MC5 and Billy Gould from Faith No More went to the Iowa Caucuses this year, as delegates from Punk Voter, and kinda met some candidates and met some people; just kind of let them know that hey, we’re Punk Voter. We’re serious. We’ve got a lot of kids behind us. Pay attention to us. That’s basically what we did.
DT: You guys say in your bio that you feel it’s your obligation to be a political band. Can you elaborate on that?
Tim: I think that’s sort of a Punk rock obligation. I think that historically Punk rock has always been about social change. It’s always been about being an outcast, and being someone who’s upset with the status quo, and someone who’s trying to make a difference, you know? I think that Punk rock has deviated from that, and so sometimes people come up to us and be like “Oh, you’re a political Punk band.” And it’s like a political Punk band? Since when was Punk not political? Like, what’s a political punk band? The people who are telling me that, are the people who think of Punk rock as Good Charlotte and Simple Plan. So when they see Rise Against, they’re like “Wait a minute, I know what Punk rock is> Punk rock is Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, and you guys are Rise Against – you’re not Punk rock because you’re not Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, so you must be political Punk rock. You know what I mean? It’s like this catchy phrase for what we do but come on – that’s Punk rock! Do your homework, and look at what Punk rock has always been. Right know, I think there are some serious impostors trying to make a buck in what’s going on.
DT: That’s seriously one of my biggest Punk peeves in the industry right now, is people trying to cash in on what Punk is. Like Hot Topic stores, you know? Punk is easily accessible – people can just go out –
Savanna: It’s a fashion trend now. It’s not like a way of life, it’s a fashion trend.
DT: It was Abercrombie, and now it’s mowhawks.
Tim: Right, right. When it started branching out, at first I thought it was so cool, because I thought like, this is so great that Punk rock and its ideals will finally be able to branch out to people who aren’t the hipsters in this big city, you know what I mean? People who don’t have a chance to see these shows all the time, or go to these stores or get these records. People – now it can be exposed to people who can just grab it anywhere they want. But unfortunately, the quality of what’s being, what has been ripped up is…
DT: …it’s easy to profit from it now.
Tim: Right. So what you’re getting is a really watered down of Punk rock. And I think if the ideal of Punk rock would have been carried into Hop Topic as well as the T-shirts, it would have been a great, great thing. Like if the real Punk rock bands would be at Hot Topic instead of the not real Punk rock bands, that’d be a great, great thing. I like to think that there’s some sort of – out of the gobs of kids that are walking into Hot Topic, at least a few of them are
coming out with a good idea of what it is, you know what I mean? Honestly, if there was just more Punk rock people, or just people who think that way, this world would be a better place.
DT: That was actually the last question. Do you have any closing statements or anything?
Tim: Just thanks a lot to all our Arizona fans, all in the area. They’ve been supporting us for the last four and a half years. We really notice you guys – we appreciate it. We try to get back whenever we can – we love the shows in Tucson, Mesa and Tempe and Phoenix. All the shows – they’ve been great. Thank you, everybody!
-D.T. Carel SPSMag.com