RISE AGAINST

Rise Against swap the po­lit­i­cal for the per­sonal on al­bum num­ber seven, and Tim McIl­rath ex­plains the think­ing be­hind TheBlack­Mar­ket: “maybe it’s a bit of a mid- life cri­sis”. By Andrew P Street.

Blunt - - Contents -

Ac­cord­ing to Tim McIl­rath, punk rock is more than a feeeeeelin’.

There are pre­cious few things you can rely on in this world, but for a good deal of this century one could be cer­tain that Rise Against would a) re­lease an al­bum ev­ery 18-to-24 months or so, b) said al­bum would be an ag­gres­sively ar­tic­u­late take­down of ev­ery­thing wrong with the world, and c) the band would tour the ab­so­lute be­je­sus out of it. That’s been the case ever since The Un­rav­el­ing ap­peared in 2001, but some­thing as­ton­ish­ing hap­pened in early 2013 af­ter tour­ing wound down for 2011’s sav­age Endgame: the band ac­tu­ally stopped for a bit.

“I think we’ve al­ways been scared that if we ever slow down we’ll never get the mo­men­tum go­ing again,” singer/ song­writer/gui­tarist Tim McIl­rath ex­plains. “It’s like any kind of en­deav­our: you have all these pres­sures around you and you don’t see the for­est for the trees some­times. This is the first time that we got off the road and in­stead of book­ing a stu­dio we said, ‘Let’s go home. Let’s see our friends and our fam­ily and put our in­stru­ments down and go do other stuff for a year or so. Let’s take a lit­tle time to en­joy the fruits of our labours and get a lit­tle per­spec­tive’.”

It’s that last point that was to lead to the new al­bum. Af­ter spend­ing a decade and a half ques­tion­ing the world around him, McIl­rath found him­self won­der­ing about his own work. Was what they were do­ing ac­tu­ally… well, nec­es­sary?

“And I never felt that about the band be­fore – we al­ways just charged ahead like a freight train. This was one of those mo­ments where we were like, ‘ Well, what’s our mark gonna be? What are we leav­ing be­hind? What do these songs mean to people, and how can we be help­ful?’ The record is a lit­tle bit more about Rise Against than it is about the world.”

That sounds some­what omi­nous – par­tic­u­larly when the lead sin­gle of the al­bum is en­ti­tled “I Don’t Wanna Be Here Any­more”.

“‘I Don’t Wanna Be Here Any­more’ just came from that uni­ver­sal feel­ing of want­ing to es­cape from a phys­i­cal place, or a men­tal place, or some­thing in your life that feels stag­nant and you want to move on. That’s kinda the theme of that song. As it ap­plies to the band, it’s about how I al­ways wanna be some­thing that is rel­e­vant and adding some­thing to the con­ver­sa­tion, never re­ally rest­ing on our lau­rels.”

He pauses for a mo­ment. “It was also about how I don’t want us to be­come car­i­ca­tures of our­selves, you know what I mean? I don’t want it to be, ‘Oh, here’s Rise Against, this is what they do and this is what we ex­pect them to do’. I think es­pe­cially on this record I was think­ing a lot about, ‘ Well, who are we? How do people see us? What do people want from us, what will they ap­prove of or dis­ap­prove of, and what does that mean to our writ­ing?’ It’s only when you cast off those pre­con­cep­tions that you can write hon­estly.”

Of course, some that start down that rab­bit hole end up get­ting com­pletely lost. Start think­ing too much about how oth­ers per­ceive you and you risk be­ing too scared to move in any di­rec­tion at all, surely?

“Ab­so­lutely, es­pe­cially for a band like us: we dive into pol­i­tics, we dive into the world, we talk about what’s hap­pen­ing to the less for­tu­nate and real is­sues – not back­stage dress­ing room is­sues,” he scoffs. “I like to think of our band as a mouth­piece for change and aware­ness and im­por­tant stuff. And when you think about that it makes ev­ery­thing else seem re­ally petty and small, like any is­sue in your own life. That I live in a place where I have the lux­ury of be­ing an artist – that’s an in­cred­i­ble thing and I never take it for granted, and it re­ally made me never want to ad­dress the in­ter­nal strife that I was feel­ing as an artist.”

McIl­rath didn’t want to turn Rise Against into The Tim McIl­rath Pre­cious Spe­cial Feel­ings Show, but at the same time he knew that if this was what was on his mind, this was what he had to write about “…be­cause when I write about any­thing else, I’m kinda fak­ing it. I have to get things off my chest [via mu­sic] and for the last decade these things have been more so­ci­etal. They’ve been big­ger, more worldly things. And right now this is where I am, so I needed to write about that. And that’s where The Black Mar­ket kinda came from.

“We’ve been a band for 15 years and go­ing into our sev­enth record I was look­ing in­ward a lot more on this one. Maybe it’s a bit of a mid-life cri­sis, fac­ing mor­tal­ity type of thing,” he laughs.

That be­ing said, he didn’t re­alise that was the di­rec­tion of the al­bum un­til quite late in the piece – specif­i­cally, when he came to write the ti­tle track.

“WE DIVE INTO POL­I­TICS, WE DIVE INTO THE WORLD, WE TALK ABOUT WHAT’S HAP­PEN­ING TO THE LESS FOR­TU­NATE AND

REAL IS­SUES.” TIM MCIL­RATH

“I THINK WE’VE AL­WAYS BEEN SCARED THAT IF WE EVER SLOW DOWN WE’LL NEVER GET THE MO­MEN­TUM GO­ING AGAIN.” TIM MCIL­RATH

RISE AGAINST

“The song ‘ The Black Mar­ket’ – that was the one where the light bulb was go­ing off in terms of the ideas be­hind the record, for me,” he ex­plains. “I was re­flect­ing on the band and what we do as in­di­vid­u­als and where we sit in mu­sic and what we do with our time and how we make a liv­ing, and it struck me that, as a song­writer, I ex­pose my­self for a liv­ing. I dig deep down into these – at times – quite dark places, you know what I mean? As an artist you can find the angst and the sorrow and the anger and you turn that into a song, and you cre­ate this prod­uct that people will then be a part of. And I thought about that as such a weird trans­ac­tion: to traf­fic in emo­tion. Hence, ‘ The Black Mar­ket’.” So that was the al­bum’s Eureka mo­ment? “It was ex­actly that. But it kind of came at the end for me, to be hon­est. It was only when I pulled back that veil, only then did some of the pieces re­ally fall into place. I’d been spew­ing these words out in kinda the same way that you might make an ab­stract paint­ing, it’s just kinda sub­con­scious, but when I wrote down ‘ The Black Mar­ket’, it was like, ‘Ooooohhhh: this kinda sums up what I’m feel­ing and it’s some­thing I feel like people can chew on. There’s a theme here’. And then I was like, ‘ Well, this is it: this is the record, this is what the cover’s gonna look like, this is what this record’s gonna be themed around’.”

Given the ques­tion of out­side per­cep­tion, was the de­ci­sion to turn the cam­era in­wards a lit­tle fu­elled by fear of cov­er­ing the same ground as pre­vi­ous al­bums?

“You know, there was that. Af­ter Endgame we toured for a good two years and ev­ery­thing went re­ally well and we were ready to take some time away from the band – I put the gui­tar down for months – be­cause we’d been hit­ting it pretty hard for the last six records and 15 years. So com­ing back to it I had a lit­tle per­spec­tive. I didn’t want to write Endgame Part 2 – I wanted to write some­thing that was equal but dif­fer­ent. And I re­alise I’m so close to it that per­haps what I think is dif­fer­ent, but I feel like when we came to a few of the cross­roads on this record we tried to make an ef­fort to take a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than we’d nor­mally go in.”

It’s worth mak­ing clear that while The Black Mar­ket is the band’s most per­sonal al­bum, that term is a very rel­a­tive one. By any other band’s stan­dards it’s still a fiercely po­lit­i­cal al­bum. Look at the song ti­tles: “The Eco Ter­ror­ist in Me”, “Methadone”, “The Great Die­Off”… y’know, Tay­lor Swift it ain’t.

“You’re right, there are mo­ments on there. There are songs on there that will be hard to ig­nore, and are still about the world. I can’t help but write about that stuff.”

De­spite all of this go­ing on in McIl­rath’s head, don’t imag­ine this was some care­fully planned out con­cept record. The ac­tual al­bum re­ally didn’t come to­gether un­til the last minute, with “The Black Mar­ket” be­ing the fi­nal song writ­ten for the disc.

“We were still work­ing on stuff in the stu­dio. We prob­a­bly wrote 25 songs for this one, whit­tled it down to the 12 on the record, and I was still writ­ing a lot of the lyrics as I was singing ‘em. It was all kinda spur of the mo­ment: we didn’t re­ally go in com­pletely pre­pared and know­ing how things were go­ing to go. It was a re­ally fluid process.” It’s a sur­prise, given that the al­bum sounds so co­her­ent as a sin­gle piece. “We fooled you then!” he laughs. “They were just float­ing ideas that we were grasp­ing at. The process has changed over the years: we used to go in [to the stu­dio] with the record com­pletely done, we’d prob­a­bly de­moed it a cou­ple times, be­cause we only had a lit­tle money to even af­ford a stu­dio. So we went in well-prac­tised with ev­ery­thing down to a T. And as years went on we went in not as pre­pared, which is part pure pro­cras­ti­na­tion and then part of it was tak­ing ad­van­tage of the stu­dio and what it has to of­fer and the ideas you can come across in that space that you may not come across else­where – that en­ergy that you get when you’re un­der the gun.”

It’s also a tes­ta­ment to the band’s sta­bil­ity since 2008: af­ter a re­volv­ing door of gui­tarists in the early years, Zach Blair’s been on board for the last three al­bums.

“Yeah, there’s a chem­istry with the four of us – it’s the rea­son we are a band, it’s the rea­son we sound like we sound,” McIl­rath ex­plains. “By the time it gets to the four of us, once it’s out of all four of our hands, you have Rise Against. And it makes it so that we can stum­ble blindly into a re­hearsal room with ab­so­lutely noth­ing, turn our amps on, set the drums up, look at each other and go, ‘OK, what’ve you got?’ and just start play­ing.

“There’s no grand com­plex for­mula be­hind it – our strat­egy has al­ways been a lack of strat­egy. We just go into it the same way that we did when we were 15 years old, play­ing with our friends in a base­ment. For bet­ter or for worse we just go with our gut, play­ing what­ever feels right in that mo­ment.”

All of which leaves us with the ob­vi­ous fi­nal ques­tion: so, isn’t it about time Rise Against ac­tu­ally, y’know, popped by?

“Oh, it’s been far too long,” he says, with feel­ing. “Aus­tralia some­how got lost in the shuf­fle last year. We’ve ne­glected Aus­tralia for far too long, and we have so many in­cred­i­ble fans down there. We’ve done some of our most in­cred­i­ble shows down there and we al­ways look for­ward to get­ting over. It’ll be ei­ther the end of the year or be­gin­ning of next year.” Yeah, that’s what they all say. “I know!” he laughs. “But it’s al­ready some­where in the cal­en­dar. Hon­est.”

RISE AGAINST

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