Tim McIl­rath

Rise Against’s leader re­calls first gui­tars, night­mare gigs and the art of song craft

Total Guitar - - MONITOR -

Got my first real six string

“My first gui­tar was a 1951 [Gib­son] Kala­ma­zoo. I found it at the back of a friend’s closet. He bought it from a neighbour and tried to learn gui­tar but never did. I took it off his hands. I didn’t know what it was.”

Dream on...

“I al­ways wanted an SG. I al­ways thought that was a bad-ass gui­tar. That would be the sec­ond gui­tar: I had a 1984 SG. To­day, I just need a Mar­shall and a Gib­son. I don’t even need a pedal. That com­bi­na­tion has worked for me, it’s worked for Ian MacKaye, it’s worked well for An­gus Young. I play a no-frills rig. As long as I have a Gib­son Les Paul and a Mar­shall head then it’s hard to fuck that up.”

There goes my hero...

“The first time any­body val­i­dated my play­ing was when I played gui­tar on Rise Against’s sec­ond record, Revo­lu­tion­sPerMinute. I didn’t re­ally play on the first record, I just joined the band as a singer. We did a record with Bill Steven­son [De­scen­dents] and that was the first time I had played gui­tar un­der scru­tiny. To do that for Bill and have him say, ‘Yeah, that’s awe­some.’ Be­fore that I wasn’t sure if I was a good gui­tar player or a half-assed gui­tar player. Now I have a lot of fun in the stu­dio play­ing gui­tar. What we do is a lot of pow­er­chords and it’s about the amount of pres­sure you put on it, the way you hold that chord, the way you strike the strings. All of that makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Two’s com­pany…

“Zach [Blair] and I are usu­ally not do­ing the same thing at the same time. I might be play­ing chords and he’s play­ing lead or vice versa. When I say lead I don’t mean a blaz­ing solo, it’s more tex­tures and sounds that will com­ple­ment the pow­er­chords. A lot of it will be stuff that I hand off to Zach so that I can han­dle the broad strokes when he play live. If there is a blaz­ing solo it is usu­ally Zach!”

Can you feel it?

“My big­gest weak­ness is solo­ing, my heart has never been into solo­ing. My strength is craft­ing a song and know­ing the most ef­fec­tive way to cre­ate a song, a sound, a bridge, a verse and a cho­rus that peo­ple aren’t go­ing to just hear, they’re go­ing to feel it. It’s more than tech­nique, it’s a part that makes sense and can change the way you feel.”

You get the best of both worlds

“A big mis­con­cep­tion is that Rise Against is ex­clu­sively a po­lit­i­cal band and we’re al­ways ral­ly­ing against the world. Rise Against is a re­flec­tion of who we are as human be­ings, so there are things that are po­lit­i­cal and there are things that are per­sonal. There are songs and records that re­flect both of those things. We have songs that have noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics. Not ev­ery band has to be a po­lit­i­cal band. If you don’t want to write about pol­i­tics, that’s fine. If you are har­bour­ing sen­ti­ments and want to speak out but you’re afraid of alien­at­ing an au­di­ence then I would en­cour­age you to speak out in your songs. Our fans crave it, they want to know how we feel about these things and they want to use our mu­sic as some kind of com­pass for fig­ur­ing out what’s go­ing on. It would be nice to hear more mu­sic on the ra­dio that re­flects the ques­tions that I hear ev­ery day. There was a lot of low-hang­ing fruit when it came to lyri­cal top­ics for [Rise Against’s new al­bum Wolves]. It was about writ­ing those songs in a way that wasn’t trite and in a way that cut through.”

Tim Mcll­rath: Give the man a Gib­son Les Paul and a Mar­shall head and he’s happy...

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