On one bright and sunny afternoon in November, R13 caught up with Tim McIlrath and Chris Chasse for a quick chat.
R13: First off, how's the tour going?
TMcI: Yeah, it's going good - our second day in London and we're having a good time so far. It's good to be back here.
R13: How many times have you played the UK before?
TMcI: About 5 - we were here with Sick of It All, Mad Caddies, back with Alexisonfire, back with Reading and Leeds festival and now here tonight, so technically this'll be our sixth time 'cause we played last night which was our fifth time. We've had a blast every single time.
R13: Excellent, and are you enjoying playing the Taste of Chaos tour?
TMcI: Um, yeah, it's been a really good time, a really good tour. We've already done Australia and Japan, and we've done most the UK, this is our last day here. It's been a rad tour, it's fun to travel the world with so many group people. You know, we travel in a large group, there's almost a 100 of us and guys like Killswitch [Engage] I'd never met before so it was cool to meet them and hang out with them. You end up on the same bus, same plane so you've kind of taken over airports and you get to know each other much better than you would if you were all separated on a tour bus.
R13: And is it as chaotic as the name suggests?
TMcI: [laughs] No, nothing crazy and insane has happened. I mean, there were some nights when we were out in Japan or Australia and there were some crazy nights but nothing above and beyond like Motley Crue type scandals.
CC: Last day of tour might be interesting.
TMcI: Last day might be tour's not over yet.
R13: Do you think your sound has progressed, or changed a lot since you wrote The Unravelling?
TMcI: Yeah, I'd say it has.
CC: Slightly I suppose - same ideas, same genre but I guess progression makes sense.
TMcI: Yeah, we've gotten better. Better at what we do, which when we wrote The Unravelling, we had no idea was we were doing. The Unravelling wasn't much of collaboration, the music Joe wrote most of it before I even joined the band. I added vocals and lyrics to it, so it was very much a project.
So, then we toured about two years off of that and went through this sort of identity crisis, y'know, are we a punk band? A hardcore band? A live band? I mean, what's going on here? And we didn't really know ourselves, and over two years of touring we realised that it doesn't matter what kind of band we are, it doesn't matter what kind of genre we fit into. We love the songs, we love what we're doing.
So when we went back to do the second record, we had a better idea of what kind of band we were, and what we wanted out of songwriting. When we came to write a song, we just expanded on all of those ideas.
R13: Cool, and what do you reckon your identity would be now?
TMcI: I don't really think about it, to be honest. I don't think it's beneficial at all, to me, to categorise what I do. I can understand that it's kind of convenient for record reviewers or people who do magazines and looking for a thirty second soundbite.
R13: And on a slightly different tack, 'Swing Life Away' is quite different from the rest of 'Siren Songs of the Counter Culture'. What made you chose it as a single?
TMcI: Well, it was a song, like you said, that was a lot different. I think any band that doesn't normally play acoustic guitar, it's immediately gonna sound different no matter what. So, as far as it being a single, it wasn't our first choice, 'Give It All' was, but it was a song that we realised had a lot of potential, and a lot of people that might not normally check our record might be into this song and might give us a chance. And that's what happened, a lot of people liked the song, checked out the band even though our band's not anything like that song. We managed to catch the ear of a lot of different people.
And, even though it's not representative of what Rise Against sounds like, to me music, punk rock and hardcore have always been more about the idea behind the song, as much as the sound. The fact that it was done on acoustic guitar, and sung quietly is kind of arbitrary because the message is still there and the ideas behind what makes it a Rise Against song are still there. It's still Rise Against, and I'm still proud to play it and in terms of reaching people, I'm real happy with it.
R13: Do you think you're getting your message out there, and reaching the kids, and getting them to do stuff?
TMcI: Yeah, I think it is. I think in a lot of ways it's really hard to gauge, 'cause when we come to play a show, like tonight for 4000 kids we're not talking to each one of those kids, we've not got the opportunity engage with all of them. However, we do get emails from a lot of our fans who let us know what a song means to them, how we've affected them, how they changed their lives, what they decided to do and how the band has inspired them. That's something that's really validating as a band to know that you're reaching people, 'cause it's so easy to just kind of about writing songs, touring, and at the end of the day you're like 'am I really making a difference?'
It's so frustrating when you see bands that are way bigger than your band, you're thinking 'why am I even in a band?', d'you know what it mean? Like I'm not playing these huge shows, I'm not playing to millions of fans and we don't have millions of fans, but we do have thousands of fans and every single one of those fans means a lot to us. So it's stuff like those emails, and it's stuff like those random kids you meet at shows here and there and tell you what song - you just have to speak to one of those kids to make everything you've done as a musician totally worth it.
R13: And more specificially, what sort of messages do you want the world to know about?
TMcI: I mean, there are so many things that each one of us are passionate about, differently. But I think, generally, anything that involves the idea of change and awareness - that's what's important. Like for instance, this band is vegetarian, none of us eat meat, whether you agree with that or not is kind of irrelevant as long as by listening to our music you're going away and thinking about it. I don't want to be attacking all these different aspects of life, and people's decisions, because it's not about the decisions it's about whether they're thinking about it, whether they're having discussions about it. Thinking about it, and not letting the world shove its finger down your throat, and if this band can be a vehicle to that thought, then that's everything for what we do as a band, and every punk rock band should do.
R13: What do you think of bands like Coldplay, who are overtly political? What's your opinion on that?
TMcI: I think it's great. Politics is so foreign to the music industry. Maybe not foreign to punk rock and hardcore, which is the world we kind of belong in, but I think it's very foreign to the mainstream music. I mean, so much of it's just a business, and you're trying to sell as much as you can to the public and you can't sell mass market music if you take a stance on an issue. You're immediately limiting your audience, and putting people off - you're controversial. I think it's great when a band like Coldplay are able to do that, and realise the amount of influence over their fans and the world around them through their music and getting the message out.
R13: Well, that's fair enough. But moving on a bit, do you reckon you would've made it, if it hadn't been for Fat Mike, and Fat Wreck?
TMcI: Hmmm, I'd like to think we would but I don't ever take for granted what he's done for the band. The shot that he gave us, the chance to be a part of the Fat Wreck family and really a vehicle to where we are today. I think where we are today is directly attributed to break that Mike gave us. I'd like that think that we might be able to find that - even if we didn't - people would eventually get to hear our music no matter what the label, or who picked it up. But, we definitely owe a lot to him and I'll never forget that.
R13: Right, and now that you've been on Dreamworks for a while, how is it different after being on Fat Wreck?
TMcI: The only big difference I guess is that Dreamworks and Universal are very worldwide. I mean, wherever we go like here in London Matt's here to help us out and Fat Wreck don't really have anybody in London. They have somebody in like Berlin, but our label has somebody in Japan and Australia and all over the place, which helps us out a lot. It helps us maintain our presence in a country, to know that you've got somebody working hard for you and it feels good to be in a band where you work as hard as hard as you do, but you can only be in one place at a time.
Aside from that, there's not a big difference between was Fat does and Dreamworks does. Fat's such a special label, and they're really good at what they do and we were always used to that level of speciality. So, it was just the sheer size, the amount of people working for us and the influence someone like Geffen has in the overall scheme of things. Fat doesn't really have any, like, inroads into TV and radio and in the grand scheme of Rise Against we want to get our message out there to as many people as possible. And things like TV and radio are necessary evils, and as much as either one of us would really be upset if we never ended up on the radio or TV again after today, it's still a great way to reach people. And it works, we've proved with our last record that it does.
R13: And seeing as you're pretty keen to promote smaller bands, is it something you see as really, really important?
TMcI: I think it's important, in that bigger bands helped us get to where we are, you know. So, in that respect, we need to help other bands get to where they are. And so, bands like NOFX and Strung Out, and Sick of It All, and Agnostic Front, and bands like even the Mad Caddies helped us out when we were still a small band and gave us a chance. That way, it played a big role in where we are today and what we do in helping out smaller bands - taking them on tour, and who we think are special - it's our way of giving back what the scene gave to us, it's treated us good so far.
Plus, I like this idea of us all being a community. I mean, you don't just take a band out 'cause they've got good record sales, or you're both from the same label, like that kind of thing. You take a band out 'cause you're either friends with them, you love their music or you love their ideas. It makes it more appealing. We've never taken a band out that we've had absolutely no relationship with at all, know what I mean? If we know who they are, we like their music; if we know their music very well, we like who they are.
R13: What's been the best thing about being in Rise Against?
TMcI: Um, the best thing about being in Rise Against? Being a bunch of dumbass kids playing a bunch of instruments and screaming down a microphone. Being able to do what we're doing right now, and being here in London right now, that's awesome. I don't think any of us thought we'd be here, like I didn't think we'd be doing this for a living. Meeting people, and just getting a new perspective on life.
R13: OK, and after touring, what's next?
TMcI: We're writing the new record - June 2006 we're looking for release. And then we're gonna do Warp tour next summer
R13: Excellent stuff. Well, that's all I've got, thanks a lot for your time.
TMcI: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.
On one bright and sunny afternoon in November, R13 caught up with Tim McIlrath and Chris Chasse for a quick chat.