Whether or not they agree with the title, Rise Against is being viewed as one of the bands at the forefront of the current wave of political punk. They are all over the place at the moment, with a new album, The Sufferer & The Witness, due out July 4 and a slot on this year's Warped Tour. I connected with Rise Against front man Tim McIlrath just before the Warped Tour kicked off. He had a bit to say about the new album, and about the role of politics in punk.
RC: You guys are often viewed as being extremely political. Do you think that's accurate?
TM: Do I give a s**t about what happens in the world I have to live in? F**k yeah, I do! Don't you? Does that mean I'm political? Does that make us "extremely political"? The only reason our band is viewed as being "extremely political" is because of the lack of bands in the punk/hardcore scene today that are saying anything important.
I don't mind the political tag, but I don't think it's entirely accurate. I don't think we are any more political than a lot of the punk bands that we grew up with. Punk rock or hardcore with politics were always synonymous to me, I don't see the disconnect.
In that sense, I consider us a punk band, or a hardcore band. We do what punk bands or hardcore bands have always done in the past, use their music as a vehicle for change and awareness. When I think of politics in music, I think of really articulate bands like Bad Religion and Anti-Flag. These guys delve into the nitty-gritty of politics and expose it for what it is.
I don't mind the political tag that we seem to carry, that's fine. But I can't claim it. I don't feel right claiming it. We write straight-up love songs and songs that are very personal sometimes, and I think claiming to be a political band and then playing songs that aren't political is false advertising.
I don't think we belong on the same level as bands like Rage Against The Machine. I admire what they did, but I don't want someone reading this interview to think that we are what they were. There are lots of sides to Rise Against, one of those sides is certainly a political side that is very close to my heart, but it's not our only side.
RC: You seem to be closely attached to PETA. How did that come about?
TM: I guess it started with the fact that none of us eat meat. It just happens to be this common ground that we all share, it wasn't planned like that.
For me, personally, PETA was a big reason I became vegetarian 10 years ago. The resources they provided the bands that I was going to see when I was 17 found their way into my pockets and I ended up checking it out. I was a meat-eater and never had any intention of giving that up. But after seeing videos like Meat is Murder and reading more and more about how the inhumane treatment of animals as well as how low-quality and disgusting our meat and dairy products really are, I just couldn't actually physically stomach it any longer.
What helped in this transition was that neither the bands nor PETA ever shoved anything down my throat. They simply presented me with information and let me process it on my own. This is something that I don't take for granted and I now feel responsible for passing this down to the next generation, like the generation of bands before me did.
RC: What do you think punk rock's responsibility is in today's political culture? Does it have a responsibility?
TM: Punk exists to be a sanctuary for those of us who don't relate to the rest of society. Today's political culture is a huge part of that society and therefore punk has a responsibility to keep the doors open to this sanctuary of free thought, so kids will have somewhere to go to be a part of this community.
RC: What about the rise in conservatively political punk bands? Do you think that contradicts the origins of punk rock?
TM: Conservative punk bands are like the kid who walks into the wrong classroom on the first day of school. Dude, this isn't your class, you f***ed up, now go away.
I think it's giving them too much credit to call it a "rise". I've only seen a handful of bands who consider themselves conservative, and they are pretty insignificant bands usually just looking for a little press.
RC: I know you are attached to many causes, but do you have one underlying message for your fans?
TM: Change and awareness are important to me. I know those are broad terms, but I don't think enough people really understand them.