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Punk Rock band Rise Against just ended the first leg of its European tour 2012. The band has been promoting ‘Endgame,’ its latest album, released by Interscope records in March 2011. Toonari Post had the pleasant opportunity to meet frontman Tim McIlrath in Vienna, Austria on March 20.
The Rise Against vocalist and guitarist talked about the band’s albums and tours, as well as about society, discrimination, and the current and past music scene. This is the first part of the two-part interview.
Toonari Post (TP): Your latest album ‘Endgame’ sends quite a dark message about the world situation, giving the feeling that it is too late to do anything to change the current negative state of the world. A similar state of mind is also present in some of your previous work, as the line “Is it too late to reverse what we’ve become?” in ‘Chamber the Cartridge’ well expresses. Is ‘Endgame’ the deeper exploration of that kind of fear, or is it what you actually think? Is it really too late?
Tim McIlrath (TM): ‘Endgame’ was kind of a way for us to sort of talk about the same problems that the world is still experiencing, but in a different way. We didn’t want to come writing another record talking about the same exact things over and over, we wanted to do something different. At the same time you’re sort of faced with reality: the world is still facing the same problems that it was when you did the last record.
There are still issues worth thinking about, even if it seems repetitive. So, ‘Endgame’ was kind of our way of approaching them as not problems that we’re facing, but as problems that we faced, and lost; and what the world would look like after you lost, sort of like if we were to lose the battle of trying to save the earth, what life would have looked like.
I guess we’re just sort of attempting to paint that picture for the listener, and show them: here are the repercussions of our actions, here is the future that we’ll be looking at, and I guess the attempt was that hopefully that would trigger a response. That’s where ‘Endgame’ came from.
TP: Do you actually think we lost and we are never going to resurrect again?
TM: No, I’m hopeful, definitely. And I think it’s partly because I get to play in this band, I get to play in front of lots of people who care about the direction of the world; that leaves me pretty optimistic. But more people need to get on board, and I think that we’re part of that struggle; we’re doing our part to open people’s eyes.
TP: What’s the role of the current music scene in this vision of the world? Do you think that nowadays music, in general, serves the purpose of creating awareness? Or does it serve the exact contrary purpose, keeping people sort of medicated?
TM: Right. I think that music can exist for both reasons. I don’t think that music needs to be political, or that music needs to be active in terms of social justice. Music can be an escape; I listen to music as an escape sometimes too. I think, what makes me happy is as long as there’s a good balance between the two. There are bands and musicians out there who recognize that through rock history, artists have always played a role in social change.
If nothing else, music should be a mirror of the culture, of what’s happening in the culture. Now people are asking a lot of questions, and looking for musicians and artists who are asking the same questions. I feel like now more than ever in my lifetime, that type of art is needed, because that type of art can sometimes distill the conversation in ways that nothing else can.
I think it’s really important for musicians to say what they feel. If it’s not what they feel then, that’s cool too, there’s a place for music that doesn’t say anything at all.
TP: So you think that there are many bands and artists out there sending a message? When talking about the current music scene, very often you’re considered the exception.
TM: Well, there are not enough popular bands like us that are saying it, so I guess I can see why the media would be saying that. But a lot of bands are talking about the direction of the world, not enough popular bands, I guess, are doing it. They are not getting enough attention, enough press.
TP: Among other issues, in ‘Endgame’ you also address homophobia. With ‘Make it Stop’ you make a statement in support of people who feel judged and excluded because of their homosexuality. Do you think homosexuality is a problematic issue for Rock? Do you think that Rock has sent a message against homosexuality?
TM: Yeah, I do. I think Rock is one of the last sort of sanctuaries for homophobia, unfortunately. I think that indie rock is very progressive and open to any sexual preference, but when you go to heavier rock music you get a lot of that male stuff, you know, it’s just “bros,” sort of narrow minded sometimes, and there is kind of a lot of it.
The heavy rock that you hear on the radio, and on the stage too, is just sort of bands that don’t wanna be caught there talking about homosexuality, because it’s not part of the image they want to portray. So, I think that in a lot of ways we’re in a unique position, to be putting water where the fire is. Because we speak to the audience and we are a band in that world where homophobia can unfortunately exist and, it does exist.
You can see it in our crowd sometimes, unfortunately, you can see if we post something about ‘Make It Stop’ or ‘It Gets Better,’ on our website, or facebook, or whatever, that the response is very narrow minded as well. There’s still a battle ground and we’re still fighting for a change, and awareness.
TP: Why do you think rock bands have this great fear of this image? I mean, past succesful bands, like Nirvana, fought for this despite the stigma. They should have served, at least, to make other rock bands feel safer.
TM: Right, and there are a lot of bands like Nirvana. They were a band who was very progressive in that sense. Nirvana came from a scene that was influenced by Fugazi, and the Melvins, that very alternative kind of underground scene where people who didn’t fit into regular, mainstream, society would go to, and find a place where they belonged. At some point Nirvana was part of that link that made this music really popular; and you had a lot of the mainstream society embracing that identity, in a “Halloween costume” kind of way.
What happened was a lot of bands borrowed from the sound of Nirvana but left the guts of it behind; they left a lot of what Kurt Cobain was talking about, it all got lost. The same people that used to beat up Kurt Cobain when he was a kid were now in front row, in the audience, and were going to start bands. The bands that got popular after that were bands that had nothing to do with the message behind Nirvana’s music.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nrk-p3/