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Here is the second part of the interview with Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath whom Toonari Post met on March 20 in Vienna, Austria, at the occasion of the band’s live show, promoting of the album ‘Endgame.’
Toonari Post (TP): The band has become very commercially successful, but you succeeded in something only very few bands accomplished: you didn’t lose contact to the person on the street, the one who struggles with the heaviness of daily life and making ends meet. How did you do that? How did you stay so grounded, despite the big success?
Tim McIlrath (TM): I think we’re really in touch with our roots, with where we came from, and who we are as people, as a band. And bands that helped us get to who we are, and the labels, and all the shows, and the people.. We’re less interested in resting on our laurels, just celebrating ourselves, than being a piece of the puzzle, like a piece of the chain, to give what we have to the next person, so that they can build their band, or their magazine, or their book, or become a teacher or whatever, and become part of that process to pass that down to the next generation.
We don’t get there by gloating and giving up, we get there by constantly communicating with our audience, and that’s what we do, that’s who we are. The band is more popular now, plays bigger shows sure, but we’re all big enough music fans to know that what we are right now, is part of a cycle of music, which goes popular-unpopular, up and down. We’re not naïve, we’ve seen this happen, and so we’re happy to be a band that can reach a lot of people, but we also are not a band that relies on that either. It’s an exciting time for us, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
TP: Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll is not your style since you are ‘straight edge’ [Straight edge people refrain from alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drug use. For some, this extends to the absence of caffeine use, to being a vegetarian/vegan, and to not engaging in promiscuous sex]. Do you think that substance abuse and the excessive life-style of many rock musicians send a dangerous message to their fans? Do you think musicians should feel a kind of responsibility towards fans?
TM: I don’t feel any pressure from the fans. It was a personal decision I made a long time ago, before this band even started. I’m straight edge but it doesn’t so much define me, as it is sort of a foundation on which everything else is built on. I think that being straight edge allows me to look at the world through a sort of different lens, but you still have to look. I can’t just sit back and say “I’m straight edge, that’s it, that’s enough.” Straight edge is about not doing something, and I want to be part of something that is doing something.
Being straight edge has been something of an interesting social experiment, in a way, that has lasted 15-20 years of my life. I’ve always found people who aren’t straight edge, always care more about straight edge than I do. They’re more, sort of, fascinated with it than I am myself. I am really proud to be straight edge, and I’m happy I made those decisions, and they served me well and keep serving me well.
I think by letting the world know that I’m straight edge, I want kids to know that if they don’t identify with the drinking culture, if they don’t identify with the drug using culture, they’re not freaks, it’s ok. I feel like, when I was growing up, drinking and smoking wasn’t rebellion, it was something you were expected to do actually, and you were almost pressured to do it, and it was conformity in a way.
At that point, I disliked everything that resembled conformity; I was like “hey I want to think about it, before I jump into it.” At that point I got told “why wouldn’t you drink, that’s crazy” and I was like “Well, I don’t know why, I really don’t know why, but maybe I won’t, and why is it so important to you that I do?”
TP: So you don’t feel like a musician should have this kind of responsibility. If a musician wants to drink and smoke, he should just do it.
TM: Yeah, totally. I’m not on the offense in terms of straight edge, trying to recruit straight edge people, but I would be on the defense about it. I think if you talk to a hundred different people who are straight edge, you’ll get a hundred of different stories about why they are, and why that’s important to them.
I’m glad I found it, I’m glad I found other straight edge kids; that feels like you’re less of a freak. I attribute a lot of what I’ve accomplished to the fact that, every time I would have engaged in some recreational drug use or drinking, I instead picked up a guitar or I read a book or something like that. It has never allowed me to have something to rely on; I always had to do something instead.
TP: What’s the album you feel is the most representative for the band? And why?
TM: Oh, man. Well, probably either ‘The Sufferer & The Witness’ or ‘Endgame.’ Those are the ones that I really, really love. I mean, I love all of them. It’s kind of picking your favorite kid [laughs]. In those we really nailed it. I think if someone was to say “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know who your band is; what shall I listen to?” I think those two records.
I feel like this is kind of who we are. In ‘Siren Song of the Counter Culture,’ I think we had some great songs, but we didn’t love the production of it. “Sufferer” was our return to Bill [Stevenson], our producer, who did ‘Revolutions per Minute.’ Then we came to him three or four years later, we knew what we wanted, and we were getting bigger into this mainstream world, where we didn’t like anybody, and we just wanted to go back to our old friends, and Bill was our old friend.
TP: Are you already working on new material?
TM: The only thing new we’ve done was a Bob Dylan cover in the last couple of months, the ‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown,’ for the Amnesty International tribute; but we’re not working on stuff for another record yet. We’re still very focused on ‘Endgame,’ in letting this record live, breathe, and enjoy the time in the spotlight; come to places like Vienna, and play the songs live. Let the songs come to life. We’ll be touring on ‘Endgame’ for the rest of 2012.
TP: You’ve toured a lot, indeed. How is that? How is it to be away from home for so long, as you also have kids?
TM: Right, it’s not easy, there’s no magic solution to it, but we aren’t like suicidal in terms of our touring. We look at this more like a long term marathon, and not like a sprint. We used to be younger and bolder. We’d go for six months at a time, or three months at a time; it just wasn’t healthy. At some point we decided “ok, we’d like to be in this band for a long time, let’s figure out a way to do it.” So we go out for like three weeks at a time, and if we go home, we go home for at least two weeks at a time.
We’re not like, trying to kill ourselves, going as fast as we can, then coming home and crashing. When you’re on the road for so long everybody gets mad at each other, you lose your mind, you don’t know where you are, what town you’re in, it’s not smart, and you don’t really need to run that race, so we stopped that race a long time ago.
TP: And how is it on your voice? You scream a lot! Does the voice recover easily, after three weeks of that?
TM: Not always [laughs]. Not every night is my best, sometimes I get sick, I have a cold right now, and it’s harder to sing on some nights than in other nights. The voice is one of those things that it’s so mysterious; I can sing on one day and then be off the next day. I stay pretty healthy, drink a lot of water, try not to go to crazy, and give my best show every night. That’s all I can do.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/jgarber/