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Interview: Rise Against Talk Politics And Censorship

Interview: Rise Against Talk Politics And Censorship

Danielle Street / Tuesday 12th December, 2017 12:53PM

Earlier this year Chicago punk rock mainstays Rise Against unleashed their eighth studio record onto the world. Entitled Wolves, the eight-song album is a rallying cry, a record gnashing at the heels of the misogyny and xenophobia that surfaced in the wake of Trump’s election as leader of the free world.

To lay down the 11-track offering the group pushed themselves out of their own political echo chamber and headed south to work with accomplished producer Nick Raskulinecz in his Nashville studio - making it the band’s first studio album in eleven years to be created without producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore. The process was both challenging and stimulating, forcing the group to be face to face with extreme pro-Trump propaganda on a daily basis, but as frontman Tim McIlrath told UTR on the phone recently, it reinforced the urgency of their message.

I read with interest about the title of your latest record, Wolves, and of course in storytelling wolves are often the bad guys, but you’ve flipped that on its head and have used the word to identify yourselves…

Yeah, the idea behind Wolves was to flip that narrative around, and talk about our band and maybe anybody who believes that the world is heading in a direction that they don’t agree with, and to encourage them to be the wolves at the gate. To be the ones that want to take back control and wanna break down the walls and reclaim that direction. It was a way to make a record as a response to what’s happening in the world, and to make that response an ACTIVE response and not a passive response, because there was such a defeatist attitude happening in the wake of the American election. And for a second, as we were digging back back into the record in the studio there were songs that I was writing that felt more like grief, they felt more like mourning and I thought ‘this is not the way to go, the way to go is to make a call to action’, and that’s where Wolves came from.

Yeah, I like that idea. Because there can be a certain feeling of apathy that comes when you feel like you get your hopes up and do your part, only to be let down by the system. You can hit a wall and feel like you’re not getting anywhere, and you can lose a bit of fight.

Exactly yeah. And this was like a ‘wake up and fight’ kind of record.

And so you guys went out to Nashville to record, which is obviously not where you live. What was the catalyst to go and record there?

We found a producer named Nick Raskulinecz. Nick has done records with Foo Fighters, Rush, Mastodon, Deftones, and Alice In Chains. He’s worked on everything from Death Angel to Rancid, so he’s one of those guys that has a wealth of experience. And he has a studio outside of Nashville, and we wanted to do a record. So for the first time in over 10 years we went to a different studio than we had been going to, to kind of take ourselves outside of our comfort zone and work on something different, and try something new. And heading to a place like Nashville was interesting because, Nashville is a place that gravitates around country music and real careerist musical endeavours, and we are a scrappy punk band. So I felt like a black sheep down there, you know. I couldn’t relate to a lot of what was happening down there. But I will say that, being the black sheep is often where Rise Against does it’s best work.

And you are not just musically black sheep in that neck of the woods, you’re also politically black sheep from what I understand.


I’ve never been to Tennessee, but is it obvious, like when you exit the studio and go out onto the street, is there pro-Trump propaganda everywhere?

Absolutely. The first house I hit when I exited the studio, every single day for four months had a giant Trump sign. And the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. So I had to pass probably close to a hundred Trump signs on my half hour journey to the city every day. We were definitely in Trump country. And I think it served as a good reminder that we don’t live in a bubble, and not everybody agrees with a band like Rise Against. But there are a lot of battles left to be fought. There are a lot of people who are fooled by somebody like Donald Trump, who is an expression of the worst of American culture. And so being down there was kind of, it reminded you of the urgency of that fight to shed a little light in a dark place.

I read a brief article about a video you were planning for ‘The Violence’, and from what I understand the shooting location got shut down, because of what was being perceived as an anti-American message in the plan for the video. Can you tell me a bit about what happened there?

Yeah, let me try to sum it up as short as possible. We had a video shoot that we had decided to film on location in Virginia, where a presidential theme park had existed, but after it went out of business the huge statues of the president’s heads, just the busts, just their faces, were moved out to a field somewhere, but they were all falling apart. They were all just haphazardly strewn around this field. So we thought this would be a great place to make the video for ‘The Violence’, and we’d have these symbols of power and also show you all these different things our country had survived, all these people in power that had just come and gone. And everything was going fine, but as we approached video day we were told a board of directors, who owned the field collectively I guess, and somebody decided to look up our band and see what we’re all about and they decided that we were not the right fit for their field of weathered heads. I think the words “anti-government” were thrown around. I wish I had a better explanation as to why they shut us down, but I don’t know what “anti-government” means. I don’t know if they thought we were some of of Lord Of The Flies anarchists. I feel like anybody who’s trying to hold the government accountable for what they do could come down on either side of the argument. But regardless, the thing happened, and it kind of illustrated how polarised America is right now too, where were being shut down because of our message and who we are as a band, it brings up questions around freedom of speech, somewhat at least. But it also made me proud of Rise Against as well. That 18 years later, what we do is still something that the other side considers dangerous.

Have you ever been censored in an overt way like that before?

Surprisingly, no. We do a pretty good job of letting people know who we are from the get go. You know, our band name is Rise Against, there’s not a lot of false advertising happening here. If you come to us, you kinda know what you’re in for.

Rise Against are performing with special guests SWMRS on Saturday 17th February at Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena, and on Monday 19th February at Auckland’s Logan Campbell Centre. For more info see HERE.

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