An interview with Rise Against

From the years 2000 to 2002 I ran an online zine, Actionattackhelicopter, along with my friends, Brian and Josh. I was fortunate to interview many musicians whose work I enjoyed. I’m posting some of those interviews here for anyone who may have missed them the first time. They have been edited for length, relevance, and to correct for my poor editing skills at the time of original publication. Keep in mind that these were done over ten years ago, thus individuals’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas may no longer be relevant, but they are still interesting as a snapshot of a particular time and place.

This interview was originally published in July 2001.

It’s normally my policy to do interviews one on one, but Jeremiah really enjoyed seeing Rise Against, so he talked me into doing a tag team interview with them after their show at Higher Grounds Coffee in South Bend, Indiana, on some Saturday back in May. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to attend the show, nor was I positive I wanted to do the interview, but upon further reflection I’m glad I did both. Rise Against’s album The Unraveling is out now on Fat Wreck Chords and is a mighty fine piece of punk rock. I would suggest checking it out if you get the chance. Until then, enjoy this interview, which took place with Tim, the singer. Later on, Joe, the bassist, joined in on the fracas.

Tim from Rise Against

Kurt: Which of you guys used to be in 88 Fingers Louie?

Tim: That would be Joe and Dan, our bassist and guitarist.

Jeremiah: How old are all you guys?

Tim: We’re all different as far as ages. Brandon—who is the drummer—and I are 22, Dan is 27 and I think Joe is 24.

Kurt: How did you guys hook up?

Tim: Well, 88 broke up about two years ago and they started trying out singers and shit wasn’t working out. Then their drummer left and so they had to find a drummer and a singer. I ran into them at a show and they knew me from when I had played in a band called Baxter back in the day. They approached me and asked if I wanted to try out and it went from there. Now, our drummer—

Kurt: Was he sleeping on the streets, homeless?

Tim: Pretty much. In Boulder, Colorado.

Jeremiah: He’s a great drummer.

Tim: Yeah. He used to play in a band called Pinhead Circus. They used to be on BYO Records.

Jeremiah: No way! Wow.

Tim: Yeah. They’re from Boulder, Colorado. He left the band and was looking to be in another band and we heard of him through a couple of friends and he flew out to try out for us and we liked him and asked him if he’d like to move out to Chicago. He said okay and the kid made a huge sacrifice. He picked up and left and moved to Chicago where he didn’t know a soul.

Kurt: Do you guys actually live in Chicago, or do you live in the suburbs?

Tim: I live in Wicker Park, which is right downtown in Chicago.

Jeremiah: We heard you were a bunch of rich, suburban kids.

Tim: Oh really? I’m trying to figure out who in our band would be rich. I think Brandon’s parents are rich, but they don’t give him anything.

Kurt: Maybe it was the other guys from 88 Fingers Louie. I was told that the guys from 88 Fingers Louie were all rich kids. That’s what a friend of mine in Chicago told me. Didn’t the other two guys go on to be in other bands?

Tim: Dennis, the singer of 88, went on to be in a band called The Story So Far. They’re on Hopeless.

Kurt: Yeah, that’s it! I saw them and my friend said that they were all rich kids.

Tim: Yeah, I can’t really talk about that.

Kurt: We’re trying to get you to trash talk here. [laughs]

Tim: I don’t know much about The Story So Far. I know some of the guys used to be in a band called King For A Day. That’s really all I know about them. I’ve seen them once or twice.

Tim from Rise Against2

Jeremiah: I’m totally far removed from this whole scene. I don’t know anything about the music anymore and I’ve never heard you guys before, but I was really impressed. I couldn’t understand anything you were saying, so I want to know what you write about.

Tim: Lyrics are all over the place. They’re personal, political—

Jeremiah: Okay, like what? What, politically?

Tim: Politically we have a song about organized worship.

Kurt: Is that the “Stained Glass And Marble”? I was gonna ask you about that because I wasn’t quite sure what angle you were taking on that.

Tim: That song isn’t an anti-religion or anti-God song. It’s an anti-church song. There’s a lot of really great things the church does and then there’s a lot of really shitty things the church does.

Jeremiah: So, where do you guys stand, personally?

Tim: We all stand differently.

Jeremiah: Well, who’s the chief lyricist?

Tim: I write most of the lyrics. Me, I believe in God. I totally do. But I’m always sick of the way they think—the way the majority of the world thinks. You have to constantly second-guess people who go to church every Sunday and if they believe or not. The lyrics are pretty self-explanatory, though. People have really warped things.

Jeremiah: Good answer.

Tim: That’s the first time I’ve had to answer that question.

Jeremiah: We ask the probing questions.

Tim: We haven’t done many interviews, though. I did an interview over email with someone and it was cool because I could go back over my answers.

Jeremiah: That’s really good for the people being interviewed, but it sucks for the people doing the interviews, because they don’t get to form their questions around their responses.

Tim: Well, the interview I did was just what I wrote.

Jeremiah: Yeah, it’s nice if you just want to write out your own little manifesto.

Kurt: Where do you work?

Tim: I work at a ticket broker.

Kurt: Is Wicker Park pretty expensive to live in?

Tim: It’s so-so. I definitely don’t live in the most expensive part of it. I pay pretty typical rent. I work full-time at a ticket broker. Basically, they broker out tickets to events.

Jeremiah: What one do you work at?

Tim: Do you normally call brokers in Chicago?

Jeremiah: I had to a couple months ago.

Tim: What were you looking for?

Jeremiah: I was trying to get tickets to U2.

Tim: Oh, really? They’re playing in Chicago like tomorrow night, I think.

Jeremiah: I already saw them.

Tim: In Indiana?

Jeremiah: No, in Cleveland.

Tim: Where’d you sit?

Jeremiah: We were right up front.

Tim: How much did you pay?

Jeremiah: Forty-five dollars.

Tim: A piece?!

Jeremiah: Yeah. But I didn’t go through a broker.

Tim: Oh.

Jeremiah: But anyway, let’s talk about Rise Against.

Tim: Okay.

Jeremiah: So—do you have any pets?

[all laugh]

Tim: I have a cat named Orwell and he’s actually thanked in the record.

Jeremiah: Do you look like your cat?

Tim: No. My cat’s real hairy. It sheds a lot.

Jeremiah: Have you grown up in Chicago all your life?

Tim: I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Kurt: Palatine?

Tim: No, but near there. I grew up in Arlington Heights. Where are you guys from?

Jeremiah: We’re from around here.

Tim: I was born in Indianapolis.

Kurt: Okay. My sister went to grad school at Wheaton, so I’m familiar with that area.

Tim: Yeah, that’s sort of the area I grew up in and then I moved to Chicago.

Kurt: Well, if you grew up there, no wonder you don’t like organized religion.

Tim: Catholic school for nine years.

Kurt: Wheaton is kind of scary, too.

rise-against-the-unraveling-album-cover

Jeremiah: I’m gonna ask you a porn star question: so, do your parents know about what you do?

[all laugh]

Jeremiah: Are your parents supportive of your band?

Tim: Yeah, it definitely took them a while. I had to ease them into it. I did bands through high school, but this is nowhere near the same scale of things. When you’re in high school, parents are just like, “You’re wasting your time. Why don’t you get back to studying?” Get a job, you’re wasting your time. Once you get to twenty-two and you’re still doing a band and you tell them, “Mom, Dad, I’m quitting college to play in a band,” what they’re thinking is that same band that you were a part of in high school where you’re playing for fifteen kids at some party and you’re losing money left and right. They’re just thinking, “What are you doing?” It’s really hard to explain to them what Fat Wreck Chords is. They don’t know the difference between if I told them I was doing this or in Metallica. They wouldn’t know because they’re your parents. They might know Metallica because it’s a household name, but parents just can’t really differentiate. I tell them, “Mom, Dad, it’s a big deal. It’s not like my old band, Baxter. It’s much bigger.” So they think that means I’m gonna be on MTV. And then I have to explain to them that it’s not that big and I’m not going to make that much money. They don’t seem to understand. They know huge arenas and they know the basement that you played when you were fifteen years old. There’s no in-between. But they’re getting there.

Kurt: You’re like, “Mom, Warped Tour!”

Jeremiah: Are you guys doing that?

Tim: No.

Kurt: But there’s the potential for that.

Tim: Right. Especially with the label we’re on, there’s a little bit more pull. When you say you’re on Fat, people are a little more serious about it.

Jeremiah: Is it crazy to be on a label with people who you probably listened to in high school?

Tim: Yeah.

Jeremiah: I’m not saying that you rip anybody off, but your voice totally reminds me of the guy from No Use for a Name. That’s a compliment. I like that band.

Tim: That’s a good one. I get lots of different compliments all the time. But my sophomore year, Fat Music for Fat People was in heavy rotation in my car 24/7. That was like the best thing in the world. By my junior and senior year Fat Wreck Chords could’ve shut down and I wouldn’t have even known.

Jeremiah: I think it’s making a comeback.

Tim: I think it is, too. At first when they called us, I didn’t even know if they were still around. So, I had to check out their homepage and see what they were like. Then I thought that since we’re a heavy band, what are we going to do on Fat?

Kurt: Go on tour with Propagandhi.

Tim: Yeah. Propagandhi, Avail, Sick of It All are all on there and Good Riddance is doing heavier stuff, so I realized that Fat’s doing some heavy shit. Rise Against isn’t Strung Out, we’re not Lagwagon—

Kurt: [moans] Well, I guess the interview’s over.

[all laugh]

Jeremiah: What year did you graduate?

Tim: ’97

Jeremiah: You and Kurt graduated the same class. I was young for my class and graduated in ’96.

Tim: Man, we’re all dinosaurs for the punk scene. [Views Joe standing nearby] Oh, sorry Joe. [laughs]

Rise Against

Kurt: Seriously. Around here, especially. Everyone is younger. I went to college, came back and all the sudden everyone is way younger than me.

Jeremiah: Isn’t that such a weird thing to play these shows and see all these fifteen-year-old kids there? Or maybe you go to shows in your area and see all those fifteen-year-old kids and say, “Man, I hate these kids!” but then you think that you were there at one point. You were that kid.

Joe: We just toured Canada and we played a Minor Threat song and nobody knew Minor Threat. I’m dead serious. It was very disheartening.

Tim: We sat down and said, “What could we play that everybody would know?” But now we might as well just get up there and play a Third Eye Blind song.

Kurt: What’s your theory as to how Fat Mike gets all this money to put out all these albums?

Tim: He probably deals drugs.

Jeremiah: Well, he’s got an endless supply of fifteen-year-old kids, right?

Kurt: That dude has mad cash, though. Everyone I’ve talked to has said, “Where does this guy get his money to put out so many records?”

Tim: Going back to when you were fourteen, how many Fat albums have you owned?

Jeremiah: Two.

Kurt: Yours and Propagandhi’s “Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes”.

Tim: If you picture anybody who ever gets into punk, at one time or another they buy a Fat CD.

Jeremiah: Especially now that they’re starting to get the older bands.

Tim: If every single kid into punk buys a Fat Wreck Chord, that’s a lot of records.

Jeremiah: That’s true. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there weren’t a lot of punk bands around Chicago, but is that different now?

Tim: I think there’s definitely a resurgence of bands right now. Before there was Slapstick, 88 Fingers Louie, and No Empathy and that was about it.

Jeremiah: I think the word resurgence is appropriate, because bands like Tortoise and Wilco set the scene for a long time. They’ve started to get bigger and bigger and they move beyond the scene to a national scene, so now it’s like, “What do we have that is just totally for Chicago?”

Tim: That’s true. The door is open now for new music. There’s a total resurgence for bands like Lawrence Arms, The Honor System, Alkaline Trio, Super Sleuth, and Arma Angelus. It’s totally a way more active scene than it’s been in years. It’s more diverse. You can finally go to a show and see not just one good band, but four good bands.

Jeremiah: Who are your influences, musically?  I can tell Metallica is one of them based on your guitars and the stickers.

Joe: Oddly enough, our guitarist doesn’t listen to as much metal as he appears to.

Jeremiah: So it’s just something to get chicks?

Tim: I grew up on a lot of Cap’n Jazz, Gauge, Jawbreaker.

Jeremiah: So not just punk, then?

Tim: No.

Jeremiah: I think that’s why I like you. You guys don’t sound like a regurgitated form of a bunch of other stuff.

Joe: We went through a bunch of singers before we found Tim and he just totally makes the band. Our music could be very generic. I have fun playing fast stuff, but there’s so many bands playing fast stuff. The singer always makes the band. Bad Religion music would be very boring with a boring singer. Greg Graffin makes the band. A lot of people in Chicago, when they heard that Tim was going to sing for the band, they thought it wasn’t going to mix, considering the background of the guitarist and I. I’m still a big Bad Brains fan, faster ‘80s stuff, and the Police.

Tim: I used to play in these spazzy, emo bands and then these guys asked me to play for them and they said, “Come play for our punk band and make your voice work for it.”

Jeremiah: But see, that’s awesome. I love how that works for you guys. You’ve got all these different influences coming together and you’re not regurgitating, like I said.

Tim: It could’ve fallen through, or it could’ve worked out perfectly and it’s really worked out good.

Kurt: Well, that’s a good note to end on.

Jeremiah: Any final thoughts?

Tim: Keep your faith in Chicago, because it’s coming back.

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