After nearly two full, quite frankly, difficult and challenging years for all musicians, Tim Mcllrath of Rise Against has made the perilous journey, filled with COVID-19 tests and negative results, back to the UK to play at Kingston’s Pryzm venue to the delight of their adoring fans. Supporting their latest studio recording, Nowhere Generation, we were fortunate to chat with the group’s revered lead singer ahead of their show. Our full chat can be found below and on SoundCloud should readers prefer the original audio recording.
So, I’m back after two years, well, at least two years! I’ve only been to one concert since, and now I’m joined by Tim from Rise Against. So, firstly, how’s things so far?
Tim Mcllrath: “So good, man. So far, so good.”
The first big question is how has it been being back on the road again, after so long?
“Yeah, it’s been crazy! You know, we’re weathering a period of time where we weren’t sure we were ever going to go back on the road, you know! If we were ever going to come over here again. Because at its darkest times, you know, like the lockdown was something that was happening where we thought, you know, there might not ever be a tour again. So it’s good. See shows like this happening to be a part of. To see our fans. You know, this is my first time overseas since everything and so you see these glimmers of hope on the horizon.”
No, there definitely is, which brings well, hope to everyone because, as you know, this is my second concert in such a long time. What was it like recording Nowhere Generation? I mean, was this album recorded remotely or were you able to actually get into the studio for this one?
“This one we were actually in the studio. So, this album was mostly finished before COVID, if you can imagine that! We did it mostly in the winter. It was like the last day of recording was pretty much the first day of COVID. So that’s when the world shut down and it didn’t really mess with our calendar at first, because we had just finished the record. Then as it stretched out over a year, you know, that’s when everything got a little crazy. So we, we made the record in a pre-COVID world, but released it into a COVID world.”
What caused the delay? Was it COVID or did you just want to take your time a little bit with it and release it at a time when the world was going to be getting back to normal and you can tour and support it in a better?
“There was like two different strategies. I think bands were kind of like trying to figure out what to do in these uncharted waters and it was, we have a new album, we have new music, should we wait and put it out until this thing is over and we can tour it and support it and promote it, or should we put it out now in a world where everybody’s home and they have time to listen to it and they’re looking for something to listen to and for new music, do we have captive audiences? Should we definitely put out new material?
“I saw bands make decisions on both sides of the fence. Some of them were like, let’s put it out and see what happens and we were just one of the bands that said, let’s wait, our album needs to be felt and heard and seen live. We need to be on the road to really explain what this record is and put it in front of people. So we decided to hold off as long as we possibly could and that’s what we did.”
Speaking of that, a lot of bands did play remotely. Well, I say remote gigs, gigs that you could pay for tickets and sign in and watch live on your laptop, or iPad, or whatever. Did you do any of those? How did you feel about gigs like that? I will confess, I didn’t even bother with anything like that. It just felt like it was a reminder that I couldn’t be there. So, how did you respond to this?
“We didn’t do anything that was pay per view. We didn’t set up a concert that was to be watched online. I played some acoustic stuff for fun here and there. We played a benefit for independent music venues in the States where we played live on the internet, but for something that we knew. I was like, that’s not a problem at all. I knew that the band wasn’t going to be experienced best in that scenario, in that environment, so while we did a couple of different things, we dabbled in some of the Zoom call and online streaming sort of thing. For the most part, though, we didn’t.
“We said no to the idea of doing like a big pay-per-view concert. If this thing would have stretched out even longer, I’m sure we probably would have thought, let’s do something here but we saw that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Now the album came out, I believe it was in June, so it’s taken you some time to actually get here (UK) for it. How do you feel the album has been received? I’ve listened to it and I do love it, but how do you feel that your fans have reacted to it and received it?
“I mean, from what I can tell, overwhelmingly positive. This is our ninth album and punk bands have been around for 20 years now, so you’re never sure people listening to your new stuff still like it. Despite that you put everything into it, you put everything into every song, you jot down like what you’re feeling at that moment and hopefully somebody out there might identify with it. We put this thing out here, not knowing if anybody was still hungry for this kind of music It turns out they were and it really connected with a lot of people.”
To be fair, I think everyone’s hungry for any kind of music! So, you also recently put out the EP Nowhere Sessions. I do want to ask what made you decide to cover “Fortunate Son?”
“You know, it’s funny, I’ve always loved that song. ‘Fortunate Son’ is something that the band covered in our early days. We knew Rise Against was dabbling in music and politics and I think we wanted to give a reference point to where music and politics have been resected before, and not just intersected, but in instructed in a mainstream way. Not just like in the margins of a political song, but ‘Fortunate Son’ is a song that has lived on jukeboxes around the world and it’s actually a really poignant statement on war and privilege, you know?
“It was one of those things where we were a new band playing a cover song and it was almost part of your art, your set. No one knew who you were. It’s been dormant for the most part for the last how many years of Rise Against and it was honestly a last-minute decision in that studio that day. We’d wrapped up, we’d done a lot of what we needed to do that day, but we had hired the studio, hired the microphones, and everyone’s there. Someone was like, you guys want to do anything else? You want to do a cover song? We didn’t rehearse it, but we could do ‘Fortunate Son.’ I guess it’s one of those things and we just kind of did it for fun. It came up pretty cool, so we’re like, let’s put it out there.”
Well, I’ll hope to hear it live tonight, but I’m not holding you to it. Speaking of being on the road again, have you guys run into any difficulty with regards to COVID or destinations you are playing or have played? Have you had to cancel any shows or postpone anything? Everything is so rapidly changing.
“Let’s see… The one I can think of is when we canceled a show in Louisiana. We were in the middle of our tour with the Descendants and Menzingers and we were going to play a very small club, probably something smaller than this, and it was a time when Louisiana had rates of COVID that were like sky high. So we knew playing that show was going to put our entire tour at risk. We made a decision to pull out of that show, and that was the only one of that whole tour, and so far, the only one. That was specifically the only one that we had to shut down, but the band had stayed healthy. We did that whole tour and, knock on wood, nothing happened.”
You’re so lucky, trust me! I have suffered with it! So, how did you personally cope during the respective lockdowns? Was there any experiences that drove you crazy? Anything you can actually reflect on?
“Well, I needed the break! When it happened I was just like in need of a break from everything. So, for me personally, it was like a good thing. Then as it dragged on longer than any of us anticipated, I was like, oh, I need something to do here. I wasn’t really ready to do more music. I’ve been an artist, and it’s such an input/output thing. Your input is listening to music, watching films, reading books, taking part in some sort of art and your output is your art. You create songs with that input. I had just done the output part.
“I just made a record and we made no regenerations. I wasn’t ready to have more output. I needed more input. So then I decided to go back to college. I went back to university and took a whole bunch of courses. That’s what took me through. I’m still in school right now. Actually, I have an assignment due tonight! But that’s what took me through a lot of that downtime. I stayed probably busier than I needed to be.”
That’s actually a really interesting thing. When you went back to college, went back to university, what did you choose to study?
“So, I was mostly doing sociology and philosophy, political science, stuff like that. So, when I went, I would’ve gone into my senior year of college. I never finished, but we got a contract from Fat Records to sign and I was like 22. So, we signed a contract and then never went back to school, but I always told myself I left behind three years of credit. I was like, maybe I’ll go back one day and try to wrap that up. So, I’ve started this now and now I’m going to try to see it through.”
Well, that has to be commended, I can’t lie. Well, I hope you get your assignment in. I’m guessing for getting the gig, you’re going to be pulling an all-nighter afterwards?
“I think they should (give an extension) I can’t see why they wouldn’t.”
Now, what would you say is the worst experience you’ve had during this whole situation?
“Just watching. The way this affects the people around me. Just watching rates of depression and anxiety go up, just watching people and our mental well-being just go downhill. You can just see that when people are outside of their routine, outside of participating in the role around them, how it can affect them. That’s been the worst thing, just to watch and you don’t want to see anybody suffer.”
Given all of this, do you think anything positive has come out of the COVID situation? Obviously, people have been stuck indoors or not being able to do everything. We’d see loved ones but lots of unfortunate deaths. Apart from obviously going back to college and seizing that opportunity? Has there been anything positive, you know, personally for the band or even on a global scale in your mind?
“I would like to think that I’m coming back to these shows where there is going to be a new appreciation. I’m going back to travel with a new appreciation and be able to see the world, see people. I have this renewed appreciation for all of it. I’d like to think that people have a renewed appreciation for a sense of how we really need each other, how much we are interconnected, how much we rely on garbage men, more than we rely on advertising executives. You sort of find out what’s really important, who we really need, like first responders, you know what I mean… The people that really take care of us. So, hopefully, we continue to value them.”
Now I just want to leave on one positive thing. A lot of things have gone online. People are doing things online, a lot more. Forget Tik Tok, I’m not talking about that rubbish, but generally, things happening online and people making jokes and things out of the situation. Has there been anything that you’ve seen that’s stuck in your mind, that you want to draw everyone’s attention to?
Plug a video or something that you’ve seen. This is properly on the spot I know, but what somebody needs to check out online. It can be anything. I’m only asking because, as I said, everything’s been online lately. I think I’ve gone through the entire back catalogue of YouTube!
“Well, I’m trying to think of something that I saw recently that was really worth watching. The last thing I watched, which I found fascinating was the Britney Spears documentary about the free Britney thing. It sounds like it has come to some sort of resolution in the last week or two. That was a fascinating story and just about power and privilege and patriarchy, the way we treat young women.”
It’s interesting you’ve mentioned that because I was never that interested in Britney Spears, but just seeing the whole story actually made me think that this is actual abuse, as far as I’m concerned. It’s good to hear that it’s all come out and been sorted.
“I watched it so late. So I was able to watch it when it was coming to fruition in real-time. So, I didn’t have to experience the anguish, oh, this poor girl, you know? What an interesting story. Like you, I was largely ignorant to her, her whole story, you know, except for the songs that you couldn’t avoid, you know?”
I do want to thank you so much for chatting to us today. I hope this has actually come across as a competent interview considering it’s been so long. Thank you. I’m praying that it picks up through these masks.
“I’m sure it will.”
Well, if you ever see the interview transcribed and it says illegible, you know what happened, but thank you so much!