Rise Against on the Power and Pitfalls of Political Punk

Tim McIlrath on Green Day reaching the masses and nearly getting sucked into "High School Musical." Plus, their "Hero of War" video.

May 20, 2009 3:22 PM ET

After spending the fall breaking into the Billboard Top Three and rejoicing over a governmental sea change, political punks Rise Against won't be resting on their laurels any time soon. The third video from fifth album Appeal To Reason, "Hero of War," hits the Web today (watch behind-the-scenes footage from the set above, and catch the whole clip — which explores the disturbingly personal effects of battle — on the next page). The band is touring North America in the summer with legendary snot-rocketers Rancid opening for them, and capping it all off with a hometown appearance at Chicago's Lollapalooza festival. The band also just released a self-titled 7" featuring two "short-fast-punk-blasts" reminiscent of their earlier, speedier days. Rolling Stone caught up with lead singer Tim McIlrath to find out about the eventual follow-up to Reason, how to rock against things besides Bush, and what exactly they won't do for Disney.

Tell us about the Fat Wreck Chords 7".
It's two extra songs from our last recording session. The songs in their nature were kind of a throwback to our earlier days. We thought it would be cool to go to back to the old boss, Fat Mike, and see if he wanted to put them out. Luckily, [Interscope] was really cool about allowing us to do that... especially in this day and age when labels are so hard up for any way to sell record.

Do you guys have any ideas for a new studio album?
Nothing that has had time to come to fruition. We haven't been in a practice space all year. In fact rehearsing for this new Rancid tour coming up will be the first time we'll be in a room to just hang out and play. I wouldn't be surprised if some stuff comes out of that.

Do you think you're going to have a different lyrical approach for your first record after the Bush years?
This record we just did was very non-Bush. We knew that by the time it came out we would be looking at a different president. I think that the problems that we've addressed in our records, were never specific to the Bush era... I think too much credit is given to George Bush for the problems of things like the right wing and Republican Party. The problems are still here. George Bush was merely a symptom of a much broader disease.

Have you been paying attention to what Green Day has been up to?
I heard a single. I thought it was good. I'm one of those people who were never really a Green Day fan until American Idiot, actually. I liked Screeching Weasel, and I was a total Lookout! Records fan. But as soon as I got into it, I moved right on to Fugazi.

Do you think they're helping set the stage for people to make ambitious statements with political punk on a larger scale?
Definitely. By their sheer size and just how they inundated the world with their music. They're the U2 of my generation. The fact that they have taken that, and write a record like American Idiot, and to continue with those politics today — that's setting a precedent. Especially for such a broad musical fanbase. Kids in Middle America, who grow up in conservative towns, they're letting them know: "Hey, if you don't agree with the government, with the bloodthirsty trigger-happy patriotism that are country is infected with. You're not alone. There's is more of us out there." When bands get big, you risk a lot by choosing to be political.

You guys are an anti-consumerism band thrust into bigger levels of exposure. Do you have to turn down opportunities?
Oh yeah. We did a cover of a Danny Elfman song off of A Nightmare Before Christmas. We were all big fans of the movie, part of that cult fan base. So when we we're approached by a company like Disney, it was weird. But it's a song by a songwriter we know and love — it's fucking Danny Elfman! So we thought let's be a part of this. And it was awesome. That was a good thing... So, Disney was like "You guys did a great job with A Nightmare Before Christmas, we loved it, people loved it. We have another project we'd like you to be a part of. We want you to cover songs from High School Musical." Needless to say, much to my daughter's chagrin, it was something that's obviously not us. It would just be awful.

Have you seen High School Musical?
I have not. My daughter is turning to five this summer, so she's just starting to get into that kind of stuff. We have the soundtrack... because they sent me the soundtrack [Laughs].

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