When it comes to describing punk music, I think the legendary Henry Rollins said it best. “Questioning anything and everything, to me, is punk rock.” Of course, that is what attracts everyone to punk at first. It’s love at first listen. No matter how long the songs are, or how great the instrumentation is, or even how great the quality of the audio is, it is about expressing oneself. Each word, each note, carries weight. That’s what is so great about the genre. Whether the content refers to global warming or standing up to “the man,” there is a belief rooted in the music. No matter how big or small, a concept is always present.
Back in 1999, a group of Chicago punk rock fans formed a band of their own. Inspired by acts like Minor Threat and Black Flag, the band called themselves Transistor Revolt. In 2001, they would later rename themselves Rise Against. Tracks like “Hero Of War,” “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” and “Ready To Fall,” all touch upon issues that Rise Against have advocated for years. They are just a group of well-informed guys that just so happen to make great punk rock music. Last year, they took a more inward approach to writing. 2014 saw the release the group’s seventh studio record, The Black Market.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Joe Principe, bassist for Rise Against. We talked of the upcoming tour with their friends in Killswitch Engage, playing tunes from The Black Market, and keeping songs fresh on the road. He also provided insight into how the band changes their setlists, some of their favorite tracks, and what it’s like to play with acts like Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. Check out what Joe had to say below:
The music of Rise Against and activism essentially go hand in hand. You guys have written so many meaningful and inspirational tracks. Is there any particular one that hits close to home or that means the most to you?
I was always drawn to the song “Collapse (Post-Amerika)” off of Appeal To Reason. It touches on global warming and the damage we are doing to the environment. I don’t think many people realize how the damage that has already been done will affect future generations. We all share our time on this planet, so we really need to take better care of it.
On the most recent record, you guys have said that the writing process was a bit more introspective than others. Would you say that was the biggest difference between The Black Market and some of your other releases?
From my perspective, yes. Our earlier albums had a similar vibe to The Black Market, but we really delivered it on this one. Tim [McIlrath, vocalist/guitarist] spent hours and hours writing the lyrics. Writing such personal content can take its toll, but I’m glad to see he used this record as an outlet.
Now that you guys have spent time with some of these songs on the road, have any of them been altered in any way?
We haven’t messed with the formula too much yet. That always comes in time. Songs like “Ready To Fall” and “Savior” have been played so much over the last eight years, that we look to find new ways to keep them interesting. I love when bands deviate from the path a little bit with some of their older material. It keeps things fresh and interesting.
Is there a standout song on the album that you love to play live?
“I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore” is super fun to play live. There is a lot of energy behind that song, and it seems to translate well to the audience.
What is the setlist creation process like? How do you divvy up the different albums into about a 15- to 20-track show?
Of course it becomes a bit more difficult with every record we put out. As a band, we always want to play the new songs. For fans, they always want to hear the ones that got them listening to us. So it is honestly just about trying to maintain a balance of the two. Making sure we have a good amount of new and old tunes and that all of our records are represented live.
With so much material to work with, do you change the setlist throughout a tour at all?
We haven’t too much in the past. On this current summer tour, we are making a conscious effort to change it almost every night. It is definitely going to be a lot of fun!
You have toured with so many great bands, both as headliners, and as support. I caught you guys a few times with bands like Bad Religion and Foo Fighters. Is there a favorite memory or story to go along with any of the acts that you have shared the stage with?
My favorite memory was when we played a Scream song with Dave Grohl on drums. Scream was one of my favorite bands growing up. Dave played drums for them before he joined Nirvana. On the Australian tour with Foo Fighters, I asked him if he would play a Scream cover with us. He was so excited to do so (laughs). That totally made my year (laughs).
On social media, you are connecting with your fans in a really cool way. You are sharing photos of fans’ Rise Against tattoos with #risetattoo. Do any of you have tattoos of some of your own favorite bands?
Tim, Zach [Blair, guitarist], and myself all have Minor Threat tattoos. That band was a huge influence on all of us, so we wanted to do something to honor them. I remember the day we got them very vividly. We were on tour in NYC and we called a tattoo artist named Civ from Long Island to see if he had the time to do the tattoo. He was a pioneer of the NYC hardcore scene with his bands Gorilla Biscuits and CIV. He’s from our world and is also a huge fan of Minor Threat, so he was the perfect guy for the job!
With a history of playing intimate shows, festivals, and various other types of venues, do you have a preference? Or do all of these different types have their own advantages and disadvantages?
They all have pros and cons for sure. But, for me, nothing beats a small intimate punk rock show. That energy you get from the audience is like no other. It is truly special.
Summer, of course, is the season for festivals. Do you get to relax when you aren’t on stage, or are you constantly moving around getting from venue to venue, show to show?
We do have time to check out other bands. More times than not, we are able to hang with friends that are also playing the same day. It’s also great being able to catch their shows whenever we can. It’s a great way to relax.
What’s next for Rise Against?
We’re about to embark on a U.S. tour with our buds in Killswitch Engage and letlive. It starts in Chicago on July 17 and runs through August 17. After that, we’ll make it back to Europe and Australia. We’re definitely staying busy!
Rise Against will be playing a slew of shows in the area. On July 22, they will perform with their friends in Killswitch Engage and letlive. at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, PA. The three acts will then make their way to Asbury Park, NJ on July 26 to perform at the Stone Pony Summer Stage. They will follow-up that performance with a show at Central Park SummerStage in New York, NY on July 28. The Black Market is available now through Interscope Records. For more information, check out the band’s website riseagainst.com.