“We are a credible threat to the rules you set, a cause to be alarmed.” This is one of the standout lines in the chorus of Rise Against’s anthemic title track Nowhere Generation, and a theme that follows through the rest of the album of the same name, which was just released on June 4, 2021.
The band’s ninth studio album proves that even after twenty years, Rise Against still maintains that same passion for enacting social change and serving as a voice for the unheard and downtrodden. The lyrical content is as poignant and relevant as ever, running the gamut from topics like systematic oppression, divisiveness in the media, climate change, social unrest, and personal growth and the evolution of self. Musically, this album also showcases Rise Against returning to their unapologetically aggressive punk roots while still maintaining more widespread appeal, in a way that harkens back to albums that catapulted them from the underground to the mainstream rock world.
Rise Against will be soon embarking on their Nowhere Generation tour, and one of their first stops is a return to the legendary New Jersey venue The Stone Pony on July 31. Bassist and founding member Joe Principe took the time to speak in depth about the new album, the writing process, and the importance of doing whatever you can to stay optimistic even in the darkest of times.
For the past five years – at least –every time Rise Against announces a tour cycle, you guys always make it a point to stop in Jersey, and you’ll bereturning to the Stone Pony Summer Stage on July 31. Lots of bands have a tendency to skip over the Garden State when announcing a tour, only showing love to New York and Philly. What is it about New Jersey that has kept us a priority whenever you guys come around the east coast?
You know, I really think it’s that 1) we have a lot of friends that live there, but I really think it’s 2) coming from the hardcore scene. We’ve always had just good shows in New Jersey. I think it’s kind of like the perfect mix, right? There’s a lot of good melodic hardcore bands from New Jersey and it was just an easy place to get to from New York, so we always just made it a point to get there. But I know even my older band, we would make it a point to hit New Jersey and we used to play with Gabe [Saporta] from Midtown’s old band, Humble Beginnings, and the band Ensign, so yeah we just have a lot of buds there and it’s such a great scene. We didn’t want to neglect it when we would go out on the road, so we always made sure we hit it.
Well all of your Jersey fans are very grateful for that. I’m also excited that you guys were one of the first to announce an upcoming tour. Are you eager to get back on the road?
Absolutely. I mean, like everyone else, it’s been such a crazy time to experience life and just to manage sanity [Laughs] with the pandemic. And we’re not out of the woods yet, but it does seem like it’s getting better, so we’re ready to get back out there and out of our basements. It’s been long enough. I don’t think we’ve ever been home this long as a band… like seriously this is the longest we’ve been home.
For those who don’t know, your new album Nowhere Generation just dropped on June 4, and in honor of this release, the mayor of Chicago proclaimed June 4, 2021 Rise Against Day in the city of Chicago. As Chicago natives, what does this accolade mean to you and where does it rank in the list of accomplishments for Rise Against?
It’s still very surreal, because when I first heard that they were giving us a day I like didn’t believe the people telling me. I thought they were messing with me. Then it occurred to me, “Yeah, what does this mean? Is it a yearly thing?” It is something we’ll celebrate yearly, and I do know it’s [about] Chicago wanting to acknowledge the arts in a better manner. The representative from the mayor’s office told us that they realized they were very far behind from other cities that are submerged in the arts and culture, like Los Angeles and New York, and they realized Chicago was way down at the bottom of this list they were reading as far as supporting the arts, so they were like “Oh, we need to step it up,” and then what better band to do it with than with us? So they kind of came to us with that idea and they wanted to do it simultaneously while we were releasing NowhereGeneration – on the same day. I mean it’s such an honor, you know? Now that they started this kind of arts and culture campaign, it’s nice to be first on their list of bands they wanted to work with, so, yes, it’s definitely an honor.
I want to talk a little bit about your new album, Nowhere Generation. To me, this album as a whole feels like your strongest release since Appeal toReason, maybe even since The Sufferer & the Witness. Did the process of putting this record together feel more substantial than prior releases, or is that something you have to wait to gauge until after the album is released?
I will say there was something about this writing process – our singer Tim and myself write music first, then we show it to the rest of the band, and then we work on it as a band. This grouping of songs definitely just came together so quickly. It’s funny because we intentionally took more time to work on this record than past records, but I think it took the pressure off and then it allowed us to be creative and not have these deadlines kind of lingering over our heads. It made it so it was very seamless to write songs and it was a very smooth process, so even though we set out to take more time than intended, we were kind of done writing the record quicker than anticipated.
I also do think that working independently, like I’ll write songs and then Tim writes songs, allowed us to focus on making sure our visions as songwriters remained intact. You know, sometimes when you have too many cooks in the kitchen things get lost, and I do think that from a songwriting standpoint, the songs were recorded the way they were intended to sound. Tempo wise, ferocity of the lyrical content, ferocity of Tim’s delivery with his vocals, and overall there’s definitely this sense of urgency on the whole record. I think it all comes from the initial demos we were doing and our vision as songwriters. When you have a short deadline, things get missed and rushed and then you lose kind of the initial intent – that’s definitely happened to us in the past. So this record, as a whole, I do notice that, as well: it feels very fluid from start to finish, and every song, in my eyes, is a very solid song.
The opening track of the album, “The Numbers,” is a very explosive track, and as you just mentioned about the sense of urgency that this album has, that track talks about taking power back from oppressors through collective action, if that action is ever taken. Why did you feel this was the best track to kick off Nowhere Generation?
I think we always kind of like to kick off the record with high energy and that song in particular has so much emotion coming from it; starting with that intro, then when it kicks into the verse, it just seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone -– the whole band, our producer Bill [Stevenson], and Jason – it was like the obvious choice, you know? That’s the more kick-in-the-face kind of song from the grouping of songs [on Nowhere Generation], but I really love the tempo changes in that song and I love how fluid it is. That song came together very quickly. I think I wrote it in 30 or 45 minutes? It was one of those songs where everything just kinda came together.
That’s awesome, and wasn’t it also one of the last tracks written for the record, ironically enough?
So, lyrically it was the last track that Tim finished the lyrics for. Musically, it was probably like midway through the process. I do remember writing that song. I started writing it and I kind of shut down my laptop and I was going to go to bed and finish it in the morning, but I woke up and my whole basement studio was flooded.
And I remember thinking, “Oh shit, I have to obviously get the water out of my basement, but I wanna finish this song!” [Laughs] I ended up renting a studio in Chicago to finish the song. It was driving me nuts because the rest of the song was like in my head. The working title for that song was “Flood,” because of that reason!
The title track of the album, “Nowhere Generation,” is a powerful anthem that speaks to the various struggles of today’s youth, but mainly the lack of opportunities for upward mobility that generations before them had taken for granted. What influenced the decision to make this song the focal point of the record as well as the album title?
Well, it’s definitely a topic that isn’t really touched by many artists. Three members of the band are dads, we have children, and we see it firsthand. My children are definitely younger – they’re 12, 10, and 8 –so they’re not quite near college or the working world. But it was definitely something that we felt we needed to, not so much address, but acknowledge, you know? To say “Hey guys, we hear you, we know the struggle fuckin’ sucks” [Laughs] and to get through it. I mean it sucks because there’s no quick solution to that, at least in my eyes, but we as the older generation (Or myself, I guess. I’m 46.), we can do better to help our children out. I’m not saying that’s not happening, but I’m saying it could happen more I think. There’s a lot of greed in the world, there’s a lot of the self centered kind of approach, the “what about me” thing where people don’t want to help out the younger generation because they’re worried about themselves. I know I try to live my life with that in mind and to help out as much as I can. Even if my children, or even if their friends, have questions about just life or why I started a band instead of working a 9-5 job, I’d always make sure I cut out time for them to talk to them because that’s important. You know what I mean? There are so many people that are just too busy, like they don’t want to be bothered talking to kids about life stuff. I just don’t want to live my life that way. I want to be there for them.
Absolutely. You want to be a mentor, to help them, guide them.
The first single you guys released from this album before a new album waseven announced was “Broken Dreams Inc,” which is featured in the Dark Knights:Death Metal soundtrack. When it comes to getting your music included in other types of media, whether it be movies, comics, video games, etc, how does that come to fruition? Are you usually the ones reaching out, or being approached for the opportunity?
More times than not we get approached. That song, it was almost a no-brainer because our record label put out the soundtrack for it, but Tyler Bates, who was kind of curating the soundtrack, we were already on his list. He thought we would fit in with the mood of the Death Metal series from Dark Knights. He definitely hand picked that song, because I think maybe we gave him four options, and that was the one that stood out to him. I knew nothing about the comic world, full disclosure, that was just out of my wheelhouse growing up. I was interested more in skateboarding than the comic thing, but then getting into it I realized there’s so many parallels with the punk rock scene and the comic world scene. It’s that whole counterculture world; it’s just another outlet for people to find like-minded individuals and it’s like a release almost when you’re writing comics or reading comics, so I fully understand that world now. It was definitely eye-opening when we got involved in that project.
The last single Rise Against released before the album dropped was “Talking to Ourselves,” which seems to vent frustration about trying to get a person or group to open their mind to your point of view rather than being stuck in the echo chamber of their rigid beliefs. Are you more proud to continue to be a prevalent voice in the punk rock scene that strives for sociopolitical change, or does it become exhausting to still be talking about many of the same issues raised when Rise Against first formed?
At the end of the day, that’s who we are. That’s what makes us the band, and as individual people in the punk scene and as musicians, we just grew up being a part of a music scene that was there to inspire change. I couldn’t see us any other way, but it does get frustrating at times after being a band for 20 years. Again, that song was written because you have to take a step back and wonder “Is anyone listening? Is this thing on?” Like you’re tapping on the mic. But that’s not to acknowledge the people that come to us and say “I went vegetarian because you guys pointed out environmental issues in songs like ‘Collapse’ and ‘The Eco-Terrorist in Me,'” so people are paying attention. But sometimes I think with anything you do for an extended period of time, you have to kind of reassess and make sure you’re still on the right path. That song is definitely born out of a little frustration with that… and it’s also a way to vent a little bit, as well.
The album art for Nowhere Generation depicts a stack of televisions with blank screens, except for the special editions of the record which feature different imagery within each TV. Can you explain the concept behind this album art and if there’s a deeper meaning to it?
I think every one of us will have a different answer. For me, it’s a blank canvas: those TV screens can read any message we want. It’s like Play-Doh, it’s just pliable. We’re going to use that imagery in our live show with the August tour and it’ll allow us to present any image we want to highlight, so it’s just very pliable. There wasn’t too much that went into it as far as that goes, conceptually it was a very simple way to give out whatever message we wanted to convey. It’s also the first record cover that we’ve done that’s in black and white and that didn’t occur to me until way later after the fact and I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s also kind of nice to do something new after being in a band for twenty years.” It’s just something different.
Rise Against has always been known for tackling serious topics in their songs – whether they be societal, political, personal, or anywhere in between – but always with a hint of optimism. What keeps you guys hopeful for the future and what advice would you give to anyone who has had difficulty maintaining a hopeful perspective?
I mean, without hope, what do you have? When I was growing up I experienced the loss of a parent at a young age and learned you can’t dwell in current – I don’t want to say depression – but if something bad is happening to you, you can’t dwell in that moment. You have to look forward and figure out a way out that’s gonna be healthy mentally and physically, and to lean on your peers – always be vocal about how you’re feeling, because more times than not, that’ll get you through: friends and family and talking through it. I think at the end of the day, though, it’s kind of all we have. Just growing up listening to bands like 7 Seconds and the Bad Brains, they opened my eyes to that positive mental attitude, that whole ideology where there’s always something better, and this is why those bands started. You have to scream to be heard sometimes and it’s an outlet. So I guess at the end of the day, I just want people going through frustrating times to know that they can be vocal and voice their frustrations. Don’t bottle that up, that’s like the worst thing you can do. I did that growing up and it was very difficult to weather those storms when they came. I think that’s why we always have this sense of hope with our songs, because that’s what will get you through the harder times. It’s trite to say, it’s kind of cliche, but it’s true. If that’s what you have [Laughs], you have to look to that.
Like the line in “Middle of a Dream,” that is “hope is the only way we tolerate the pain.” I love that line.
At this point Rise Against has been going strong as a punk rock band for 20 years. What would you say is a key factor to your longevity? Can you see Rise Against continuing as a band for another 20 years?
I think it’s the fact that our core roots are definitely punk rock and hardcore – I mean it’s the backbone of the band. I do think drawing influences anywhere from reggae, to eighties pop music like the Go-Gos, or even the Cure and all like new wave [works for us]. I think the fact that we draw from so many different influences, even Metallica, helps, but at the end of the day we’re rooted in punk rock. That allows us to keep it interesting on every record, like you don’t get fast punk rock songs from start to finish on records. We mix it up with “Long Forgotten Sons,” then we play “Kotov Syndrome,” you know? It keeps it interesting, and that’s why for the last 20 years it still feels fresh and exciting to us.
RISE AGAINST’S NOWHERE GENERATION LP IS OUT NOW! YOU CAN CATCH RISE AGAINST ON TOUR AT THE ROOFTOP AT PIER 17 ON SATURDAY, 7/30, STONE PONY SUMMER STAGE IN ASBURY PARK ON 7/31, AND SKYLINE STAGE @ THE MANN IN PHILADELPHIA ON 8/1.