Rise Against: “We’re better songwriters then we were 16 years ago”

Rise Against: “We’re better songwriters then we were 16 years ago”

By Christopher Lee

May 25, 2017 9:24

Rise Against have enjoyed a hugely successful career to date with no less than 7 studio albums spanning the best part of 16 years, toured worldwide, and played near enough every festival out there. Needless to say, then, when the Chicago punk rock heroes announced their 8th studio album ‘Wolves’ after a three year wait, fans across the globe lost their collective minds.

This will be the first new material from the band in three years,  and we couldn’t wait to catch up with founder and bassist, Joe Principe. He is prepaing for the upcoming album launch and intimate live shows Rise Against have scheduled in Berlin and London. We speak to him to find out what they had in store.

We’re not the only ones stupidly excited about this new record as Principe jumps straight in. “I’m absolutely excited, too! It’s definitely one of my favourite records in a long time,” he says. “I love the energy that we captured on it and I’m pretty excited for everyone to hear it.”

It’s great to hear his enthusiasm hasn’t wavered at all over the 16 years he’s been doing this, but for Principe, what makes this latest album different to the bands previous releases? “I think over the years we started putting everything under the microscope and fine tuning everything and overthinking every aspect of our songs when we were writing them,” but this time around things were very different he tells us. “This record was more like whatever feels good at the time and then just move on.”

So whats brought on this change of approach? Principe tells us, “We switched producers on this record. We used Nick Raskulinecz who has worked with Foo Fighters and he did a Rush record, as well. He also recorded Mastodon. He was just really good with keeping up tempos and energy and not overthinking things because things get sterile the more you over think them.”

While it certainly sounds like the change in production has breathed new energy into the record itself, how did Principe handle the change personally? “At first, it was a little weird getting used to the different process and we kinda raised an eyebrow a little to his methods. But I realise now that it matters and you can definitely hear the difference in the sound.”

Rise Against have always had a very strong view on political climates and this new record comes at a time where, in the United States specifically, there’s something new in the press about the countries leadership each day. We asked Principe if this had come across in the new record at all. “Political elements will always exist on Rise Against records,” he tells us. “I do feel that Tim (McIlrath) writes from a very personal perspective, so whatever is happening in his day to day life and whatever affects him, he’s gonna write about it. And that’s politics, that’s relationships and pretty much everything else. It’s really hard to escape politics in 2017 and at the time we were recording it was around the presidential election so there’s definitely some political songs on the record for sure.”

With the changes in production and recording methods, we asked Principe if this had also affected the way that the band writes it’s songs. “We didn’t have any shortage of ideas, there was no writers block going on with this record. Everything just flowed and Tim and I both live in Chicago so we were showing each other our songs and I think it just clicked right away,” which is certainly encouraging.

“It wasn’t forced, it was very easy and I’m not sure if that’s just because of where we were at mentally in that place and time,” he continues. “I think where you are in your life feeds your creativity.”

The band have also had a small break which has clearly given them a renewed outlook on music. ”We also took a year off as a band which helped for sure. It helped clear our heads and so I think all of these factors helped us. We were just really excited from day one and everything came together really quickly.”

It’s impossible not to get excited listening to Principe talk about this new record. The raw energy he has for the project and love for the band can only be a good thing, especially for the fans. So what can they expect from the album?

“Everyone that we’ve played it for has told us it’s way more energetic,” we personally didn’t think a Rise Against record could get more energetic. But he elaborates “It’s more urgent and to the point. You can really hear that in it and I think a lot of that has to do with changing producers and our way of recording. When you’re making a record it’s really easy to fall back on to your bag of tricks but we were consciously trying not to do that so it was kinda like opposite day at the office, we’d ask ourselves what we’d normally do and then not do that. Which was great because it kinda reminded us of what separates us as band from the other great rock bands that are out there.”

It sounds like we are most definitely going to be getting the of the best Rise Against records to date just by listening to Principe’s enthusiasm for it. But with having been together for such a huge part of their lives what does Principe think keeps them going?

“I think it’s just the love of the music. This band is still really fun for all of us,” which is great to hear. “It gets harder to be in a band the older you get and having a family, the harder it is to tour,” He continues. “But we love doing this so much and we still feed off of the energy we get from our music and our fans. It’s instilled in us and without the band we would be a little lost as people, it’s an outlet for us too so without that it would be a little strange to just go about day to day life.”

Continuing on with the theme of looking back at their career, we asked Principe how he thinks the genre of punk rock has evolved over the years that they’ve been involved with it. He told us “I grew up listening to very aggressive music, very energetic music from bands that had positive messages and were a source of inspiration for me. Bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat.”

Thinking back to the start of the band he says “When we started Rise Against thats where I was at musically and I wanted to keep that going, to carry the torch and bring that into the year 2000 which it was when we started. So we’d been doing that for so long and then came the rise of bands without guitars and that’s fine. Bands like Mumford & Sons are great at what they do but for the last three years it seems like guitar bands aren’t as popular or something. So it’s great to see a resurgence of punk music, recently the Green Day record was incredible and it’s nice to have that come back and show kids these days that there’s an energy behind a guitar that you just can’t capture with a computer or another instrument.”

Speaking about these trends in music, Principe also had this to day: “I’ve definitely noticed these shifts but it feels like everything circles back around at some point, and now punk rock is coming back around. The recent resurgence of bands like Bad Religion, Rancid who are getting more attention now than they have the last couple of years is great and I couldn’t be happier about these coming back.”

With the release of ‘Wolves’ fast approaching the band have chosen to get back into the swing of things with a couple of very intent shows, one in Berlin and the other right here in London. Speaking of the shows Principe says “We’ve done three small shows like these in the states and they’re just super fun, it’s a nod to how we started and we wanted to do something special for the fans. If it was up to me I would prefer playing these small shows but at a certain point it’s just not realistic as we’d be disappointing the fans who couldn’t get in.”

So Principe is obviously a huge fan of the smaller, more intimate shows but what exactly does he think makes these so special? “It’s just the connection you have with the crowd, for us the stage doesn’t represent a pedestal,” he says. We’re not above any of our fans, we’re all on the same level and we’re all like minded so lets all sing about it and let out frustration and have a good time. The punk rock scene that I grew up in was all about that and that’s why it’s nice to bring that experience back and to our fans.”

It’s bound to be an epic show and one of the best the band have played in the capital but does Principe have any specific memories of previous London shows that stand out for him personally? He tells us “We’ve played so many shows in London but one that actually stands out was when we played Groezrock Festival in Belgium and on the same day travelled to London to play The Garage. So we literally came off stage and flew straight to England to play and that was such a whirlwind but it was amazing to have that experience and play to that many of our fans in one day across two entirely different countries was great.”

He also tells us of another show he recalls “The first time we sold out Brixton Academy was such a great feeling. We’ve had some great moments and it’s always just so much fun in London where you get that acceptance and energy. Sometimes when you play in bigger cities it’s hard to get that reaction because so many bands play in so many venues across the city each night. And to get that level of excitement from a crowd that has seen so many bands and I’ll always remember things like that.”

With punk rock making somewhat of a come back according to Principe, does he see this as a new chapter for the band? “Yeah I definitely see it that way,” he says. “I feel like we went back to our roots but we’ve also progressed on this record, too. We’re better songwriters then we were 16 years ago but there’s a rawness to it that makes us Rise Against and I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. And I don’t ever want to lose sight of where we came from and this record encompasses all of those things and that’s what I love about ‘Wolves’.”

Finishing up we wanted to know what Principe saw for the future of Rise Against with this latest record about to drop. “Well we’re gonna tour our butts off for the next couple of years and see what happens. We’ll be this band for as long as it’s still fun and fans are still coming to see us but I for one am definitely excited for what feels like a new chapter for Rise Against and it’s definitely an exciting time.” With that we let Principe get on with his preparation for the upcoming tour and album release.

‘Wolves’ is out worldwide on 9 June through Virgin and the guys return to London’s The Garage for a one off intimate date on 2 June. You can preorder the album and keep up to date with all things Rise Against here.