"I want these songs to become new again..." - Rise Against talk new collection The Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1
Chicago foursome Rise Against have a proud 20-year history of fiery punk rock, largely spun out at breakneck speed with a killer melodic punch. But, for new collection The Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1, they’re slowing things right down.
The collection sees the band revisiting 10 of their tracks with acoustic orchestration and alternative instrumentation, with 'Savior', 'Wait For Me' and 'The Violence' among the tracks reworked.
We spoke to the band’s frontman Tim McIlrath about why they decided to revisit their older material and their plans for the follow-up to 2017’s Wolves...
When did the idea to go back and rework some of your older songs come about?
“It’s something that our fans have asked about over the years and we’ve always casually considered it, without ever really doing anything about it, we never really have enough time in our schedule and when we have had time we’ve focused on new material.”
So what changed?
“We had some time last winter and we spoke to our label. They told us that if we wanted to go back in the studio, then they’d support that. But we looked at ourselves and said ‘We’d love to go in the studio, but we don’t have any new material ready for that’.”
“So we needed another excuse and the original idea was just to do a few acoustic versions of songs from our last record Wolves, two or three songs, probably for an expanded. Then it snowballed and we started doing old songs. We promised the label five songs and we only booked 12 days in the studio, but we came out with 10 and Ghost Note Symphonies Volume 1.”
Did the whole band agree on which songs you’d take another look at?
"We didn't all agree. It was tricky, a few of the songs seemed obvious and others that didn't, we all had slightly different visions about that. That's partly why we've called it Volume 1, we had a lot of ideas for this project and it does feel slightly unfinished..."
Where any of the songs strange to go back to? 'Faint Resemblance' is almost 20 years old...
"That is the last song on our debut album, the 16th song on a record that came out when we really, really young! It was actually me who really pushed to that one, I've always loved it and it got lost in the shuffle. It's this blistering fast punk song, but I love the lyrics, it's almost like a campfire song. I've been trying to do it acoustically backstage before shows and I really wanted to try it, so we ended up using ukelele."
Was it odd to re-work it?
"It was introducing an old song to lots of new people too. You can hardly blame people if they didn't make to the 16th track on a record that came out a long time ago. My 22-year-old nephew was in my kitchen a few weeks ago and I'd given him a copy of the record and he told me he really liked that song and how cool the lyrics were. It occurred to me then that he'd never heard the song before and he was hearing it as a new song. That was a big validation for me, I hope that's how people hear it, I want these songs to become new again."
Were there any songs you tried that didn't work?
"Everything we tried worked, it was just a matter of changing keys and changing tempo, we made sure we weren't too reverent about all the old parts. It was more as if we were recording these songs for the first time, just on totally different instruments."
You worked at the Blasting Room again with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, they've produced a few of your records, what is it about them that keeps you coming back?
"There's no better relationship that we have with anyone, they've produced so much of our best work and they've helped turn us into the band we are. They're our mentors, they're our life coaches and they're who we look to. We always want to impress them. Nobody else could have turned this around quickly, we had 12 days to do it, they work so hard."
As you said, this is only Volume 1, can you see Volume 2 coming soon?
"We're really happy with it and we're really enjoying all the feedback from fans, who keep suggesting songs we could do and we're definitely making mental notes about what people want to hear. It was a lot of fun, we loved workings with strings, pianos and ukeleles. Next time we have some time, we'll have this in our back pockets."
You're on tour throughout the summer. Is the winter earmarked for a break or for a new record?
"At the moment, it's just downtime. We'll take a lot of the winter off. We're starting to talk about what we do next, but we're still focused on Wolves. We're also looking at the reaction to Ghost Notes and if people want to see it live."
It would have to be quite a different tour from you normally do...
"Absolutely! The locations would be different, the personnel would be different, it wouldn't be a night after night thing. It'd be more scattered, special places and special locations. Much more intimate than what we do usually. We're looking at how some of our peers have done it to see if we can pull it off."