"We were careful not to spend the whole time blasting Donald Trump. That’d be too easy..." - Rise Against talk new album Nowhere Generation
If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it is an old, old cliche and one that’s mostly incongruous with the creative process. Being open to change, open to being challenged and uncomfortable in new surroundings, can lead to brilliant albums being made. But it doesn’t work for everyone.
For Chicago punks Rise Against, they’d made big changes on their last two studio albums. On 2014’s The Black Market, they made a choice to move away from the politics and tales of oppression and uprising that had been their lyrical bread and butter in favour of a more personal record. And, on its follow-up, 2017’s Wolves, though the politics came back, the band decided against working with producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, who’d made their last four LPs in the cold climbs of Fort Collins, Colorado. For that album, they went with Nick Raskulinecz, a man known for big rock records with Korn, Evanescence and Halestorm and headed to Nashville.
For new album, Nowhere Generation, the band’s political ire is as direct as ever and they once again headed to Colorado to renew their relationship with Livermore and Stevenson.
Nowhere Generation is released today and to find out why the band had gone back to Colorado, back to politics and back to basics sonically, we spoke to Rise Against bassist Joe Principe…
When was this record actually made? Have you been sat on it for a while?
“We made it in February, right before the lockdown. We were aware of the virus while we were in the studio, but it was largely overseas. Then suddenly it snowballed and it became pretty clear it was something you couldn’t contain. It was a weird time. I think we all figured it would go away in a couple of months and we were really, really wrong.”
Did you finish in time or did you have to do some work remotely?
“All we did after that period was approve the mix of the album, but we did that from our houses. Luckily all the tracking was done, it would have been very tricky otherwise, we’re lucky it worked out, a lot of studios were just shut down.”
You made your last record, Wolves, in Nashville with a different producer. This time you’re back in Colorado with Jake Livermore and Bill Stevenson. Why did you decide to pick back up with them?
“We’ve done this twice now. We deviated on Siren Song of the Counter Culture and we went to Vancouver to work with Garth Richardson and we did on Wolves and it never feels right. Garth is an amazing producer and Siren Song came out fine. Wolves, the same, Nick Raskulinecz is a great producer, but it just wasn’t for us.”
“Bill and Jason just know us so well, they know the little details we’re looking for and they know what this band should be. They know what tones fit the band the best and how to make us sound how we feel we should. It’s a situation of absence that makes the heart grow fonder. We knew we should go back to them.”
How was it picking the relationship back up? Was there repair work to do having gone with another producer for Wolves?
“No, they’re family. They understood why we left and we wanted to come back and they were happy to have us. We’ve spent so much time in that studio and in that town of Fort Collins in Colorado that it’s home away from home now. It was very natural.”
When did you release that you’d made a mistake leaving?
“Tracking Wolves. Nick’s approach was so different. Bill and Jason are ultra detail-minded, whereas Nick was focused on the vocals. The music isn’t quite an afterthought for him, but he’s very, very focused on vocals. For Rise Against, the music is the key, the little leads, the bass runs, the details. Nick wasn’t consumed with any of that, he wanted to focus on the melody and vocals and spend almost all of his time there.”
“Bill and Jason are focused on every little detail, no one gets off with a mediocre performance, everything is high standard. They know how to leave in little imperfections to add to the mix. We’re a band who come from roots in punk, from Black Flag and The Descendants. Nick’s more of a metal guy and in that world, it’s all about the vocals.”
You went to Nashville last time, which must have been a bit sunnier than February in Colorado…
“You can hike in Colorado in the mountains, but the cold does get to you, especially if you’re there for a while. I liked the weather in Nashville for sure, but we’ve got a lot of friends in Colorado now. We’ve got a new balance now with making records, we know how to make sure we don’t go nuts and make sure being overworked doesn’t need to s***ty performances.”
The last time you were with Bill and Jason was on The Black Market, which was billed as very much not a political record. This album is back in classic Rise Against political territory though…
“We can’t stay away from it. When Tim (McIlrath, singer) is writing lyrics, it’s always personal, it’s always what’s going on in his life. When we were writing that record, it was a more personal, more socially aware take, and for this record, we were careful not to spend the whole time blasting Donald Trump. That’d be too easy, he was low hanging fruit and we’re not a band who want to take the easy route. This is an album about the struggles the younger generation faces. The struggle to get an education, to live well, to get a job. But there’s so much hope. We wrote this record before the pandemic but a lot of it feels like it’s so applicable to the pandemic.”
It’s an 11-track record, did you cut many songs along the way?
“We ended up cutting three songs. We recorded 19 songs. A few didn’t get finished and we’re holding onto a few for a rainy day.”
How easy is it to get down to the final tracklisting? Is there much arguing?
“Some. There are songs that make themselves obvious and then there are songs that people like for different reasons. We’re very democratic, we vote on every song and that’s how we make the cut. It can be a struggle and you have to have give and take. One of my favourite songs we’ve ever done is ‘Lanterns’ and that ended up on a B-Sides collection. It was made during the Endgame sessions and I fought so hard to get it on the record, but I got outvoted.”
When did you decide that Nowhere Generation was the right fit for the album’s title?
“It always seemed like the obvious title and the obvious first single, it’s such a strong statement. It’s a relatable title for young people and something to get them through these rough times. I see my kids struggling with school and all the disruption and all the isolation they’ve had. I can’t imagine having had to do school remotely, it’s so much extra stress. Hopefully, the song gives them some hope. We had a few options for the title, but I like having a record with a strong title track and this was the best fit. There wasn’t much back and forth on the record title.”
It’s a different label set-up this time, how’s the transition been?
“It’s been great. Loma Vista are ahead of the game and they’re not afraid to take risks. When we were talking to labels, we looked at what they did with St Vincent and Ghost and we were really impressed. They’ve got major distribution, but it has an independent feel. I could ring the president when I’m done talking to you, they have a family feel.”
You’ve had both ends of the spectrum, you’ve been in the giant major label set-up and on a tiny back bedroom set-up…
“You need the right team. It doesn’t matter on the size of the label if people don’t get you. There was a bit of that with Virgin and Capitol, our last label, people were constantly in and out, you never get stability and we need that.”
How are your live plans looking?
“All signs point to next summer. That’s when it looks like you can make real plans. We’re getting things nailed down. We’ve got festivals announced already, but we’re building the rest of it out. It’s great to be able to plan and to rehearse. You need to have goals to work towards rather than endless empty space.”
It must have been weird for so many bands. You spend so much time together, rehearsing, writing, touring and then suddenly you’re apart from all you’ve ever known…
“We did a benefit show in Chicago back in September and we rehearsed for that. We had to practise safely distanced and masked up, it was awesome to play, but it did feel odd. We played to no one in the venue and recorded it, and I couldn’t get over how weird it felt when a song finished and you got no reaction.”
When a band is as physical and as visceral as Rise Against is, playing to no one strips away so much…
“We tried our best. We play fast, high-energy songs and it’s hard if you’re getting nothing back.”
How’s your live set coming on? You’ve got a lot of songs to pick from...
“We haven’t discussed it yet, but I know it’ll be a difficult conversation. You have to play your singles and your staple songs, but we want to get in as much new material as we can. As well as that, we always want to play songs we haven’t played in a while. It gets harder every record.”
You can’t play Bruce Springsteen esque sets when you play fast…
“100%. It’ll be a battle to get to a set we’re all happy with, but we’ll get there…”