With their NZ headline tour fast approaching, I took a break from my European travels and had a 2am phone chat with Rise Against’s bassist Joe Principe from my stuffy loft-bed-situation in the heart of Prague. We discussed all things political, and how their new album reflects a world in which Donald Trump leads the so-called free world, and how necessary it is to spread positivity as opposed to hate in today’s political climate. The chat left me with a huge amount of respect for a band that I already held close to my heart, solidifying just what great dudes these guys are, and how fighting the good fight is always worth it, regardless of consequences.
Yasmin: Okay, so you can’t really talk about Rise Against without talking about politics because you’ve always been a very openly political band… Has it ever been a question that that’s the direction that you wanted to go in? Did you ever feel like you might ostracise fans by writing in that way?
Joe: No, I mean, it’s kind of all we knew when we started the band, it’s definitely an extension of the bands we grew up listening to, and the bands that influenced us. You know, bands like Minor Threat, uh, Fugazi, Bad Brains, Bad Religion… It’s the nature of – oh I should say, it’s the political nature. Um, yeah it’s like the punk scene was started as a reaction to kind of the horrible 70s glam scene, and just by that alone is a political act – to start a scene as a reaction to something that you feel is bullshit, you know? So yeah, it’s just, to me it’s a no brainer. Politics and punk rock go hand in hand and we would never shy away from that because of – you know, regardless [of] who’s coming to see us play.
Y: Yeah, it’s a kind of fearless advocacy that’s really admirable, so it’s really cool that you do that. And your new music – referring to your new music – the video for Violence, or the lyric video for violence should I say, because the actual video never came into play, um, it seems to include images of current issues in America, is that right? Can you talk to me a bit more about that?
J: Yeah, I mean, generally speaking we wanted something to reflect what’s going on currently you know, in the United States um, you know, the um, the editor of the video picked you know, certain things that were, that we felt were important to showcase in the video. Um, you know, and I feel like it’s – a lot of it is the everyday American, it’s something that they’re choosing to ignore or something that they unknowingly are ignoring. I’ve a few neighbours down the block from my house where they’re like, “Yeah, I don’t really watch the news, I don’t have time.” And I was like, “alright”, but news is, I mean, you can listen to it in your car, like it’s probably good to know what’s happening in current events, um, but, but I get it, you know, people, just – that’s how they were raised, they don’t realise um, that there’s so much happening and I don’t expect everyone to, to know everything. I certainly don’t know everything that’s going on in the world, it’s tough. But at the same time, you know, you shouldn’t kind of turn the other way to what’s happening in your own back yard. Especially now, it’s important enough to vocalise, you know, what, what is happening. It’s important enough to vocalise, you know. What’s happening with the Trump administration is so fucked up beyond belief that’s what I’m trying to say.
Y: So you kind of took a different, um, a different turn with this album, in that you recorded it in Nashville as opposed to um, was it Chicago that you previously recorded in?
J: Actually it was, we recorded most of our records in Colorado oddly enough. But at the same time, you know, yeah in Fort Collins, Colorado, but definitely, yeah different vibe. You know, Colorado – Fort Collins, Colorado – is very open minded, um you know, very liberal, um, so yeah, sorry to interrupt you!
Y: No, that’s okay! Um, I was just going to ask if this different environment um, moving away from that liberal bubble that surrounded the recording of this particular album, um did it affect how you made it? Do you think it spurred you on further to get your message and your thoughts across because Nashville um, does sway towards the side of the Republicans?
J: Yeah, well… what I can tell you – so, we lived in Nashville for probably 3 or 4 months doing the record and what living there did, at least for me, is allowed me to focus the record, you know, like, full time. It had my full attention, where in Colorado, I didn’t really feel like a fish out of water, so it’s easier to get distracted and go and hang out and, and, you know, kind of mess around um, but in Nashville, I didn’t feel like I could really do that. You know, I felt so, so, just fish out of water um, so I definitely really dove into the record. It’s like, I know that’s probably a bad excuse, you know I should always be focused on the record [laugh], but it’s easy to get distracted when you’re not in the studio. And yeah, it was, it was such a crazy climate, um, especially, I was living in the country of um, just outside of Nashville so I was in the kind of middle of nowhere and there were, you know, Trump and Mike Pence signs everywhere, um, and that was really strange. I just wasn’t used to seeing that, um, you know and you realise like, you’re the minority. It’s definitely a strange feeling, um, but um, you know, I feel like that’s when, you know, regardless of how uncomfortable we are, maybe those people that are so right wing, they haven’t heard the other side yet, maybe they’re willing to listen. But yeah, it was, it was definitely a strange feeling.
Y: Yeah and in terms of the song writing process, I’m sure you all feel very strongly about the lyrical content, especially now when this past year has really affect so much more than just the political climate – it’s affected everybody socially as well – um, so does the whole band have an input on the lyrics? How does that go down?
J: No, you know what? We – the 18 years we’ve been a band, Tim [McIlrath] has always written the lyrics and we’ve never disagreed with what he was writing. Um, like, it’s kind of like a given, like we’re on the same page you know? And at this point anything he sings about, you know, it’s definitely, it’s who we are you know? So it’s kind of like an unspoken thing, but um, you know I do, I do – I should mention it’s like, [with] Wolves, we wanted this sense of hope, not a sense of despair, you know with the record, we wanted – there’s always – we wanted to showcase a light at the end of the tunnel, as opposed to just doom and gloom that we’re seemingly up against [laugh], but I think that’s important.
Y: Yeah, I’ve seen that you’ve described it as a fighting record, as opposed to – because wasn’t your initial um, your initial title something to do with mourning? And you flipped that around to make it more hopeful is that right?
J: Yeah, it was a song Mourning in America, and we were gonna name the record that and Tim and I, we were sitting down at dinner and we were talking about it and, our list – the song and the lyrics on the record were the same but that just had such a negative connotation um, so we didn’t want that to be the first impression that our fans got. So yeah we kind of flipped it around a bit. And Mourning in America is actually, it was a kind of like a dig at this Ronald Reagan campaign of the 80s, that was, you know “Morning in America” where he used it M-O-R-N-I-N-G, and uh, so it was definitely a play on that campaign from the 80s [laugh].
Y: So you changed your producer and your label for this record, did you just feel like Wolves needed to be made with totally fresh eyes and ears to go with the new recording environment?
J: Yeah, I think, it didn’t really have so much to do with the label change as it had to do with just us going into our 8th record and we wanted to see what else was out there, what a new experience could bring to the record and to us as musicians, um, and it was great because you kind of pick up tricks from these you know, these different people that, that you work with and that’s what we got from Nick Raskulinecz actually, he was the producer. Um Nick just had a different way of doing things that our old producer Bill Stevenson did, um they just come from different, different schools of music, you know like polar opposites, um and it was just a good experience, you know. I mean, it’s definitely you know, I think we were so comfortable with working with Bill we needed to shake things up a little bit. Um, and that’s what we did you know, it was definitely mission accomplished.
Y: Yeah it’s such an incredible album. I’ve kind of been listening to you guys for the past 10 years or so, so it’s really cool to watch you grow and change.
J: Oh nice! Thank you.
Y: You’re welcome! And it’s interesting in terms of your New Zealand fans as well because obviously, we live under a government that is – on the surface – quite far removed from what’s going on in the States, um so it’s interesting to see just how your international fans react to these themes that don’t necessarily directly affect us. Um, did you anticipate this kind of passionate response from fans outside of America before you released Wolves?
J: Um, yeah I never know what, what to expect. I never know what we’re gonna get from our fans, you know, I guess – cause in my head, it’s like we’re, you know, we did our job and we felt like we topped The Black Market, and once it’s released into the wild, it’s just like I never know. And I try not to pay too much attention cause I don’t want anything negative to affect me – or even positive, if you hear too many positive comments, you kind of lose perspective. And I’m always speaking for myself, I’m really you know, I’m really – I don’t know, I guess as far as critiques go, they definitely affect me more than I’d like to admit [laugh] so I try not to pay attention. But yeah, to have such a positive uh, reaction has been amazing. So I definitely can’t complain and I am taking notice of that.
Y: Yeah, well you’re obviously very well loved over here having been here a few times now, and people are still responding quite well to you. Um, and I mean what can we expect from this show that’s different from your other shows here?
J: Um, you know, I think in general we try to, we try to change the setlist so it’s something new and fresh for our fans, um, and that’s definitely something we’re working on now. You know, production-wise we’re trying to do things a little differently as far as lighting goes and, we’re not a band to have too many theatrical things on stage. We definitely don’t need it, or want it, but we do like, you know, having some cool lighting and things like that. So – but for me, it’s all about a fresh set list, you know, to incorporate the entire catalogue where it has a good flow and there’s something for everybody.
Rise Against return to New Zealand in February 2018.
Find all the ticket details here.