“If you’ve got something to say, shout it out and say it with a guitar”: Rise Against on the Power of Protest Songs | Guitar.com


A lot can happen in 20 years. Groups stumble under the spotlight, referred to as rising stars, explode and lose their spark just as quickly, only to be relegated to the realm of nostalgia, or worse, forgotten. Musical movements float in and out of fashion. Genres rise and fall in popularity before being relaunched or separated or mixed with another genre to create something new. And that’s just music – that’s before it grazes the surface of real-world events in the real world.

Yet, through it all, Rise Against has been there, watching world events unfold, identifying injustices, taking notes and sharing their observations with the world on raw but polished yet hymnic punk. Whatever music has been the flavor of the month, whether it’s punk or not, people have listened. Spotify’s healthy 6.5 million monthly listeners talk about this fact, but even then an algorithm can’t catch every fan who goes out in search of a Rise Against record to hold in their hands. and explode their ears.

“We consider ourselves very lucky,” says lead guitarist Zach Blair of this fact. “Bands that have been around for as long as we may not be going through these things at this point in their careers. Indeed, the christening of your hometown a day after you in honor of the release of your most recent album is not something that happens to any old band, especially when you come from a town. as big as Chicago. There wouldn’t be such a celebration for an old album either, certainly not for an album as vital as this particular record, Generation nowhere.

Generation kill

Like many bands that released records during the hell of the last year and a half, Generation nowhere has been a long time coming, in part because of the pandemic. Its first pieces were assembled in late 2018 through early 2019 and recording took place about a year later. As the group finished, hotels threatened to evict them, with growing fear over the scale and potential danger of the spread of COVID-19, which the WHO had just declared a pandemic.

While it hit the headlines in the short to medium term, the album that would arrive as it dies (hopefully) tackles an older problem. Inspiration wasn’t a struggle for Rise Against to find. “As an American political punk band in 2020, there was obviously a lot of fruit at hand to sing about,” says frontman and guitarist Tim McIlrath. “For me, as a lyricist, I was trying to figure out where we could add to this conversation. How to make a record that is not only time stamped for this year, but that discusses the ideologies that existed before everything that happened and the ideologies that will still be there afterwards.

Stand up against
Image: Jason Siegel

It would have been easy for Rise Against, say, to write an album attacking Donald Trump’s bigotry and barbarism, but arguably that would have been a mistake as well. First, this topic had already been covered extensively. Second, he would have been weighed down by the very timestamp Tim described, a timestamp that would not have aged badly until after Trump was defeated in the November presidential election.

“The foundations that existed to create a candidate like Trump or even to create voters for him were there before he was there,” admits Tim. “And just because he is not in office does not mean that the problems of the world or our country suddenly disappear.”

The inspiration of Generation nowhere came from conversations Tim had with fans. A large part of them are younger than him, millennials or members of Generation Z, who felt unhappy with a society that was preparing them for failure, losing faith in the institutions meant to help them. They look at the barrel of a future where they rent their entire lives instead of buying a house, where they may not be able to afford a family, and dread thinking about the damage climate change could cause. on their life. These are serious concerns, and yet they are dismissed.

“To me, that’s a bigger problem than who’s president,” observes Tim. “[Younger people] look at tomorrow with a lot of fear and anxiety. [You have to ask] why people feel disconnected. Why do they feel deprived of their rights? And to add insult to injury, we laugh at millennials instead of listening to them and realizing their experiences are different. These are all realities that we have to face, and [we must] start thinking about why and what we can do to alleviate some of that pressure.

Stand up against
Image: Wyatt Troll

Protest songs

Rise Against attacks the subject with beautiful, multi-faceted undertones Generation nowhere. Numbers is charged with the spirit of collective protest and refusal to comply, while Sudden urge sums up the anger of those who remain who want to tear out the roots of the structures of society and start over. Meanwhile, only leader Broken Dreams Inc. sees Tim pit himself against authority and challenge their ignorance and inaction. On the other hand, through tracks like Forfeit and the title song adds a sense of sobriety to this protest, echoing the weariness of people in society who are not only fighting, but just trying to survive.

It’s a strong and necessary statement in isolation, but the spirit of the record is only amplified by the guitar work of Tim and Zach. In fact, it is an integral part of their protest. “When Tim and I were young, the guitar was the instrument to open your ears,” says Zach. “The political groups we were listening to played very loud guitars and that’s what attracted you. [that] if you have something to say, shout it out and say it with a guitar.

Stand up against
Image: Wyatt Troll

“For me, the best instrument is a guitar behind a Marshall stack that shakes a room,” adds Tim. “It’s physical and visceral, and nothing punctuates a message more perfectly than an electric guitar.”

While, according to this statement, there’s no price guessing at Rise Against’s premier amp of choice, their go-to guitar brand is a natural companion to the iconic Marshalls. Tim and Zach will readily admit to being Gibson devotees, Tim preferring SGs and Zach preferring a Les Paul, and a particular ’70s JMP he owns has appeared on every Rise Against record to date. Once again, there is also a consistency in this choice, and a feeling of respect towards the groups from which the duo learned their trade of political punk. “I was so obsessed with the iconic Gibson and Marshall duo as a kid,” Zach professes. “I would hang up pictures of Goldtop Les Pauls and draw them. I was always like, ‘Someday I’m going to own one.’

It is a custom that is unlikely to change. “Some people reinvent themselves and try out another guitar company with different records and they’re constantly looking. But Tim and I found what we love and for what we do I don’t think you can do it better [than with Gibsons and Marshalls]. It’s one of those things that isn’t broken, so we never really try to fix it. “

Stand up against
Image: Jason Siegel

More than words

Opponents may wonder what political protest groups can really do with loud guitars and loud words. Can they change the hearts of the people tied to government policy? No? Why bother? However, they would miss the point. Groups like Rise Against operate on a granular level, but no less important, reaching the hearts and minds of individuals.

Tim hears countless stories from the fans he meets at shows. A fan he met told him that his band’s music had set him on the path to becoming a civil rights lawyer. Another said he was inspired to become an engineer working on designing objects for use in sustainable energy projects. Many have become teachers in the hope that they can enrich children’s lives. He estimates that there must be thousands more.

“It’s a beautiful and complete kind of thing,” he concludes. “Music might seem like a silly business in the grand scheme of things, but the data will confirm the fact that music has a greater influence on a young person’s life sometimes more than their parents, religion, friends, children. teachers or its schools. If you are someone who engages in music, it has the potential to change your life. Zach and I are proof of that. So many of our fans are proof of that. “

Generation nowhere is now available on Loma Vista.

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