When multi-gold and platinum punk rock band Rise Against released their album ‘Wolves’ back in 2017, unknown to many, they were almost immediately ready to begin creating their next full length – ‘Nowhere Generation’. ‘Nowhere Generation’ is permeated with raw lyrics about societal concerns. It aims to encapsulate the unattainable ‘American Dream’ in an anarchic, yet multifaceted, eleven songs. However, three years on, a pandemic swept the globe and thus the debut of this album, which aims to empathise with the human condition, was prolonged.
Now, having just released ‘Nowhere Generation’ on 4th June, The Student Pocket Guide spoke to Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath. In a conversational interview, Tim speaks openly about the societal issues that influenced ‘Nowhere Generation’, how he has adapted to being apart from the band that he has been joined to the hip with for 20 years, as well as delving into the band’s musical aspirations with the new album…
Rise Against on The Release of Their New Album: ‘Nowhere Generation’ by Jessica Doran
So, Tim, how are you and the band doing at the moment? It must have been difficult trying to work together during lockdown…
Yeah, and we’re a remote band like we’re all in different cities; we’re spread out in Colorado, Texas, and Chicago. That’s the way we’ve always operated so we’ve gotten together in safe ways a couple of times to do the music video, a rehearsal, that kind of thing…but yeah, for the most part, this is the longest time I’ve gone without spending time with those three.
Is that a blessing or a curse?
Hahahaha. Yeah, it’s probably a much-needed break in a lot of ways. It’s the most time I’ve spent with my family in like 20 years and then the least time I’ve spent with those guys. I don’t think I was aware of how much time we’d really spent together until we weren’t. Or, coming home, you know, it’s like I’m never home for this long. I always have a plane ticket and I’m always about to go somewhere. The bag is never fully unpacked. So, this has been a whole adjustment (as I’m sure it has been for a lot of people).
And what’s the dynamic of the band like when you are together? Do you all share similar personality traits or are you all very different from one another?
Yeah, I’d say we’re all different for sure but what’s weird is when the four of us are together, we’re like a pretty well-oiled machine. Spending 20 years with the same dudes – we have all the same inside jokes, we have all the same stories and references.
Are you finishing each other’s sentences yet?
Hahaha. Yeah, stuff like that I guess like in sports the phrase is ‘to pass the ball without looking’. You just know that your person is going to be there and that’s us in a van or a bus or the side of the stage or whatever. I think we’re all so aware of everything that it’s very predictable what we’re going to do or say. We’re all kind of the same person in that way.
It sounds like you all have a really strong bond – it’s very lovely.
This was when I realised that I should not be describing a punk rock band as ‘lovely’ and Tim laughed and replied:
Hahaha yes, it can all be very lovely.
So, let’s just get straight to talking about the new album. When did you start writing it?
Probably late 2018/2019 which seems like a lifetime ago now. We were wrapping up our ‘Wolves’ touring and 2018 was our time to focus on the next record. There was a smattering of shows so we went to the Download Festival in Australia. We also recorded ‘The Ghost Note Symphonies’ record which was like an acoustic unplugged version of old songs. We did a few shows on that but aside from that the calendar was pretty blank in 2019 so it was designed to focus on writing. That writing was happening intermittently throughout the year while we were also trying to take a break a little bit too because it had been 18 months touring on ‘Wolves’. Then, by the end of 2019, that’s when we had enough songs to go into the studio. So, winter 2019/2020 is when we were in the studios in Colorado with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore putting ‘Nowhere Generation’ together.
Oh, wow! So it has actually taken a really long time to make?
Ugh so long. Some of these songs we started almost 3 years ago so it’s really crazy. For us, there has never been this much time elapsed between the creation of a song to the time when everyone is going to hear it. We were hoping to have this thing out last June and now it’s a really long time. It’s crazy. Hearing these songs (to me) they’re something we did a really long time ago but I’m kind of hearing them in this new way now as we prepare to release them and hopefully play them.
So, since it was actually written very close to your previous album ‘Wolves’, how does it differ from your previous work, or alternatively, how does it speak to it?
That’s an interesting question. I think that two things probably happened to influence some of the sound of this record. 1. Joe and I got together to get the nuts and bolts of these songs down. We were doing that through a lot of 2019 either here in Chicago or travelling to Colorado. The goal there was just to really have a more fully formed song to present to Brandon and Zach so that we weren’t wasting their time when we got together – because like I said we’re remote so when we get together it’s a pretty elaborate production just to get us in the same room. So those songwriting trips probably influenced the record. Then 2. Returning to The Blasting Room. They’ve been with us for much of the last 20 years; they’ve done six of our records now and it’s like returning to our roots. They’re a big part of our story; we are a big part of their story. There’s a lot of comradery to come back to the family nest; it felt good.
Having listened to the record, there were definitely some songs that stuck out to me, but how about we talk first about the track which you decided to title the album.
For our readers that may not know, who are the ‘Nowhere Generation’?
Oh yeah, so the ‘Nowhere Generation’ is really anyone who feels like they’re trying to get ahead in this world, and they can’t, and they’re starting to wonder why they’re swimming against the current. As they play by the rules, as they follow the advice of previous generations, they find that the finish line keeps getting moved on them. When they’re faced with that reality, they start to question everything around them. They start to question the institutions that they’ve always held dear. That’s really anybody who feels like that – it doesn’t need to be a millennial or a Gen X. It’s really anyone who feels like: ‘‘What’s happening? Why am I reading more about concentrated wealth and the rise in the 1%?’’, or income and inequality, or the insecurities of facing global warming and the environment – and then let’s just add some fuel to the fire with social media lifestyle which I can’t possibly keep up with. All these things feed into how one might feel when they wake up in the morning. So, I guess ‘Nowhere Generation’ is sort of lending a sympathetic ear to that plight to talk about why so many people feel like this.
That’s interesting because I heard that ‘Nowhere Generation’ was inspired by your two younger daughters and your younger fans?
Yeah. It was certainly inspired by the people that listen to our band which are mostly younger than me. They were communicating a lot of their anxieties about the world we live in and it made me think about that. I think that for people my age your initial reaction is like: ‘‘Oh that’s everybody man, we all felt like that.’’ That’s the gut instinct that frustrates millennials though because they’re like: ‘‘No, we’re trying to explain to you that when you grew up, a single income family could live a middle-class lifestyle and they can’t do that anymore.’’ Having two teenage daughters, I’m starting to see what kind of world they are going to walk into. So, the inspiration was at first young people but the more I thought about it and described it to some of my friends they said that’s how they feel too. That’s where ‘Nowhere Generation’ came from – to validate those feelings, to be apathetic.
You seem to be toying with the idea of the ‘American Dream’ here a little. Do you think this concept has become diminished and unattainable? Or was it ever even real?
Right. It’s a good question. I think it was the comedian George Carlin that said: ‘‘They call it the American Dream because you’d have to be asleep to believe it.’’ I think the ‘American Dream’ is a concept that is well-intentioned and it’s something that is a way to describe some people’s pursuit of happiness and also to describe the country that you live in as a place to reward hard work. The idea that if you put in the hard work then we have set up a framework to reward that. A life that you can give some safety and security to your kids, but that existed at a certain time and something started eroding it.
They’re great questions to ask because we should be asking them. Why are we seeing downward mobility in a time where we are seeing unprecedented wealth?
Do you feel that there are any specific societal issues or political issues (perhaps certain headlines in the media) to which support this view and to which ‘Nowhere Generation’ is deliberately attempting to call out?
Yeah, I think to name a few things so like the labour movement has been diminished in the last 40 years in the states. The unions have been cast as the bad guys, so Americans don’t believe in unions as much where unions were a place where workers were able to protect themselves from massive corporations and shareholders. So that alone is going to change the world of the economy. You have shareholder capitalism so like as long as you make a profit who cares? Then the reason why the right are so opposed to acknowledging climate change is because it’s a threat to the free market and to the idea that you cannot just do whatever you want. The free market is like a religion to some people. Once you’ve persuaded people to give up on the ideas of unions and labour, you’re just giving power to corporations and big businesses. You want to ask yourself: ‘‘Do you want to be in a world where people answer to voters or shareholders?’’
Thank you for answering such a big question there…
I think I just ranted at you a bit hahaha.
‘Forfeit’ is the sixth song of the album and it stuck out to me because it is so much softer than the others. I wonder, why did you include a softer song to an album intent on emulating disruption and anarchy?
Hahaha. Yeah, with Rise Against I love that we’ve always been able to get away with different things. Ever since we put out ‘Swing Life Away’ or ‘Hero of War’, people love hearing acoustic songs or more ballad songs. It has been a part of our canon and another weapon in our arson if you like. Just like showing you there is something else we can do. I don’t ever want to put an acoustic song on the record to tick that box, but that song just kind of poured out of me one night and I knew it needed to be somewhere on the record to kind of break up the onslaught of music that you’re hearing and also show people the moments that we’re capable of creating
I took ‘Forfeit’ more as feeling hurt by the way the world has turned out to be, I don’t know if this was something you were going for or not?
Yeah, and that’s what I’ve always wanted Rise Against to be like this reflection of the human condition. We don’t need to be this straight-up punk political band that’s just kind of always hitting you over the head with the world’s problem. As people we’re more complicated than that, you know. When you wake up in the morning the most important thing in your head might be climate change or sweatshops but then in the afternoon the most important thing in your day might be a relationship with your friend or your boyfriend or girlfriend and you’re in pain in some way. All of a sudden, climate change: who gives a s**t, because you’re in love or in loss and that’s who we are as humans. We’re shifting priorities; we’re complicated and we’re complex. I would want Rise Against to be a reflection or a mirror of those emotions so our song ‘Forfeit’ is acknowledging that we are complicated and sometimes we just need to marinate in it and we just need to accept it.
Well, contrary to this slightly softer side, I have loved watching your music videos because they just seem like a proper punk rock out in various different locations – I think my favourite was watching you rock out in the supermarket store in ‘Prayer of the Refugee’.
How have you found it making the music videos for the upcoming album? Has lockdown restricted any of these locations?
Ooh. Well, we haven’t even written that next chapter yet. We have the video for ‘Nowhere Generation’ which we wanted to make like a kind of blank slate video. We wanted people to kind of define it themselves. Moving forward: we haven’t even crossed that bridge yet – so we’re open to ideas!
Well, Tim, it has been great to chat with you about Rise Against and the new album ‘Nowhere Generation’! How about we conclude this interview by summing the album up in three words?
Modern. Punk. Chaos.
Rise Against have their title track ‘Nowhere Generation’ released on all streaming platforms. You can listen to ‘Nowhere Generation’, as well as all of their previous tracks, here.
Rise Against on The Release of Their New Album: ‘Nowhere Generation’ by Jessica Doran
Top Rise Against Photo Credit: Jason Siegel