Music: The Rise of Rise Against

Chicago Hardcore quartet Rise Against see 2005 as their breakthrough year

Rise Against says that switching to Geffen from Fat Wreck Chords was a smooth transition thanks to employees who were excited to work with them.

Since their inception in 1999, Rise Against has put the hard in Hardcore, from their hard work in the studio to their hard touring schedule on the road. And with their new album Siren Song of the Counter Culture — their third overall and debut for Geffen — and a full slate planned for the new year, six years of relentless attention to their career are about to pay off for the Chicago outfit.

"We're booked solid until late May," says frontman Tim McIlrath. "This is going to be the year of Rise Against."

Not that this is anything particularly new in the touring department. Since the triumph of their second album, 2003's Revolutions Per Minute, Rise Against has been road-dogging endlessly, opening across the country and around the world for high-profile headliners like AFI and Bad Religion — and getting great notices along the way. The big difference on this ring-out-the-old-and-ring-in-the-new-year tour is Rise Against's headlining status, something they've been ready for but not able to arrange before now.

"We've been really busy since we started, but these were definitely the biggest tours we've done in a row," says McIlrath. "When we first started we were in the van for five weeks straight playing for 20 kids a night. We're just as busy, but we're doing a lot of big deal shows, and putting our band in front of a lot of people.

We were loving every second of it, having these guys actually dig our band and play for their fans. It was one of the best things that could happen for a band trying to get on its feet."

Rise Against formed in Chicago in 1999 from the ashes of Punk notables 88 Fingers Louie, when Louie bassist Joe Principe and guitarist Dan Precision joined forces with vocalist McIlrath and drummer Brandon Barnes in search of a sound that was closer to the old-school Hardcore they all loved. After two years of gigging created a suitable buzz, Rise Against was signed to Fat Wreck Chords which released their debut album in 2001, The Unraveling.

The following year found the band on the road nearly non-stop, taking just enough time to hit the studio for their much lauded sophomore effort, Revolutions Per Minute. By that time, Precision had left the band, replaced by Todd Mohney, who himself departed before touring the album. Mohney's road replacement was an ill-conceived stopgap selection that didn't pan out, but by early this year, Reach the Sky guitarist and old friend Chris Chasse became available after his band dissolved.

By the time Chasse became a full-fledged member, Rise Against had already been courted by a number of major labels. The critical response to Revolutions Per Minute got them on the industry's radar and the band's incendiary Warped Tour appearances fueled the interest. Ultimately, DreamWorks came away with the band's signatures on a contract, but almost immediately the label was absorbed by its parent company, Geffen.

"We left Fat just because we saw an opportunity to get our music out to more people," says McIlrath. "DreamWorks was the label that we really connected with. They had no illusions as to what they were getting themselves into. They didn't think they were going to mold us into what they wanted us to be. They wanted us to be us and that's what we were. Then (DreamWorks) went under and melded into Geffen, which was a really scary time for us; we thought we might get dropped before it even started. But at Geffen we found people who were just as excited about what we were doing as a band."

With their position at the label secure, Rise Against headed to Vancouver, Canada, to work with famed producer Garth "GGGarth" Richardson on their new album. The band had worked hard on their first two releases, and they approached their new material with the same zeal, but with the luxury of more time. With two records under their belt already, McIlrath says the band didn't really over-think their songs or their process when it came time to track Siren Song.

"We didn't have any specific agenda in writing this record," he says. "We never mapped it out; we just did what we always did. We got back in the practice space or at sound checks and kind of worked on ideas. It was a natural process. We tried to block out the pressures of what a major label debut is. We weren't going to blow our load on this record. We weren't trying to write the Pop sensation of the century. We were just trying to stay Rise Against."

As it turns out, maintaining an identity might be the band's strongest suit. They have a fiercely loyal fanbase and have made a solid impression on their peers. They're confident they can capitalize on whatever opportunities present themselves from here on out.

"Having major backing is a plus, but I don't live in fear of being dropped by this label or any label," says McIlrath. "This isn't our only chance. We've worked hard for what we have, and what we have is a great band with a great fanbase regardless of who puts our record out. If Geffen drops us tomorrow and we go back to Fat or a different label or we put the records out ourselves, we have our fans. They don't care what label we're on. When we show up in Cincinnati to play, they don't give a shit who we're signed to, they give a shit that Rise Against is in their town tonight."

RISE AGAINST performs Monday at Radio Down.