Rise Against recently returned from a European tour where things didn’t always go smoothly.
One thing singer-guitarist Tim McIlrath noticed was that the band and crew reacted differently to mishaps during those dates than they would have in pre-pandemic times. To him, it illustrated how musicians more than ever appreciate simply being able to tour and make music again.
“It’s like everything from flat tires to food poisoning, all kinds of stuff went wrong,” McIlrath explains in a mid-July phone interview. “But it didn’t seem to matter as much to my band and my crew this year than it would have mattered like five years ago. It seemed like everybody kind of saw the obstacle in front of them when it would happen, whether it was a flat tire or food poisoning or whatever, and they just kind of said ‘You know what, let’s figure this out. … Compared to a global pandemic, we’ll figure out a flat tire. And we’re going to survive and move beyond. Everything got put into perspective a little bit.”
As part of its effort to move beyond, Rise Against is set to play the Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Cleveland on Wednesday, Aug. 17. The band is headlining a package tour that also includes the Used and Senses Fail.
For McIlrath and his bandmates, bassist Joe Principe, drummer Brandon Barnes and lead guitarist Zach Blair, the pandemic actually came at a rather opportune time. They had finished recording the 16 songs that make up their 2021 full-length album, Nowhere Generation, and their newly released companion EP, Nowhere Generation II. Normally, a new album would be followed by an extensive tour cycle, but the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, providing a key benefit to the band.
“For our band, I felt like the live music closing down for a couple of years was a good thing for us. It was the break we always talked about, but never would [take],” McIlrath says. “That never really happened, partially because there would be some great opportunities that would come our way, and we’d have trouble saying no to them. Next thing you know, we’re just back in the studio writing songs.
“In that sense, I felt like it was a good thing for us because we needed that time [off],” he adds. “And then in that time, what happened is kind of what I hoped a sabbatical would have produced, which is we came back to this thing with like this renewed enthusiasm, and this appreciation of it all.”
Rise Against had certainly earned the right to take a break by the time the pandemic hit in spring 2020. Since forming in 1999 in Chicago, the band has released nine full-length albums and toured extensively between releases.
Influenced by hardcore groups such as Fugazi and Minor Threat and the punk rock of bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise, Rise Against’s sound has remained largely intact – even if the group’s compelling brand of music has expanded to embrace the occasional rocker with a more deliberate tempo or an outright ballad. The 11 songs on the Nowhere Generation full-length and the five songs on Nowhere Generation II generally fit the punk mold with their robust guitar riffs and strong melodies.
The two albums also continue the Rise Against tradition of featuring topical and political themes and lyrics. In the case of these two releases, McIlrath — the band’s lyricist — wanted to give a voice especially to younger adults who feel the American dream is getting out of reach, as hopes of home ownership and a comfortable retirement become harder to achieve for middle class Americans, not to mention the poor.
McIlrath explains how he came to think about the predicament many young adults face and how any failures to experience the American dream weren’t because of a lack of effort, brains or ambition.
“I feel like it was partially being a guy in his 40s and sitting around a dinner table where people like to poke fun at millennials and that kind of thing,” he says. “And I sat through enough of those jokes where I was like, ‘I hear your joke. I hear where you’re coming from. But I can’t square that with my [experience as a] young man. I can’t square it with the complaints they have about the future of the world. I feel like they may have some valid complaints here.’ … This isn’t simply a matter of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. There are new and improved obstacles that are in their way. I felt like my generation was a little blind to that.”
McIlrath and his bandmates are getting to share a few of the new songs and their messages on tour in the states this summer. While excited to play shows, there is a challenge that gets more daunting as time goes on.
“The more records we make, the more songs we write, we’re still working that same size of the parking lot, but we just keep on making new cars. We’ve still got to fit the same amount of cars in that parking lot. So yeah, it gets tricky,” McIlrath says. “There’s probably a core of a set that Rise Against will always play, and then there’s probably like a fourth of it that we kind of tinker with, just try [different songs] and see what people are into.”
Rise Against will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore St., Cleveland. The Used and Senses Fail will open the show. Info: jacobspavilion.com.