It’s staggering to consider that in an age when it only takes a few thousand album sales to reach #1 on the ARIA charts, Rise Against have sold 200,000 records in this country alone.
That kind of figure puts them up there with pop idol competition winners and Christmas crooner stocking stuffers. Except Rise Against aren’t a cheap gimmick sale – they’re one of the most outspoken and politically motivated punk rock outfits to emerge in a generation.
Whether they’re tackling animal rights or unjust wars, the destruction of the environment or social prejudice, they’ve never shied away from the beliefs and ideology they hold loyal, and in an industry that encourages conformity, they’ve managed to buck the trend by becoming immensely successful while still maintaining the rage.
And whether they’re performing their own sold out tours or warming up the stage for the likes of stadium rock giants the Foo Fighters, Australia’s enduring love affair with the Chicago four-piece hasn’t waned. Our fists have been held high in solidarity for more than a decade – the band serving as a gateway to punk for thousands of young Australians, exposing them to a culture and a political consciousness that in many cases has helped shaped their outlook on society for the rest of their lives.
Music Feeds caught up with Rise Against bassist Joe Principe to discuss their relationship with Australian audiences over the last decade; how he sees the role of punk music in modern society; finding your songs have greater meaning years after you wrote them; and why Rise Against will always be loyal to the next generation of punk rock fans.
Listen: Rise Against – I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore
Music Feeds: You were last out here a few months ago with the Foo Fighters tour. What was that experience like? I’m going to assume a lot of Foo Fighters fans weren’t totally familiar with you.
Joe Principe: You know that tour was one of our favourite tours we’ve ever done. It was just amazing because the fans were really open minded and I think we were well received, but also the Foo Fighters are just great guys to tour with. They’re super down to Earth and well-grounded.
They come from the same scene as we do, they still love punk rock music and we’ve also been friends with those guys for a really long time. So it’s just a great vibe all around. Considering how big those shows were, it felt as though there was a club show vibe.
MF: How does a tour like that come about? Do you get an offer to management? Or is it something that arises through the bands being fans of each other?
JP: Well, initially we toured the East Coast of the United States with them and that was definitely through management and booking agents and they wanted to bring a rock band or a harder edged band out with them [to Australia] and they always try to do different bands from the year before.
So somebody suggested us and they were familiar with us but they’d never toured with us at that point and then we just got along really well. So when this came about they thought of us right away, which is awesome because it makes sense and it’s a good pairing. I think they see that, so that’s how it came about this time around.
MF: When you arrive here in December for this round of shows, you’ll more than likely be landing in a pretty heated political climate (based off what we’re currently experiencing). As a political band by nature, you represent a lot to fans of your music through not just your art but also your ideology.
As you travel the world and perform for audiences of vastly differing social climates, do you find that you have to have some sort of awareness of the local political climate when you perform to each new audience? Or is it more of a case that you see yourselves as providing fans with a song like I Don’t Wanna Be Here Anymore or Tragedy + Time as an outlet for them to find inspiration in or to play loud to express their own frustration?
JP: I think with anything it’s definitely good to know what you’re getting into as far as politics go. I thinks it’s just good to be in the know wherever you’re headed. Sometimes we’re better about it than other times – I’ll admit it but we try to do our best. But at the same time we want to go there and do what we do as Rise Against.
People are already relating to us lyrically and we want to just bring that to the live platform and sing along with our fans and meet our fans and it’s always great to get a fan’s perspective of their local scene; of their local community. That’s what I look forward to. I think that’s kind of what we like to do as a band – interact.
Watch: Rise Against – Tragedy + Time
MF: I interviewed Billy Bragg a few years ago and asked him did he think that people, with respect to politics and political art, had become apathetic through things like keyboard activism and that that might be the reason there are fewer vocal, political punk bands or musical acts these days? He said that it was more of a case that when he became a punk rocker, he didn’t have a choice, it was his only outlet to express himself, and nowadays people have a lot more avenues with which to share their opinion.
Do you agree with that? And if you were talking to a young, politically motivated teenager today, would you recommend them starting a punk band – considering the dire position of the music industry – or would you recommend they pursue their activism in a different format or medium?
JP: No I always encourage joining the local punk scene. I mean, I didn’t fit in anywhere else and then I stumbled across the local punk rock scene in Chicago and discovered that it is literally made up of like-minded individuals and you can speak your mind in the punk rock community. I think that’s the point of punk rock in general. I don’t think that’s changed.
I think that there’s definitely the mainstream punk rock world, which isn’t quite the real punk rock world because that’s still very formulaic and conforming and safe. That scene is always there for those young kids to always speak their mind and politics is a huge part of that.
But I see what Billy Bragg was talking about. He was there, he was first wave, right? Punk rock was new and that’s why that scene formed, but at the same time it’s still present in today’s youth. Maybe he’s detached from that at this point but I still see it in the 13-year-olds at Rise Against shows, you know?
MF: There’s actually a really strong punk scene in Melbourne at the moment and it’s a scene that has become increasingly visibly political as it has become more popular. You’re going to be supported by a couple of the bands from that scene in Clowns and Outright when you tour.
Do you try and discover new music or try and get some grasp of the local scenes as you tour around the world? Maybe offer them encouragement, or take time with artists that reach out to you?
JP: Yeah, you know we definitely try to do that as much as we can because when we first started that’s how we gained exposure – national touring acts giving us a chance. It’s always great to interact with local bands and find out about local scenes. I always like hearing about what’s going on in these communities and that’s what it’s all about, right? This time around we kind of made it a point to take around local bands.
MF: You’re performing all all ages shows, which is something that’s always been in line with the DIY punk scene ethos. How important is it to you guys to provide a show that is available universally to all fans?
JP: Oh that’s always been incredibly important to us. I hated when a band would limit their audience when I was growing up. If a band I liked played a bar it was heart-breaking. There’s always ways to play all ages shows. We try our best to do that globally, so first and foremost we shoot for all ages venues. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but most of the time it does. I just don’t see the point in limiting your audience.
MF: You’ve sold 200,000 albums in Australia alone, which is an insane feat in the modern music market. Does this country feel somewhat like a home away from home for you guys?
JP: Oh yeah, absolutely. Just from the first tour we did there which was the Big Day Out in 2004 and we were just well received from day one. It’s definitely a home away from home environment for sure. And we just see that growing and growing every time we come back. It’s a great feeling and absolutely one of my favourite places to tour.
Watch: Rise Against – Collapse (Post Amerika)
MF: As you said you’ve been coming here for a long time. Have you noticed much change in your fans down here or the society or cultural climate of the country as you’ve visited over that 10-11 year period?
JP: I think we’re lucky enough to see maybe the same fans come in for like four or five years and then there’s this turnover where you see kids get younger and they grow up in four or five years. I guess it’s like the natural way I like to see things happen where the younger kids get into it every four years or something and they stick with you.
It makes our audience range from 13 years old to 50 years old. I love seeing that. I think our music can appeal to a broad age range like that. I like seeing the younger kids discovering us.
MF: Are there certain songs from your back catalogue that you find when you perform them today ring truer or connect more strongly with either yourselves or the audience than ever before?
JP: I think a song like Collapse (Post Amerika), which was on Appeal To Reason, that rings truer now than it ever has because it’s speaking on the environment. It’s issues like that – we’re presenting these facts to our audience and you hope people are listening and I hope people realise it is a real problem when it lasts for – that song was written almost 10 years ago and it still rings true.
There’s obviously something to it, so I would start with encouraging people to pay attention. But yeah I think that does happen, you know where as time goes on, songs definitely become more meaningful. When the world has proven that there are issues out there, you know?
MF: When you arrive here in December your country will be on the verge of going full swing into political campaigns for the 2016 election. Do you think that there’s going to be a lot of inspirational material for songwriting coming out in the next few months for Rise Against?
JP: You know, it’s hard to say. I would imagine so, but it’s not something I can answer one way or the other for sure. But that’s always present in Rise Against. Whatever’s happening in current events is always present in Rise Against records.
Rise Against tour Australia with Clowns and Outright this December, dates and ticket deets below.
Watch: Clowns – Oh Fuck, My Face!
Rise Against w/ Clowns + Outright
Wednesday, 2nd December
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Tickets: Frontier Touring
Friday, 4th December
Tickets: Frontier Touring
Saturday, 5th December
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tickets: Frontier Touring