When Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath was 16 or so, his parents suggested he take some guitar lessons from a local music teacher. When he entered the practice space, he came face to face with your run-of-the-mill Midwestern head-banger, no doubt eager to school young Mr. McIlrath in the art of scalp grease and Black Sabbath T-shirts.
He asked McIlrath what kind of music he wanted to learn and encouraged him to bring in some CDs for their next meeting.
"I came in the next week and I brought in Minor Threat and he had never heard it, and he's, like, "What? You just do this, dude,' and he showed me a power chord," McIlrath recalled. "And I'm, like, "Oh, well screw this, I don't need you anymore-later.'"
Like everybody else who has ever picked up a Minor Threat album, McIlrath wasn't exactly confronted with the prospect of learning Steely Dan-quality instrumentation and pomposity. In fact, a steady diet of early '80s D.C. hardcore will pretty much vaporize words like "arpeggio" and "multi-timbral" before they get a chance to enter one's vocabulary. But very few angry teenagers who ever picked up a Minor Threat album thought that Ian MacKaye's distaste for social injustice-backed by one of the loudest, fastest bands ever-was anything but completely mesmerizing. As far as McIlrath was concerned, he had unlocked the secrets of the universe.
Fast-forward to 2006. McIlrath and the rest of Rise Against (bassist Joe Principe, guitarist Chris Chasse and drummer Brandon Barnes) are touring in support of their latest album, The Sufferer and the Witness, to what can only be described as an increasingly rabid fan base.
Since forming in 1999, Rise Against have slowly but surely made a huge name for themselves in the punk world. With McIlrath's booming, raspy voice and the band's knack for catchy hooks, Rise Against's socially focused, non-stop aggressiveness has primed them to take on the role of the new Bad Religion.
After the critical acclaim of 2003's Revolutions Per Minute, released on San Francisco punk label Fat Wreck Chords, the band decided to do what many in the punk world would equate with treason-they signed with a major label.
Cue obligatory angry chorus of punk-rock puritans in three, two, one....
"There were people over [at Fat Wreck] who were, like, "Just do what you gotta do-make it happen,'" McIlrath recalls. "But then there were people who were, like "Fuck you, I can't believe you'd leave this label.' Few people can argue, at least in Rise Against's situation, that it wasn't a good move for us, because it was."
It didn't help, however, that their first release for Geffen Records, Siren Song of the Counter Culture, sounded exactly how pessimists thought it would-like an overly clean, watered-down version of a previously raw punk band. Though Rise Against moved more units with Siren Song, the misstep left them with something to prove with their follow-up. Either they prove to their fan base that they care more about raw power than radio hits, or they lose the socially conscious, angry-teen demo forever.
Thankfully, they released The Sufferer and the Witness this summer. It's primal. McIlrath's voice sounds as ravaged as it ever has. The production is less meddlesome. It sounds like punk rock. A lot of that is thanks to former Black Flag and Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson and producing partner Jason Livermore, who produced Revolutions Per Minute.
"Bill's our guy and Jason's our guy and they were meant to produce Rise Against records, and we were meant to do records for them and with them," McIlrath says.
Rise Against plays with Thursday, Circa Survive and Billy Talent at Soma on Oct. 31. Doors open at 6 p.m. $22. 619-226-7662.