.Interview: Rise Against Sees Mainstream Success As a New Medium for Their Message

If you want to tell Rise Against they sold out, lead singer Tim McIlrath won’t stop you. In fact, when fans tell him they don’t like that his band signed to a major label, or that their last album debuted at number two on the mainstream charts, he feels them, because he’s been there.
“All the way to the kid who goes ‘Hey man, you sold out! You’re on a major label and you’ve changed,’” admits McIlrath. “I was that kid! I was that fan. I was the kid who hated Bad Religion when they signed to A&M. I was like ‘I’m never wearing that shirt again.’ Far from taking offense to someone who tells me that, I see myself in their eyes.”
But the truth is that, whatever one fan or another might think about how the band’s music has evolved since they started out on the Chicago DIY punk scene in the late 90s, no one ever questions their integrity. They’re as political and subversive in their message as they were back when they were putting out short, sharp blasts of hardcore on Fat Wreck Chords a decade ago. So when mainstream success came knocking, McIlrath didn’t see danger signs, he saw a new lease on the band’s life, a new reason to keep it together.
“I saw a challenge,” he says. “The kind of challenge I hadn’t seen since the band started, and we were just trying to win people over and get them to know who we were. All of a sudden there was this whole new challenge: how do you present ideas of social change and awareness to an audience that might be used to having the music there just to rock out to and then go home?”
As they get set to play the San Jose State Event Center Tuesday (April 17), McIlrath talked to me about strategizing their success and their most recent release, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown.”
STEVE PALOPOLI: You’ve always been an activist, but what’s it like for you now to be an activist who actually has some influence and cultural reach? There are so many causes vying for your attention, how do you decide what to invest that power in?


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