When AP’s Jason Pettigrew and Tim McIlrath had lunch at the Chicago Diner, they enthused over the assorted vegan selections. After the table was cleared, the conversation turned toward everything from trivia (when From First To Last left the Warped Tour in 2004, McIlrath hired their guitar tech, Geoff Bilson, who’s been with the band ever since) and music fans following “the punk-rock rulebook” to how some artists found their niche outside of the scene. [For more of AP's conversation with McIlrath, check out this bonus excerpt and buy issue 286, which is in stores now. To find out where to buy AP, go here.]
I’m sure people will argue that the word “punk” has been diminished today, whether it’s from the media using the word as some sort of shorthand or some social and/or marketing reason. Obviously, since you and the rest of Rise Against have been able to make a career in music, the decisions you’ve made are yours and yours alone. But because you put yourself out there politically and socially, there’s always somebody who’s not convinced and ready to call your band out for not being “punk enough.”
There’s no conscious strategy; this is just how we’ve always done it. We don’t get questions about the major label. I suppose it’s because we’ve given the evidence of who we are as a band. We’ve always put out records; [printed] our lyrics and [played] shows—that’s the only proof anyone ever needs. When we signed to put out Siren Song Of The Counter Culture, from the time we signed to the time before [that album] came out, people had a lot of questions—they were very concerned. But by the time that record came out, people stopped asking questions. It was like, “Here’s our record. Here’s who we are.” That record alone is a direct line of communication from the artist: They know who they are and what they’re thinking. That would have made up people’s minds about how we were to go on, behave and manage our career. People know what kind of band we are. I think that kind of trust creates an identity people can associate with and also rely on. They know who we are. We’re not going to be something different every day. We’re not going to jump on a different bandwagon every day.
You’re not going to make a hard-to-be-a-rockstar record like Nickelback, but you aren’t going to have Skrillex remix your next single.
We went to a Skrillex show in New York.
He was the opener on the AP tour a few years ago when his sound was a tribal/electronic/metal thing. The way I understand it, Sonny didn’t have the greatest time in From First To Last. He was constantly being put upon and finally he said “Okay,” and left to do his own thing.
There are people who think they can do better outside of the scene. A lot of times they fall on their faces and it comes back to haunt them. Then there are examples of people like Sonny. I remember we were supporting Bad Religion, and [FFTL] were opening the show. He was just the nicest kid; he was all ready to show me how to make beats in GarageBand. This was in 2004; you could tell his heart was into this kind of stuff. His heart was into making drum loops and beats. He sort of got wrapped up into From First To Last and was maybe never meant to do that.
I remember when Derek [Miller] left Poison The Well and was like, “I want to do something different” and left the band almost at their height. It was like, “Derek, what do you mean? What are you going to do? You’re in Poison The Well. You just got signed to Atlantic. It’s going to be amazing.” And he left. Here we are years later, and he’s in Sleigh Bells. He was right—he had something better in mind. Not better, but different. He was right: I’m watching SNL and he’s on there, and it’s like Derek knew. “Okay, I’ve done this. I’ve got something else I want to do.” And it worked out.
A lot of bands try to distance themselves from what they came up through, and it’s not there. I remember when Jawbox signed to Atlantic. For Your Own Special Sweetheart is an amazing record. But because there’s an Atlantic logo on it, the band got emails saying things along the lines of, “I hope you go on tour, flip your van and catch fire.”
You know what’s funny? I was one of those kids. Bad Religion signed to Atlantic and I was like, “Fuck that label.” Then I grew up, and I realized that it didn’t matter. When one of our fans has criticism of the way we’ve done things, I immediately identify with that person. I don’t get mad; how can I get mad? I was that person, that tougher-than-thou sort. That was my journey. I went through it, and I figured it out and I knew that it didn’t matter. All that matters is good records, good bands and the band’s decisions about what they do.
When someone tells me they had a same [mindset]—that they were at my age when I was condemning these bands—I immediately feel like, “I know how you feel. I totally know how you feel. I also know there is nothing I can say to you that will change your mind. All you can do is continue the journey you’re on and reach your own conclusions. I can sit here and assure you that I’m not a sellout or whatever, but you’re not going to take it from me. You have to figure it out on your own.” alt