Interview: Joe Principe of Rise Against
Since 1999, Rise Against has released a consistent collection of rock numbers and toured the world numerous times over. Along the way, they have garnered multiple platinum records and millions of devoted fans. For the Chicago-based four-piece, the journey to becoming torch bearers of the punk genre began when ex-88 Fingers Louie bassist Joe Principe tapped Chicago vocalist Tim McIlrath to front his new project rooted in traditionalist hardcore rock. Ultimately dubbed Rise Against, the band signed to Fat Wreck Chords and went on to release their debut record “The Unraveling” in 2001. Last month, the band celebrated the ten-year anniversary of its sophomore breakthrough album “Revolutions per Minute” (now named “RPM 10”), which includes ten bonus tracks of demos along with the originally recorded album and expanded packaging. We caught up with Rise Against bassist Joe Principe on his way to the band’s Orion Fest gig in Detroit to discuss this milestone and other issues that fans want to know about.
So Fat Wreck Chords just celebrated the ten year anniversary of Revolutions per Minute. By now it’s considered one of your older records, so I’d like to spend some time today diving into the band’s past. As far as I know, your band started when you met Tim [McIlrath, singer] at a Sick of It All concert, is that right?
Yeah. Our original guitar player and I drove to Indianapolis because we were really close with AFI and they were on tour with Sick of It All and Hot Water Music. [My friend Dan and I] were starting a new band. At the time, we kind of had a drummer and we tried out like 20 singers. No one could…well, everyone says they can sing but they really can’t (laughs). But then I ran into Tim at that show. He just happened to be there for a cover band on the bill and I remember I sort of always liked his voice from his old band so I was like, “Hey, you wanna try out for this new project I have?” It was a little different for him. He kind of grew up more on like the Fugazi kind of vibe and I grew up on the faster hardcore – like Minor Threat and Bad Brains and all that. So it was a new style of music for him to sing, but it worked out. It took a little while for us to get used to each others’ styles but it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
To me, there seems to be two versions of Rise Against: the version that existed on Fat [Wreck Chords] and the version that that has blown up on a major label ever since. Now that your fan base is much larger, do you ever wish that more of your fans today took the time to explore your band’s older song material?
Well, yeah. I do, personally, because the ferocity and aggression that comes out of Revolutions per Minute and The Unraveling is just very raw punk rock and I think there’s some real life behind it. Bands get older, their studio budgets grow and they can do more in the studio because of it – which is awesome because you can grow as a band. But there’s something to be said for just having two guitar tracks and recording things live. I would hope our newer fans would check out our old stuff just to get a taste of our roots. I mean, some of my favorite records were recorded live. Like the first Bad Brains record. For those bands, it really shows their talent. There’s no Pro Tools or overdubbing. Some of those performances are just insane, you know? It’s definitely a cool glimpse into a band’s history and where they came from. So yeah, I would hope our newer fans can look back and appreciate that with Revolutions per Minute.
I’ve seen you guys at different stages in your development. The first time I watched you all was in November 2001 at Club Nation in Washington D.C. with AFI, Death by Stereo and F-Minus.
Yeah, long time ago. And by the way, it was an awesome show and I ended up writing a college admissions essay about it. Now that you are headlining arenas, what do you miss most about the period in your life when you were playing club gigs?
We’re still punk rock kids at heart. Our first love is a punk rock show and the interaction you get from the crowd with no barricades and minimal interaction from bouncers. I’ll always miss that. That still gets me going. I love going to see bands play at small clubs. But it’s like the bigger a band gets, you have to accommodate your fan base. We try to play multiple nights in smaller venues but you can’t do it all the time ’cause then you end up being on tour a lot longer. It’s like a Catch-22. You end up being away from your family for more time. But we try our best to figure things out.
Who wrote the song “Six Ways Til Sunday” off The Unraveling?
I wrote all the music on that record and Tim wrote all the lyrics. Tim writes all of our lyrics. You don’t want me writing any lyrics, let’s just say that. They wouldn’t be any good (laughs). But musically, that song was me. In between The Unraveling and Revolutions per Minute, we did a song for a Fat Wreck Chords compilation called “Generation Lost.” Tim played guitar and sang in his old band, Baxter, but that was the first time he brought his guitar to practice and told us he had an idea. I liked it. It really worked with my style. I think that’s why this band works really well. It’s just a melding of all of our styles and it makes it pretty interesting, I think.
What does the title of The Unraveling signify?
You know what, Tim more or less names all our records. His lyrics and his album titles are a little bit more abstract. You can kind of interpret them however you want. That’s what I love about his lyrics for the most part. We have some more straightforward songs like “Blood Red, White and Blue” and stuff, but it’s hard to say what that title means because Tim writes from a very personal perspective. I’ve never actually asked what was going through his head when he wrote that song. It could be anything he was experiencing that day he wrote it. Like I said, that’s what I like about his lyrics. I appreciate bands that are pretty direct and to a point. But at the same time, I like to mix it up a little bit. That whole record has a very general theme. There’s always this overlying sense of hope on all of our records. A light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes that comes through in different ways, if that makes sense.