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Rise Against – Playing with Bad Religion

Tim McIlrath – Vocals
Joe Principe – Bass
Chris Chasse – Guitar
Brandon Barnes – Drums

Just in case you thought Rise Against might have softened up a bit since they’re on a major now: the opening line to the first track on their new album, Siren Song for the Counter Culture, (out now on Geffen Records) is “If we’re the flagship of peace and prosperity we’re taking on water and about to fucking sink.”

Unlike many bands that don’t practice what they preach, Rise Against is always looking for ways to contribute to the causes that they sing about, and in between the blistering hardcore, can play as personal a track as the most emo of emo bands.

Brandon Barnes, their drummer, is a Colorado native, and the band recorded its second album at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins. So it’s safe to say that they’re looking forward to their Denver stop on their fall tour with Bad Religion. Brandon took time out to talk to Kaffeine Buzz about major labels, major and minor issues, and of course, the ever-present election.

Kaffeine Buzz: Are you looking forward to playing in Denver?

Brandon Barnes: I am. I love Denver. All my friends come out, it’s a good time.

KB: I’m really glad to talk to you because we at Kaffeine Buzz did a special issue on “Politics Rocks!” and we wanted to get an interview with your band for that.

BB: Thanks for doing the interview, since we’re Denver homies and all.

KB: So I have to ask the stupid question first: how tired are you of answering the question about why you signed with a major label?

BB: I think why we all signed with a major label, in the back of our minds, we all thought that we could use the major label to get our message to way more people. And I know that people view that as selling out, but to us it’s not selling out. We signed with Ron Handler at DreamWorks and that ended up melding into Geffen, but at the time, the people we were talking to were really down-to-earth. They weren’t going to try to write our record, they weren’t going to try to take over our merch and our website and turn us into this radio band. They were like, “We’re going to let you do what you want to do,” and we just took advantage of that situation; that we could use someone with more exposure just to get our message out to more people.

KB: Do you think, though, that political punk is becoming more mainstream?

BB: Well, you know what, it depends on what you consider punk. I think that bands have always been political. Punk bands started out being political and being different, being for social change. You’ve always had your bands that sing about dumb shit, drinking beer and farting, but then you’ll always have your political punk bands that have a message out there. I think there’s always been bands that talk about politics and I think punk rock started as a rebellion against mainstream society.

KB: It certainly started that way, but it’s seemed like for a while it’s been more about whining about problems with girlfriends, and bands that did have a political message were very underground. It does seem like now, with all the Rock Against Bush and such, political bands are getting signed and getting noticed.

BB: I think a lot of pop-punk bands have become mainstream radio music, and maybe they’re taking on somewhat of a political message. Maybe because George Bush is such a fuckin’ asshole, maybe they’re finally really concerned about it. I’m not really sure what each individual band’s motives are for trying to have a political message, but bands like Green Day, I respect them a lot and I think they’re probably just sick of George Bush and want to use their influence to get rid of him. But I can’t speak for them, each band does it for their own reasons.

KB: I saw an article on Rise Against in Alternative Press, that said, “They have no particular political agenda,” which seemed to me to be kind of belittling, like “Oh, they don’t really know what they’re saying, they’re just generally trying to stir shit up.”

BB: I’ll have to go check that out, because I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t have a good comment on that. People peg us as this super-political band, and we’re not. We definitely have opinions, just like every other person, and I think Tim’s lyrics touch on a lot of other things than politics. I think his lyrics are about everyday life just as much as they are about politics. It’s not like every song we have is about politics. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any political direction at all.

KB: I think you guys have a pretty good balance of personal and political, and it’s not just all “Oh, Bush is awful,” which is so obvious…

BB: Bush Is Bad!

KB: There seems to be a common theme that runs through everything, whether it’s a very personal song or a political song, that’s about, “Get off your ass and do something.”

BB: I think people talk a lot about “Oh, I fuckin’ hate George Bush,” but then they don’t vote. Something we tried to stress this summer on Warped Tour for kids was: just go vote. So many young people don’t vote, it’s ridiculous. If you’re going to sit and talk about how much you hate your president, just go vote. This summer, we played in like every state in the U.S., and we just said “Hey, whether you like Bush or hate Bush, just go vote. It’s your responsibility.”

KB: So Shepard Fairey did the cover artwork on your latest CD?

BB: Yeah. We’ve always liked him, I’ve always thought his stuff was really cool, and Tim, our singer, actually came up with the idea of using Shepard, so we gave him a call and he was really into it.

KB: So how long have you been with the band?

BB: I’ve been with the band pretty much from the beginning. I guess it’s been four and a half years now. Basically Tim and Joe, they wrote some songs and they needed a drummer–I think they played one show with this other drummer, and then Joe called me and asked if I wanted to play.

KB: Had you known him for a while?

BB: No. I knew the guys from Anti-Flag, and I was actually trying to get in Good Riddance at the time, they had just lost their drummer, but they got Dave Wagonsheets from Kid Dynamite, so they ended up giving my number to Joe. I used to be in a band called Pinhead Circus, and I had played shows with 88 Fingers Louie, [Joe’s old band] but I didn’t really know Joe.

KB: So it was probably fun for you recording at the Blasting Room, then.

BB: Yeah, definitely. I knew a bunch of people from Fort Collins, too, so it was great to be there for a month. That was actually the longest I’ve been home in years. It was really nice.

KB: So I hear that you guys want to tour in South Africa. Do you have any plans for that, or is that just something you want to do in the future?

BB: We were talking about going to South Africa and basically it didn’t work out because of the promoters, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work out in the future. It just was bad timing. But yeah, we would love to go to South Africa and are just waiting for our opportunity. We’d like to tie it in to some political issues, maybe do some fund-raising for different things over there. I think a lot of kids our age don’t really realize that there are millions of people in Africa right now dying of AIDS. It’s really amazing, the amount of people over there that are infected with AIDS over there, and people over here aren’t really aware of that, so even if the tour just raised some sort of awareness…

KB: Any other specific causes you’re involved with, besides that and PunkVoter?

BB: Not really at the moment. We’re going to Canada and doing this tour next year and doing this whole campaign for this Coats for Kids thing–I’m sure in the future we’ll be involved in anything we can that helps people out. I think we’re all pretty good people and if we can use our band in ways to help people, I’m sure we’ll take advantage of that in any way we can.

KB: I love the war cost counter on your website.

BB: Isn’t that intense? You can just watch it go up.

KB: And then I watch the debate and listen to Dick Cheney lie about it…

BB: Yeah, that was interesting.

KB: I know that Tim is mostly responsible for the lyrics, but I notice that in a lot of your songs, angels are mentioned, wings are mentioned–is that just his thing, or do you know anything about that?

BB: It’s like an obsession with the whole heaven-hell, angel thing, but I’m not going to comment on it, it’s his deal. His lyrics tell stories within stories, you can read them and think one thing and then read them again and think another. I like that, that they make you think.

KB: Are there any other Denver bands you played with?

BB: I was in a band called Flip Kid, and a band called Calico, but I was in Pinhead when I was 18, a young kid, so I didn’t have time to be in too many other bands before that.

KB: So then you moved to Chicago to be in Rise Against.

BB: Yeah, I moved to Chicago when I was 21, and I’ll be 26 on the tenth of October, so it’s been like five years. I can’t believe I’ve been living in Chicago for five years.

KB: Are you looking forward to touring with Bad Religion?

BB: I’ve been listening to that band since I was 13 years old, so I’m pumped. We played with them on Warped Tour and they’re really nice guys, and I’ve always been a fan of Bad Religion, so I’m excited.

Catch Rise Against, Bad Religion, and From First to Last at the Ogden Tuesday, November 9.


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