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RISE AGAINST's JOE PRINCIPE Reflects On The Unraveling, The Sufferer & The Witness & Creating Music With A Message

"When it stops coming from the heart, that's when we should break up."

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For over 20 years, Chicago punk-rock luminaries Rise Against have waved the banner of the underdog, doubling down on the sentiments of the wayward ones on their 2021 album Nowhere Generation – and recent 2022 EP Nowhere Generation II.

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In commemoration of their recent ballads of the broken, guitarist Joe Principe sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into the bands' return to the road, reflections on seminal Rise Against records The Unraveling and The Sufferer & The Witness, thoughts on writing music with a message and owning the responsibility that comes with their massive platform, and much more!

You're the type of band that have been so active for so long, well over 20 years now. And then there's this forced downtime. Are you comfortable being at home? Or is it the type of situation where you'd get antsy and dying to get back on the road? 

You know, I could not allow myself to relax because for a little while, before there were vaccines at our disposal and all that, I was like how long is this going to last? Like, what if this is like five years. So then there was a little bit of, I guess unsettled is a good word for it? I couldn't allow myself to relax because I was thinking about the future. We all have families, and we're just trying to provide a good life for our families. So it was a little scary. And I definitely drove my wife nuts (laughs).

You guys just wrapped your first Euro tour in something like four years and had played frequently in North America before that. Looking at those first shows back following lockdown, was it a weird feeling? I'd imagine it must have reinforced how much you missed it.

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Yeah, 100%. I think like a couple of days before I flew out to Europe there was definitely like this like oh shit, how's this going to be? We're traveling country to country. Every country is treating COVID a little bit differently. It's actually more uniform than I thought it was going to be. 

Like, I know flying to Germany obviously was mask mandatory for sure …But in all the other countries, nobody was wearing masks. So it was kind of strange. I was like wait, I'm going to wear a mask anyways, just in case. But then you're at a festival and it feels very normal. And I don't know if it was like I'm just in denial or what. 

None of us got sick. We made it through five weeks pretty much unscathed, you know? And then it's like with anything, everyone still has allergies, so if an allergy thing comes up you're like is that Covid? What is that? At the end of the day, it felt amazing to get back out there, for sure. 

Touring in support of Nowhere Generation and now Nowhere Generation II, and I'd imagine releasing an album during the pandemic had to be strange. In the early period you had to find new ways to promote before the record without touring, and now bands are picking up on all these postponed tours.

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Yeah, it's definitely a little bit like catch-up. I mean, the record came out last June or July. And we did go on a U.S. tour with The Descendents. That was August. We were one of the first kind of bands in our genre to announce a full tour. When we announced tickets were on sale, it was all just new. Like how do we weather the storm? You know, obviously we were keeping a very contained ship. We weren't really allowing guests backstage and we still kind of aren't, actually. But we definitely kept to ourselves. 

You know, we didn't want to risk getting anything and canceling tours. And then it's like your crew is out of work. There's just a lot going on. You don't want anyone to get sick. It was crazy because by the time we did that tour, the record, we recorded it right before the pandemic. So it was like let's revisit these songs again and reacquaint ourselves with. It was weird. It felt new, but it was old. It's kind of crazy.

I'm really proud of Nowhere Generation. Like that's one of those records where all the stars aligned when we were writing that record. And I think it's a good mix of our rock side, our punk side, our pop side. And it's just a very fluid record. So I was just really stoked to get it out there. But yeah, now when you're touring you could tour and you support a record that came out a year or a year and a half ago, but that's almost like not enough. Like you always have to have something new to release for fans to kind of keep you in their sights. It's different in that regard, for sure.

That kind of leads into Nowhere Generation II. I know that when you were writing [Nowhere Generation] you whittled it down to the 11 songs, but you had a strong crop of songs that you didn't want the message to be diluted with what you were presenting in Nowhere Generation. So it made perfect sense to follow it up with an EP.

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Yeah. And you know, it was difficult. We recorded all those songs in the same sessions, but it was hard to kind of pick and choose, okay, what songs make the body of work that's Nowhere Generation, say, part one? And then what are we going to save for the EP to where it's still a strong EP and it could stand on its own and it's still fluid? 

It was definitely challenging to pick and choose what songs go where. But I think we did a pretty good job. The EP, I just listened to it the other day, and I still feel like it has a good flow and it still represents the band and what we do. It encapsulates all the sounds that we kind of present.

You guys have never been strangers to kind of tapping in and dialling into current socio political events in your writing. Crossing over 20 years of Rise Against, when did that become kind of prevalent in your minds as songwriters and as musicians that you're not going to just write catchy songs, but want to write about something with substance?

You know, it's very much just like an unspoken thing in the room. When we first got together, I think it just is a carryover from the influences that we grew up listening to like Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Bad Brains. Those bands started to instill change in the world, to inspire. And we just kind of took that torch and took it from them and kind of carried it over into our generation. 

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Bad Religion is still out there writing very relevant songs and amazing lyrics. And I feel like we have this platform and it's a privilege to be where we are to use it for some good. And don't get me wrong, that's not to say the bands that aren't using that for sociopolitical lyrical content [are bad]. 

I still listen to bands that are, I wouldn't say easy listening, but they're pop songs that are about relationships or something. And I still am drawn to that too. I think everyone needs a little bit of everything in their life. But for Rise Against it just felt right because of what bands we were listening to growing up. It's kind of ingrained in us. It's just there. 

If we think about the early history of this band and obviously just passing 20 years of The Unraveling in 2021. Thinking about a band that has these messages, that always wears their passions on their sleeve and advocates for the things that are important to, the industry has changed so much in the social media era. 

Before if you went to shows or saw band slogans you knew what this band was about or represented. But now you can get those types of messages out there instantly. I feel like you guys have really adopted that and became very conscious through social media of representing what the band believes in. It's like an entirely new way to give back to your fans. 

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Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we've always, no matter what vehicle, social media or even the traditional meet and greet, like we always try to stay engaged no matter what we're doing. It's our lives and our fans are our family, so we always want to keep that conversation and that dialog open. Social media is a way to keep it open and to kind of show our fan base like hey, this is what we're doing on tour, this is how the show was last night. You always just want to stay engaged. 

And admittedly, some of it's a little bit over my head. I think anyone in this older generation, like I'm 47. I'm a little bit stuck in the traditional ways, I guess you could say. I'd rather meet someone face to face, but maybe in the age of the pandemic it's not the smartest thing to do. It's definitely still an ever changing kind of thing. We're just learning as we go and hopefully it comes off as being sincere no matter what we're doing.

2001 marked 20 years of Rise Against's debut album The Unraveling and we recently had the 15 year anniversary of The Sufferer and the Witness. Obviously you're always progressing and moving forward as a band, but has there been any thought on maybe doing a half and half set to commemorate some of these major album milestones?

Yeah, it's funny you say that, because 100% it doesn't feel like any time has passed. Like it feels like we were recording The Unraveling like a week ago. And I think it's tricky. Like you're saying, playing older songs, even if it's like half a set, those are things we definitely think about. 

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And then I think our fanbase is split, right? You have our core fans that have been with us since day one. And then you have the fans that discovered us through the radio singles. So we always try to ride that. There's like a fine line, like you don't want to chase away the fans that discovered "Savior" on the radio with a song off of The Unraveling, but at the same time those are our roots. 

So definitely, we're a little bit conflicted because we're not opposed to playing all those songs at all, you know? And we're definitely still capable of playing older songs. But it's something that maybe we'll tackle in the future. But it's always on our minds. 

Talking The Sufferer and the Witness for a second with that album just turning 15. I believe it was your first platinum record in the U.S., and one I feel really kind of launched the band into the stratosphere. Thinking back to that period in time for the band, did it feel like a period of change and upward momentum?

You know, that's one of those records, similar to what I was saying about Nowhere Generation. When we were writing Sufferer, all the stars aligned and it was super organic. There was definitely no writer's block happening and it was very fluid. Songs kind of came together very quickly. I kind of chalked it up to the amount of touring we did, especially on Siren Songs, and just being with each other. 

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You know, at that point either we were just all getting married and starting our family lives. We had all the time in the world to dedicate to rehearsing and we all were living in Chicago. Probably one of the last records where we were all in the same state or same city. And it was just easy to get together very frequently and kind of mess around and write whatever came out. And that's how that record came about. It was just very organic. 

I was happy with what we were doing, just internally. I was like oh, this is cool. I'm excited for people to hear it, but I had no expectations. I didn't realize it would take off the way it did. But yeah, it was definitely this highlight, this moment. 

I remember the first show we played right before that record came out. We flew to start a European tour and we played "Prayer of the Refugee" live before it was out and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time they heard the song. And I remember thinking like oh wow. This is going to be something, I'm excited for it to be released. But I remember thinking wow, like if this is the reaction you get with a brand new song and that's their first time hearing it, this is going to be something. So yeah, all the stars aligned. 

Wrapping back up on the road. I've had the chance to see you guys live and Rise Against to me is a band whose heart and pulse of this band is best felt live. Obviously you have a massive tour of North America, you're going back to the UK and Europe in the fall. You're really going all in on touring. This is a band that connects most with their fans on the road and that hasn’t changed after 20 years.

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It still feels amazing to do it for so long and still have that youthful energy. Like when we walk onstage we still have that same feeling we did when we were touring on The Unraveling. So it's pretty cool to still have that intact. 

Just passing the 20th anniversary of this band a few years back. At once it feels like you guys have done so much yet are just getting started. It must be a weird feeling, looking at the entire timeline from then to now?

Yeah, absolutely. And all that aside, we're still always writing new stuff while we're out on tour. Maybe separately from each other, and then we'll show each other our ideas. But there's always that floating around. So there's no shortage of material. And that's always a good thing. It all comes from the heart. When it stops coming from the heart, that's when we should break up.

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