When Rolling Stone caught up with Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath recently at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Xmas it was a big night for the band – their final show after two years of touring. Feeling reflective, McIlrath looked back on what the time meant to the group.
"We've been all around the world twice. We played these songs everywhere from Santiago in Chile to Moscow and Canada, Japan, Australia," he said. "I feel really good about it. The record did really well, the shows did well, we had some great tours, we toured with some great friends of ours and we all feel very proud of what we did these couple of years."
This year also saw Rise Against make the leap to arena headliners, playing, for instance, a sold-out show at Anaheim's Honda Center, the same place Bruce Springsteen recently headlined. That transition has been understandably strange for McIlrath.
"It's kind of crazy, because when we started this band we didn't have those aspirations," he said. "Our favorite bands had only sold 10,000 records while playing punk dives, and that was what we aspired to. So when we outgrew the punk dives we were kind of in uncharted territory," he says. "So we had to figure out how to navigate those waters and still keep our identity."
These are some of the questions McIlrath hopes to explore in the coming months. While the band has been writing already – "We always have new ideas floating around, we always have new songs and new ideas" – Rise Against aren't looking to rush back into the studio to begin work on the follow-up to Endgame.
"We're kind of focusing on recharging our batteries right now," he said. "We've been a band for 12 years. We've been hitting it hard and looking at this band like a marathon, not a sprint. We realize we need to invest time into our music and our songs, as well as invest time into ourselves, our lives, so I think for the next few months that's what we'll be doing – getting away from it so we get a better perspective on what we want to do and what we want to accomplish when we sit down to write the next record."
Part of their future approach could include a more diverse and occasionally quieter sound. If that does come to fruition, it will be in large part because of Bob Dylan. The group covered Dylan's "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown" for an Amnesty International collection earlier this year, and that had a major effect on them, according to McIlrath.
"I feel like just in doing that song I started hearing our band in different ways. It was something we hadn't done before, and I think we all walked away from the studio experience saying, 'When we come back here, we need to tap into some of the things that we tapped into in this Bob Dylan cover,'" he said. "We took our foot off the gas a little bit, allowed the guitar tones to come out a little more, played things more deliberate instead of as fast as a speeding train, and we realized this could still be heavy."
With some downtime to contemplate how to evolve, McIlrath believes this is a very exciting time for the band. "We've really established ourselves. We've really come to a place where we've got a diehard fan base too, so that's freeing in a lot of ways," he said. "I feel like a band like Rise Against, we live just under the radar, and sometimes that's very freeing. We get away with doing whatever we want and still come to L.A. and play for 10,000 kids who don't really care what's getting nominated for a Grammy or whatever. It sounds disingenuous for me to say that we're underground and still play arenas, but in a lot of ways the rock media turns a blind eye to what we do, which has been a blessing."
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- Tim McIlrath