Q&A with Rise Against's Brandon Barnes

In the November 13, 2008 issue, we printed excerpts of our conversation with Rise Against drummer Brandon Barnes, who just happens to be a Colorado Native, who’s returned here after stints living in Chicago and Austin. Barnes weighed in on the band’s success thus far, explained the appeal of recording at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins and more. The transcripts from our recent exchange are posted after the jump in their entirety.

Westword (A.H. Goldstein): From some of the backup that I’ve read, it seems that the creative process behind Appeal to Reason was unique in that it yielded a lot more material than what showed up on the album. Did any factor in particular lead to the wealth of new songs this time?

Brandon Barnes: There was no real plan to write double the amount of songs we normally do. We just sort of came up with more material this time. You know, we don’t really have a system for writing, we write any way possible. On the road, on day we’ll have an idea, or soon we’ll have an entire song. We write every way possible.

We just ended up with like 29 songs for the record, and it just happened that way. Usually we have like fifteen for a ten-song album and this time we had double, so we just had a lot more to work with. I think we just worked real hard and spent a lot of time writing on the road as well. We just ended up with more material.

WW: Are there plans for the extra material that didn’t show up on the record at this point?

BB: Some of it will hit video games, some of it will be B-sides for other countries and then the rest will probably never be released. We can always use extra songs.

WW: As a Colorado native, can you talk a bit about recording in the Blasting Room studio in Fort Collins? I know that that facility has been a preferred site for the band to record. What’s the appeal that keeps the band coming back?

BB: The appeal is Jason Livermore and Bill Stevenson. Those guys are basically two members of the band at this point. Jason Livermore was in a band Wretch Like Me from Fort Collins, a punk band, and then Bill, obviously, was in Black Flag, the Descendents. They just get the band, they get what we’re trying to do and we feel comfortable with Bill because essentially we’re recording music that he pioneered and invented. I think on Siren Song of the Counter Culture we went to Garth Richardson and we had a great time, but there was disconnect there once in a while. He didn’t appreciate what we were going for, so we just keep going back to Bill. Also, being in Colorado is great for me. The studio’s real cozy and it’s right by the mountains. We just keep going back.

WW: How did this album stand out in terms of the production process? Was there a real departure from 2004’s Siren Song of the Counter Culture or 2006’s The Sufferer and the Witness in terms of song writing or recording?

BB: The last thing we want to do is the same record every time. I think the new record obviously sounds different because we’re growing as a band. We’ve been playing together for a long time and actually getting better at our new instruments. And yeah, the new record still is Rise Against, but I think it is the next level. I think that’s just a product of us growing as a band.

If you go back to our first record, it’s real diverse. It’s blazing fast punk songs, poppy, mid-tempo punk songs. I think we’ve always been good at and enjoyed writing a good variety of music. I think that’s helped us tour throughout the years too. We can fit on so many different tours because we have a wide range of sounds. I think the new record isn’t a departure at all. We’re still doing our punk songs and we’re really happy about it.

WW: You mentioned the appeal of coming home to Colorado to record. Is it a different experience performing in the state when you’re on tour?

BB: I actually live in Denver, I moved back there about a year ago. Coming back to my hometown – I grew up in Colorado – it’s just special to record there, it’s special to play show there.

I’ve seen shows there [at the Fillmore]; I’ve always done the whole Colfax thing – playing the Ogden, the Bluebird, and it’s cool to come back to Colorado and just see how much bigger we’ve gotten over the years. We got to play Red Rocks last year and that was huge for me, because my mailing address was Morrison, up 285. I grew up close to Red Rocks and any time we play Colorado, for me it’s like coming home.

WW: Is it challenging or exhausting living in Denver and trying to keep up with the band’s touring and recording schedule?

BB: It’s interesting: I go to Chicago a lot, and we have a guitar player who lives in Austin, Texas. I fly to Chicago a lot, but I lived in Chicago for eight years, lived in Austin for two years – I was ready to come back to Colorado, because I love it. It’s my home. That’s where my family is, and I have two kids. It doesn’t really pose any challenges for me. If I need to be in Chicago, or need to write a record or rehearse for tours, I just fly out.

WW: The latest album, Appeal to Reason, debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200 chart in October. Coupled with the success of other local bands like 3OH!3 and the Flobots, do you think Rise Against’s commercial achievements hint at a pinnacle for the Denver music scene?

BB: I do. Denver’s always had really great bands. I think Denver is starting to get more attention. The Flobots – we’re taking them back to the U.K. in a little bit – they’re a great political band and they’re getting a lot of attention. We’ve been playing random shows with them for the last few months. I think it’s great. I was in a punk band called Pinhead Circus when I was younger, and Denver’s always just had a lot of great bands. Two of my favorites, Small Dog Frenzy and Acrobat Down … It’s going to blow up. There are so many good bands – it’s Denver’s turn to get more attention.

WW: Rise Against has carved a niche for itself with its theme of political activism. You have come out against many of the Bush administration’s policies and actions in your lyrical content. Considering the results of Tuesday’s general election, do you feel like the content of the band will be impacted moving forward? I’m curious as to how this sea change in the landscape of American politics will affect your music.

BB: It’s funny, because people always give politicians a God complex, like Obama’s in office, everything’s fine. We’re happy that Obama got elected – thank God we’re not going through another four years of Republicans – but at the same time, we’re still in the war in Iraq, we still have major financial problems, we still have major environmental problems. I mean as far as Rise Against going out and talking about the things we want to talk about, it doesn’t mean it’s all better because Obama got elected. I think it’s a good start, and I think hopefully the country will be headed in a better direction starting in seventy days when he actually becomes president.

I don’t think it will affect us. We’re always trying to find things that we can talk about, things that we can get people excited about and things that we can make better.

WW: People may assume that the political lyrics come largely from Tim McIlrath. As the band’s drummer, do you contribute some of your views to the lyrical content? BB: We all are very involved in the whole process. It’s funny, because we’re all aligned politically on the same page, which is kind of a miracle. We’re all vegetarians, we all do a lot of stuff for PETA and that’s why we get along. We all sort of have the same beliefs.