Music News

Ahead of Levitt Concert, Rise Against Talks Politics, Roe v. Wade and How Punk Has Changed

Rise Against plays Levitt Pavilion on Wednesday, July 27.
Rise Against plays Levitt Pavilion on Wednesday, July 27. Jason Siegel
Rise Against lead guitarist Zach Blair says the band cut last year’s Nowhere Generation from seventeen songs to eleven, taking into account the average person’s attention span these days.

“I mean, that’s asking a lot of my current attention span,” Blair admits. “Where people used to have fifteen minutes of fame, now actually everyone has fifteen seconds. It’s because of the news cycle and just the nature of social media. ”

In an effort to break up what would have been too long an album, Rise Against released an extra five songs with the EP Nowhere Generation II last month. The EP and the previous full-length were recorded at punk-rock studio the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, owned by Bill Stevenson of the Descendents (of whom Blair is huge fan).

“The original idea was to cater to that attention deficit disorder we all have that is definitely fed by TikTok and Instagram and other social media,” he says, “[and] not pretend that just because Rise Against has new music out that everyone’s going to drop what they’re doing and give us their attention for two hours.”

He adds that many of his own favorite records are those with seven or eight songs on them. He looks back to albums from the 1970s that had four songs per side. Many punk bands from that time period and the years that followed released music on 7-inch records, which can top out at fifteen minutes. It was a way to be economical, but the short play times often make every song memorable.

“It’s digestible,” Blair says. “You remember all the songs. It’s a lot easier to have a catalogue where there’s no fast-forwards — or no skips, which I guess would be the preferred nomenclature of the times.”

Lead singer Tim McIlrath writes most of the lyrics in Rise Against’s catalogue, but in general terms, Blair says, the songs on Nowhere Generation II are discussing topics that are important to its members. “Tim wouldn’t write anything that we weren’t all 100 percent on board with,” he says.

Blair says he's realized, particularly in light of the current politics of the United States, that he's lucky to be a part of something that has a voice and commands the attention of a certain swath of the public, and how powerful that is.

“You have that attention, and you have that microphone held up to your mouth,” he says. “What are you going to say?”

Rise Against, which hails from Chicago, has never shied away from politics. The band released a statement on Instagram last month condemning the United States Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. It has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Punk Rock & Paintbrushes and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

“It’s kind of like the old-school punk-rock shows,” Blair says. “You go to a show, and Food Not Bombs or whoever would be out in the lobby. We try to do that on a bigger scale.” Rise Against plays Levitt Pavilion on Wednesday, July 27, with the Used opening.

Blair adds that the band has done some recent work for the immigrant-advocacy group Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and his wife has been a translator for the Texas-based organization. Growing up in a conservative area of Texas, Blair has long heard people say awful things about immigrants, so RAICES does work that is close to his heart.

“In my entire life in Texas, I’ve...heard — because people are at ease, because I’m a white guy — the worst, most offensive shit that is not said in jest,” he says. “In my hometown, [I've heard] just the most derogatory, hateful things you can say about another human being. It’s just horrifying.”

When Blair talks about the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, his mind goes to what rights might be stripped away next. Same-sex marriage? Interracial relationships?

“I’m married to a woman of color. These are things I worry about, because it has happened and it is happening. Our platform is to talk about things that matter the most to us, the things we actually go to bed thinking about. That’s the most important thing,” he says.

“We all know that success, that winning is addictive,” he says. “For a conservative judge, this is what they’ve talked about their entire lives. Roe v. Wade is something that was in place their whole life. They were a whole part of peeling that away. For me, that’s like playing before 150,000 people.”

For some people, punk rock, as fun as it is to listen to, is also their first taste of politics. Blair says he found politics in punk rock and crossover thrash records he listened to in his youth, such as Corrosion of Conformity’s Technocracy and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles’ Violent Pacification.

“There was Nuclear Assault talking about environmental issues and stuff,” he recalls. “It’s mind-blowing stuff, but as a kid, it’s just not on your radar. But now you are taking an interest. You realize this is fucked up, and as a human being, I don’t think this is right.”

The country has become increasingly polarized, but Blair says the crowds at a Rise Against show know what they are getting into. Music festivals can be a bit different, however.

“We do play festivals in those red states, and that’s when we see some blowback,” he says. “You’ll see some middle fingers. For the most part, within 45 minutes or thirty minutes, another band is going to be on the other stage.”

The minor blowback from right wing or politics-averse fans makes Blair think of the first show Rage Against the Machine played in ten years, earlier this month in Wisconsin. The band displayed provocative text on a screen about police issues and the like. Not everyone in the crowd appreciated it, but Blair, like many others, is dumbfounded that people don’t realize Rage Against the Machine is a political band. (Rage guitarist Tom Morello has a political science degree from Harvard.)

“I imagine they were upset, and they paid for it, but hey, man, you went to see Rage Against the Machine,” he says. “The guys that are singing along to ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ — a lot of the times that guy [is who] the song [is about]. The irony.”

Rise Against, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, Levitt Pavilion, 1380 West Florida Avenue. Tickets are $45. For more information, visit
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