Rise Against recently released their first song in three years, "Broken Dreams, Inc," on the soundtrack to DC Comics' new Dark Nights: Death Metal (in which Chelsea Wolfe voices Wonder Woman, and which has a score that Slayer's Dave Lombardo drummed on). It's a song with message that hits hard in the year of a global pandemic and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, though Tim McIlrath actually wrote it before any of us had any idea what 2020 would turn into. It's part of a long history of fiery, political punk songs by Rise Against, and it's inspiring to see how hard they're still fighting after all these years.
We caught up with Tim to discuss the new song, if they have more new music on the way ("let’s just say we haven’t spent this last year laying around"), band life during a pandemic, the upcoming Anti-Flag documentary that Tim is heavily featured in, and more. Watch the lyric video for "Broken Dreams, Inc" and read on for our chat...
"Broken Dreams, Inc" sounds directly inspired by all the tension and unrest and protests we've seen this year. When exactly did you write it, and what do you hope people take away from it?
If you can believe it, I wrote this song before the protests and pandemics of 2020. The music is almost a year old at this point, but I didn’t get around to fleshing out the lyrics til late last year/early this year - before the pandemic and the resurgence of the BLM movement. I guess if I had to explain why they sound like they were written this year, it’s because I’ve always trafficked in dystopian imagery. When you do that, you are sort of looking into the crystal ball and trying to see where things are going if we keep going in the current direction. I didn’t think we’d be here now today. But it didn’t stop me from writing "Broken Dreams, Inc."
Rise Against has always been a band that takes a stand against injustice. Can you talk a bit about what you think the role of a punk band is in a time like this, and what keeps you fighting after all these years?
Music is art and art is storytelling and storytelling is one of our last hopes if we are ever going to be able to cut through the noise of the current climate. We are all entrenched in our sides. Stories are what bridge that gap. We need art now more than ever to distill this moment. You can’t under estimate how important music is and what a powerful vehicle for change it can be. It may be our last weapon. That’s why we continue to tell stories.
The song was released as part of DC Comics' Dark Nights: Death Metal, and you mentioned when the song was announced that you grew up loving comic books and particularly Batman. Could you elaborate on the significance of being involved with this particular project?
I can picture riding my BMX bike with my brother on the pegs to the local newstand to buy comic books and candy with our allowance. It wasn’t just comics, it was the autonomy of making our decisions with our own money. I never followed comic culture after those years, but their force as a cultural institution was imprinted on me at a young age. It’s pretty exciting to be in a collaboration with someone as legendary as DC comics and with a character that has lived in the imagination of so many people for so many years.
It's your first new song in three years - can we expect more new music and/or a new album?
We never stop working on new music. Let’s just say we haven’t spent this last year laying around.
In addition to the political climate, it's obviously also been a tough year due to the pandemic. I've noticed that you and other Rise Against members have been involved in some quarantine video projects and livestreams, though. Could you talk about how you've been affected by the global lockdown, and about band life during a pandemic?
As a band we are spread out across the US, which has never really been a problem in the past, but now it has its challenges. Our spring wasn’t really disrupted as we were going to be home anyway,. When I’m home I’m usually a homebody when I’m not spending time outdoors, so it didn’t feel that different. When summer rolled around, that’s when some of our plans started to fall apart. Pretty soon we were erasing the whole 2020 calendar. As a band, we’ll just wait it out and jump back in when the lights go on, there are more important things happening in the world than a lack of entertainment. I feel for our crew and all the road crews out there. The venues and show promoters. We’ve been doing things to generate funds. But it’s not enough.
You can find us on the internet doing some songs here and there. I’ve virtually collaborated with some really cool musicians and friends, that’s been something I’m not sure I would have ever done if not for this all. We re-released our album The Black Market with a previously unreleased b-side and plan on taking part in some virtual festivals.
I actually seized the opportunity to go back to college, which I’m doing now. It’s been twenty years, but it’s something I always wanted to do and so I saw this time as a chance to tick that box. There is opportunity in this time. Rarely do we allow ourselves to step off the treadmill of life and reassess the direction we are going in. That’s what 2020 has been in my opinion.
You're also in the new Anti-Flag documentary. Anti-Flag and Rise Against have led pretty parallel careers, you've toured together in the past. What is it about Anti-Flag that stands out to you the most?
What I love about Anti-Flag is their unwavering commitment to the cause. They are lifers. They are great songwriters. They plant their flag wherever they show up and fully commit. That’s rare for a band that’s been around over 20 years. I respect longevity. Because it’s not easy. They are a lean mean operation and they are responsible for introducing waves of kids to punk and politics year after year, weathering every trend and one-hit-wonder tourist band out there. They are unapologetically themselves and they’re just good fucking dudes.
Like Anti-Flag, Rise Against have managed to find longevity within a genre where bands often break up after one or two albums. What keeps you inspired to keep going?
I’m committed to the music and the fans, that’s what I find rewarding, and that’s why I show up everyday. The rest is just noise. You have to be able to filter out that noise, but on blinders, and commit to your art. When you remind yourself that you have the greatest job in the world, making music you’re proud of, and you're fortunate enough to have people listening; you don’t let a lot of the things that normally break bands up get to you.
Anything else you'd like to add that I haven't asked about?
Wear a damn mask. Vote. Black Lives Matter.
Pre-order Rise Against's upcoming 2021 album on limited black/clear vinyl here.
See Rise Against featured in 18 Essential Early 2000s Melodic Punk & Hardcore Albums