Rise Against's Tim McIlrath feels the love from Canada

Tim McIlrath of Rise Against. WENN

Tim McIlrath of Rise Against. WENN

Jane Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:29 PM ET

Canada clearly loves veteran Chicago punk rock act Rise Against.

After debuting at No. 1 in Canada with their last album, 2011’s Endgame, the group’s latest and seventh studio offering, The Black Market, also appeared at the top spot of the country’s album chart after its mid-July release.

And singer-songwriter-guitarist Tim McIlrath, whose band plays the two-day Riot Fest in Toronto on Saturday is enjoying the continuing cross-border love.

“I think Canada was the first place we ever had a No. 1 album,” said the 35-year musician, a married father of two young girls aged six and ten.

“It’s pretty incredible. Canada embraced Rise Against before any other country in the world really did, even the states. I don’t know what to attribute that to (except maybe Canada’s love of punk rock?). For some reason a lot of our touring happened here as a young band... The invitations just happened to all be in Canada so we kind of got our feet wet here before we did anywhere else. And I’m not sure if that’s the reason but we got a headstart here before anywhere else. And so it became like a second home to us and then we became friends with Alexisonfire and Billy Talent and Silverstein and The Cancer Bats and Propagandhi and Bedouin Soundclash.”

We caught up with McIlrath during a recent stop in Toronto to talk the new disc, live audiences, and more.

You’ve described The Black Market as “a raw nerve.” Is it your most personal album yet?

Every album is a mix of both (personal and political). We really get tagged as this political band ‘cause we’re one of the few bands that will talk about politics in our songs but there’s a whole other side of Rise Against that has nothing to do with politics. I think our fans and our community knows that whereas like usually the press likes to grab onto like, ‘Oh, they incorporate activism into their art,’ and this and that. Which is great too. We’ve always been a complicated mix of the two which I think most people are.

So how would you describe The Black Market then?

This record was like the result of taking a little bit of time away. We took a year off which is probably the most time we’ve taken in the last 15 years. We’ve just been going, going, going. That was good for all of us personally. That was good for all of us professionally too ‘cause we were able to kind of put a little distance between us and this whole endeavour of Rise Against and get a little perspective and stand outside of it.

As much as you can stand outside of it, we were still a part of it. And I think that helped inform this record in the sense that I was doing a lot of reflecting. I’m just like, ‘What is this crazy thing that we’ve been doing the last 15 years that we all just stumbled into backwards just by getting into a room and playing music with each other and the next thing you know it’s snowballed into what it is?’

So a summing up?

I wanted to sort of take stock of it this many years later and think about who we are, what expectations do we have from ourselves, what does the world expect of us, where do we fit into music and that whole landscape and how can we still be relevant. I ended up just kind of writing a lot about that. Writing a lot about this whole crazy thing we do. We’re four grown men hopping on a stage, jumping around and screaming at microphones and singing about how we feel, about having this whole exchange of emotions that often times it’s full of angst and anger and sadness and those shows and those songs often go to these dark places and then we go and exchange that with an audience and that’s where that phrase, ‘The Black Market’ kind of popped into my head. This is kind of what this is. It’s like we’re trafficking in these emotions. It’s an exchange of that.

Do you feel like you give your fans permission to express that angst and anger in that exchange?

I do feel that. I feel that the same way I felt it when I was in that crowd watching my favourite bands play and just having a song be able to say things that I’ve never been able to say before. Or a song be able to capture and distill a feeling that I’ve never been able to do to do that too. The music is so powerful it’s kind of an intangible communicator in that way and so now when we write songs and play songs that connect with our audience, it’s awesome to be a part of that process.

How does that affect you?

It could be like our fifth show that week, you know what I mean, and some of us are sick or tired or had a rough day, that kind of thing, the weather’s crappy, and you’re just trying to hit the notes and play the song right to be the best you can be and then when you see the person singing along to these words that are sometimes just notes in your head, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what this song is about. I wrote it so you could hear it. And you’re hearing it now and the thing that I was going through when I wrote it, you’re going through like today, like right now.’ That snaps you out of auto-pilot like, ‘Okay, this is important work that we do.’

One new song, People Live Here, tackles the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting amongst other things? Did you think that was THE moment when gun laws might toughen up in the U.S.?

When talking about things like Sandy Hook and gun violence in America, you wish that the phrase, ‘wake-up call,’ applied. I wished that it was a wake-up call and it seems like it just wasn’t. It seems like now we are so de-sensitized by it and so kind of locked into this battle between special interest groups and lobbies in the states versus public opinion which are vastly different. There’s a huge disparity between the two and most Americans want more laws, want more control over gun ownership and who gets to own guns and where you get to bring them and that kind of thing, that’s most of the states. But then you have the NRA and different special interest groups in the country (who) have this chokehold on the congressmen that are writing legislation and it’s crazy ‘cause there’s nothing democratic about that process in a country that considers itself democratic, the people have a voice. You don’t see that voice there. And it’s something that’s obviously frustrating.

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