Rise Against's Brandon Barnes

Rise Against's Brandon Barnes
Like the revolutions of a wheel, popular music has come full circle and hit that point where straightforward punk rock isn't fashionable again. Acts previously able to shift mega units and sell out large venues have all but given up the ghost as a new breed of angrier, more antagonistic youth eschewing four chords and galloping beats for shrieks offset by whining and drawn-out, overly technical metalcore. Once again, punk rock is your dad's music.

Or is it?

Despite claims that the brash genre has fallen to the wayside of edgy music fans, Chicago's Rise Against is clearly proving otherwise. The band's fifth effort, Appeal To Reason (Geffen), has dominated radio waves across the nation, entered international charts in the top five and their tours continue to sell-out. Comprised of vocalist Tim McIlrath, bassist Joe Principe, drummer Brandon Barnes and guitarist Zach Blair, melodic/aggressive punkers Rise Against are proof-positive that when done right, punk rock can still leave a lasting impression, especially when delivered to the Great White North at the weirdest of times.

Starting a Canadian tour around American Thanksgiving - not to mention in December - seems like weird timing, dude.
Brandon Barnes: I guess so. It's a weird holiday, celebrating settlers coming in and infecting Indians with the common cold, raping and pillaging. It's weird to sit around and eat in celebration. Odd.

Well, let's change the subject. How do you feel about the praise for Appeal To Reason now that it's out?
I feel great about it. It's crazy that it was number three the first week it came out. In the U.S., it was T.I., Metallica and us. It was weird and overwhelming. None of us expected this to get that big. As far as the record, we spent more time on bridges, vocal melodies in the verses and the songs as a whole. They're better overall and I'm happy with it; how we're doing.

So you could afford more time for the record?
We didn't really have much time. We write our songs while on tour. It was more because listening to the old albums, we realized there were things we could do better. We had more songs for the record too: 25 songs or ideas where we normally only have enough for the record. We had more material to choose from which helped.

Are the extras kept around? Gone for good? Will you revisit them eventually?
We always record extra songs to use for movies, video games or a release overseas for extra songs. Some of them are gone forever but some may be revamped if we like the chorus... if we should do something with it.

You mentioned Metallica. I'm not sure if you know this but your album shoved them out of the number one spot here. How does it feel to oust a band of that stature?
That's totally overwhelming. If someone had told me years ago I'd be in a band that would outsell Metallica, I'd have laughed in their faces. Canada's always been good to us. It's great to see the progress of just starting out as four dudes in a band. Canada's our biggest fan base overall.

What do you think is the appeal here?
Generally, kids like our message as well as the music. Tim's lyrics touch on a lot of things politically and environmentally but we have stuff that's not political at all; good old love songs kids can rock out to. I don't know why people attach to us. I guess it's just the message. We have the music but we try to do so many other things: we help PETA, we talk at the shows, distribute information and I think Canadian fans like it and respect it.

We're generally pretty politically-minded from our humour to... whatever.
Yeah. You don't get that when you go to, say, Kansas City. They don't give a fuck who the president is or what he's doing. [Canadians are] political but you're open, even to stuff that might not be popular to talk about. That's cool.

Regardless, you must grow weary of the constant political debates like when everyone claimed your Vans were made in sweatshops.
Yeah. We don't make sweatshop Vans. All these bands have done Vans but none of them are sweatshop made. Before we'd go and do that, obviously Rise Against isn't gonna make a sweatshop shoe. We're gonna research it; check with the organizations that regulate where things are made to ensure they're not sweatshop.

I was thinking in the broader sense that regardless of what it is, someone's always attacking you for something or expecting an opinion.
Yeah, even with the sweatshop thing, if there's a company that's even remotely big, it's gotta be a sweatshop product, y'know? I think that's a result of Americans having other countries make all our stuff. There are cities in America collapsing because we've sent everything overseas and people immediate expect they're all sweatshops.

We never stamped ourselves as a political band though. We're interested in it and would rather take the stage and talk about something important than have a video with a limo, fur coats and strip joints. I guess we've opened ourselves up to people like that by being a "political band" but that comes with the territory.

I've always seen it as you using your podium to say something rather than spewing banal crap like many bands are wont to do.
Exactly. Aside from being in the band, individually we're all interested in politics, we're vegetarian and we want to talk about these things.... and we're in a band. We just have that stage to talk to people. Might as well talk about something good.

And write the heartfelt songs too.
Yeah, we're not out to write political punk. It just crept in there over time.

Like you said earlier, it has been almost ten years. How's that feel?
I never thought I'd be able to do this for a living and do it consistently. It's been really fun; always something I wanted to do since I was a kid. We're happy people keep coming back. The first day of a tour when I see people lining up for the show, I get that excitement. It's amazing after ten years that people keep coming. When you see the line-up, I still get that thrill people will be there. It's not gonna be empty.

That the old punk rocker in you hoping at least 20 people show up?
Yeah, I did that shit for years: "There's gonna be six people here but we're gonna have fun!" I cannot believe I still do this shit. I just turned 30 and I'm still playing drums for a living. I'm postponing real life right now...