Drummer Brandon Barnes discusses the band’s latest record Appeal to Reason, politics, the modern punk rock scene, and inspiring fans to stand up for something.
Your new record is titled Appeal to Reason. Where does that name come from?
That was a journal. I think it started in 1897. It was sort of a socialist, left wing journal that didn’t represent the popular belief. It was just a way for people to express their opinions. We chose that title because today, with the state of the country and the Bush administration, everything seems so Republican and right wing. We thought it’d be a cool title. Then immediately everyone looks at the title, and goes and tries to figure out what it means. Then, they stumble upon this journal. You can still find a lot of the articles that were in it. You can still find all that stuff on the Internet. It’s pretty interesting stuff.
You worked with Bill Stevenson again, who produced two of your previous records. What was it like for this third go-around?
It was great, man. Bill and Jason Livermore are like two members of the band, basically. They have tons of insight. They’re both old punk rock musicians. Bill’s from Black Flag and the Descendents, and they just understand what we’re going for. We did Siren Song of the Counter Culture with Garth Richardson, and I think there was sort of a communication breakdown at times during that record. When you go with Bill, he always kind of knows what we’re going for, so it’s comforting. They push us real hard in the studio and always seem to get the best results.
How do you feel this album stacks up against your last release?
The record is very Rise Against, obviously, but I think it’s a more mature record. We’ve been playing together longer. We now play our instruments better at this point. I think it’s still very Rise Against, but it’s a more mature version of our music.
You’ve gone through a couple different guitarists throughout the band’s history. What was Zach able to bring to his first record with you guys?
We’ve grown a lot musically and personally. Zach was a friend of ours long before he was in the band. He’s a great guitar player. The way he plays, he picks real hard, is sort of reminiscent of old punk style guitar rock. He’s real good. He comes from the same type of music we grew up listening to. He had great ideas and was sort of a perfect fit. So, we lucked out with Zach.
As far as drumming goes, is there any new song that really stands out that you enjoy playing?
I guess probably “Long Forgotten Sons,” and then maybe “Collapse.” Those are the first two songs on the record, and they’re real fun. “Collapse” is a real quick song, sort of Bad Religion-esque, and the drums are real fun on that one. Then “Long Forgotten Sons” is more of a slower, driving song with big, epic fills. Those are both right now my favorites just to play and probably my favorites on the record. I also think they were mixed the best, as far as the drum sounds. It was probably the best mixes ever for me.
You guys have your first acoustic song on this record since “Swing Life Away,” called “Hero of War,” although this one is a very different type of song. How did it come about?
Tim wrote that song. It’s a really realistic look at a soldier’s life and how they kind of get sucked into joining the military. A lot of times the military will go out with tactics like finding kids who want to go to college or are from low-income homes. Or maybe they go up to a high school and convince them that they’ll go travel, have fun and they’ll pay for college, but really they’re signing these kids up to go to war, you know?
The song just started out talking about a kid joining the military and all the awful things these poor guys end up doing. I think everyone in the band is against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been since the beginning. The song is our war-protest song. Especially with the election, we just thought it was important to write a song about that.
I think you do a really good job of working your viewpoints into the music without it coming across as preachy or anything like that. How are you able to strike that balance?
We obviously have some political views, and we’re not scared to talk about our opinions and stuff. We never want to shove stuff down people’s throats. I think there’s certain bands in the past that have tried to go the political route and, like you said, come off preachy. Lyrically, a lot of our stuff touches on politics, but we have fans from all over. We have fans that are soldiers in the war. We have fans that are Republicans. We just kind of put it out there – here’s the information, read it, listen to it, do with it what you want – but we’re not going to shove stuff down people’s throats. It’s not what we’re here for.
You recently released the video for “Re-Education,” which reminded me of Fight Club a little bit. What was the concept behind the video?
The video’s sort of a protest to videos. We always try to do videos that we can talk about. There’s so many awful videos, you know? Videos with dudes driving around in limos and fur coats and shit. It’s like, if you have a platform and the chance to make a video, we might as well do something that people can talk about and is interesting.
You see kids gathering around the city and you see us playing in a bunker. You can tell they’re like some sort of protestors, and then eventually towards the end of the video their whole protest thing turns into violence. It starts out with the Kennedy quote: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The whole theme of the video is that quote, and you see these kids by the end of the video having to take a violent step. We’re not obviously promoting violence, but it’s just that if you ignore the masses for too long, inevitably they’re going to turn to violence.
Do you think there’s any themes or motifs that run through Appeal to Reason?
I think it’s all over the place. There’s songs that talk about the environment. There’s songs that talk about politics. I think on our last record and the record before we touched on the Bush administration, and we didn’t want to beat that to death on this record. Yeah, I mean it’s all over the place. There’s some environmental stuff on there. There’s politics. The war. You know, stuff like that.
When you were first starting out as a band, did you ever picture yourselves being this embraced by radio and the mainstream?
Not really. We started out playing little tiny shows driving around in a van. It just all sort of started growing, and growing, and growing. Now that radio has come into play, it’s nothing we ever expected or were striving for. It just kind of happened that way.
You mentioned earlier your favorite new songs to drum to. Do you have an overall personal favorite from the record?
I think one of my favorites again is “Long Forgotten Sons,” the second song. It’s a different song for us. I think Tim’s vocal melody is very strong and everything – the drums, the guitars – came together really well. That’s probably my favorite song on the record right now that I’m most proud of.
The elections are coming up next month. What have your impressions been about the recent political landscape?
No one in this band is voting Republican, I can tell you that right now. You know, it’s interesting times. The whole Hillary and Obama thing, first woman or first black president. That’s obviously history in the making. I think the Republican Party is really scary. I think McCain – I respect him on a personal level. He’s obviously the war hero and everything, but he just brings with him all the Republicans and all the Bush people. I don’t know. I think everyone in this band is definitely not voting Republican, and we’re all hoping that there’s a change in power.
Is there anything in particular you want people to take away from the new album?
We really appreciate everyone who listens and watches Rise Against. I would hope that our band makes kids stand up for something. That’s been like a mission of the band. Obviously, we like to write songs and play shows and all that, but the whole other side of this band is for people to find something that they don’t agree with and do something about it. I think those are the kinds of fans we’re trying to get. We’re trying to get kids motivated to stand up and do something, so hopefully the record will inspire fans to do that.
Rise Against has been around for many years now. As you have progressed through the punk scene and music in general have you noticed any changes or shifts in the way things are today?
Yeah, I mean there’s always a lot of changes, you know? I think one of the major changes is punk bands not talking about anything political. I grew up listening to bands, bands like Bad Religion, that had intelligent lyrics that dealt with politics. Punk rock was founded on that, and it seems today bands are scared to voice their opinions in case they hurt their record sales.
Has there ever been any pressure from your label with regards to that kind of stuff?
No, we’re lucky. Our label gives us complete control over everything, which is definitely not like a lot of bands. I think a lot of bands, as soon as they get to a major, end up being told what to wear, what to write, what their videos should be about. We surrounded ourselves with people that give us total control. That’s a rare thing in the music business today, and we’re fortunate.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press