When punk rock was first starting out in the ’70s, it was unafraid to tackle politics and take on the current state of things. Fast forward 30 some odd years and a lot has changed.“I grew up listening to bands like Bad Religion that had intelligent lyrics that dealt with politics,” Rise Against drummer Brandon Barnes says. “I think punk rock was sort of founded on that, and it seems today bands are scared to voice their opinions in case they hurt record sales.”
Thankfully, speaking its mind hasn’t yet hurt Rise Against. The band’s fifth studio album, Appeal to Reason, recently debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling a career-best 65,000 copies its opening week.
Meanwhile, current single “Re-Education (Through Labor)” has become the group’s highest charting song to date. For the band, which also features vocalist Tim McIlrath, bassist Joe Principe and guitarist Zach Blair, this level of success was never dreamed possible.
“We started out playing tiny shows driving around in a van. It just all sort of started growing and growing,” Barnes admits. “Now that radio has come into play, it’s nothing we ever expected or were striving for, it just kind of happened that way.”
On Appeal to Reason, which takes its name from a Socialist journal written around the turn of the 20th century, Rise Against address a wide variety of topics, much like the Chicago-bred group has always done.
“There’s songs that talk about the environment. There’s songs that talk about politics,” Barnes says. “I think on the last record and the record before we kind of touched on the Bush administration, and we didn’t want to beat that to death on this record.”
Perhaps the most powerful track on the album is “Hero of War,” the band’s first acoustic song since the breakout “Swing Life Away.” However, this one addresses the much more serious topic of a soldier returning home from war.
“The song just started out talking about a kid joining the military and all the awful things these poor guys end up doing,” Barnes explains. “I think everyone in the band is against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – we have been since the beginning – and the song is our approach to that. Especially with the election, we just thought it was important to write a song about that.”
While the band members aren’t scared to stand up for their political views or social opinions, they also don’t want them to be forced upon their listeners.
“I think there’s certain bands in the past that have tried to go the political route and have come off preachy,” Barnes says. “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.”
That has been the mission for Rise Against since the band’s inception, only today they are given a bigger platform from which to work.
“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,” Barnes admits. “We’re trying to get kids motivated to stand up and do something, so hopefully the record will inspire fans to do that.”
Originally appeared in Campus Circle