Feature Interview

Tim Mcllrath: Songs That Inspire Me

Tim McIlrath has been the vocal and rhythm guitar anchor of Rise Against from day one of their formation in 1999, when they were still going under the name Transistor Revolt (??). Fifteen years and six studio albums later, the punk rockers, who finally made their way to South Africa last year to headline RAMfest, don’t show any signs up of letting up, their seventh studio album “The Black Market” due for release in July.

In the run-up to their new release, I found out which songs have molded McIlrath’s musical core. His answers were, interesting, to say the absolute least…

“The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (Bruce Springsteen cover)
TM: I did a short solo tour with Tom Morello and he taught me this song so we could play it together each night. I was previously unaware of it and now it’s one of my favorites. Tom obviously adds so much to this jam, and it seemed like a pre-cursor to his current gig playing with Bruce regularly. We eventually did it with Tom and Rise plus Wayne Kramer and Brian from Gaslight Anthem at the Honda Center in LA last year. It was a pretty special moment for all us, almost as special as seeing Bruce himself do it with Tom and the E Street Band at Wrigley Field a couple years back.

Desaparecidos “Mañana”
TM: I haven’t spent enough time with Conor Oberst’s music but this side project of his really knocked me out of my chair. It’s some of the more meaningful and potent political punk that I’ve heard in years, these are the kind of lyrics you feel, when you know the guy singing it means it.

Propagandhi “Dear Coaches Corner”
TM: There’s no punk band out there like Propagandhi. They picked up where Fugazi left off and tell it like it is in each song. The music is as challenging as the lyrics. This song talks about our unhealthy relationship with patriotism.

Gil-Scott Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
TM: A voice of a generation, poetry and politics, cutting edge in it’s time, and a hero we lost recently.

Patti Smith “The People Have The Power”
TM: I played a show Jackson Browne at a rally in Milwaukee and he covered this song. Seeing so many people in Wisconsin singing along as they tried to recall a sketchy governor out to get Union families made me realize that a truly inspiring song is a timeless one too.

Fugazi “Burning Too”
TM: Fugazi is my desert-island band, and this song was one of the first calls to action I heard in music and the first time I heard a punk song address the environment. It opened my eyes.

Touche Amore “To Write Content”
TM: We took Touche Amore to Germany with us and got to know them a bit. I heard this song about what its like to expose yourself as an artist which creates a personae and expectations in your audience. It really hit home for me as I sat down to put together our latest record, “The Black Market.”

Janelle Monae “Cold War”
TM: Janelle Monae blows me away with her unorthodox approach to music and songwriting in a genre that can be so cookie-cutter. This song is just simple and powerful.

Bikini Kill “Rebel Girl”
TM: I remember getting into high school in the early 90s and sort of being adopted by these older riot girls. It was an education in feminism and punk music written from a different perspective that I was used to. It really informed my musical journey.

Guns N’Roses “Civil War”
TM: Civil War might be one of the only protest songs written by a Sunset Strip hair band dressing like women. But it’s a fucking awesome song that gets overlooked too often when we talk about protest songs.

Flobots “White Flag Warrior”
TM: We met this Denver-based group years back and took them to the UK. They’re one of those bands that put their money where their mouth is and are a part of so many great causes in Colorado. I was stoked to help them with this song about how peace involves just as much courage and resolve as war does.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “Ohio”
TM: “Ohio” is another timeless song and benchmark in the anti-war movement, which unfortunately is also timeless in some ways. Fighting happens on battlefields, but sometimes fighting for peace happens on college campuses, and the lives lost at Kent State were memorialized in this song.

Coalesce “You Can’t Kill Us All”
TM: This song just kills. It reminds us that there are strength in number, and we have the numbers.

Ignite “Veteran”
TM: A timely song in the wake of the recent scandals in the way our country treated wounded vets and active duty soldiers. Going to war is something that too many people will support when it happens, but being there when these men & women come home is something that not enough people do. Support the troops isn’t just a bumper sticker. We can’t support troops only when it’s convenient for us to do so. If we’re sending people to war based on false premises, we have to at least take care of them when they come home.

The Clash “White Riot”
TM: A couple years ago there were riots that spread across the UK, and many people were quick to dismiss them as some sort of hooliganism. But riots have deep seeded reasons behind them. People who feel like they have a real future don’t riot. Failing to acknowledge the angst that boils under the surface of society is a mistake. Rise Against played this song the Reading & Leeds fest in the UK just after the riots to drive this point home.

Public Enemy “Fight The Power”
TM: Hip hop can be wrapped in so much narcissism and ego all too often, but we’ll never forget the precedent that Public Enemy set.

Refused “Liberation Frequency”
TM: Refused were true political artists and revolutionary both in sound and lyrics.

Berri Txarrak “Oreka”
TM: Berri Txarrak comes from the Basque region of Spain where tensions between the two regions have permeated all parts of culture there. They know firsthand what it’s like to fight for your identity and your right to exist. We’ve been lucky enough to tour with them through Europe and I’ve had a chance to sing on a couple songs of theirs.