Rise Against headline HeartSupport, an Orlando music fest with a cause
By Ida V. Eskamani
Originally published in the Orlando Weekly.
"Can we be saved, or has the damage all been done? Is it too late to reverse what we've become? A lesson to learn at a crucial point in time — what's mine was always yours, and yours is mine."
The chorus of "Chamber the Cartridge," the opening track of Chicago's punk band Rise Against's fourth album, The Sufferer & the Witness, found its way to me, and I'm sure countless fellow dejected teenagers, at the most crucial time in my life. I grew up the daughter of working-class immigrants who had plenty of their own troubles, part of a generation that had only known endless wars and divide-and-conquer rule.
Getting a burned CD copy of Sufferer was one of those enlightenment moments that billionaire executives and their favorite bought-out politicians prefer we do not have. The one where we realize we are not alone, that disparity is by design, and the only way out is together. Released July 4, 2006, songs like "Chamber the Cartridge" are why, while most suggest Saul Alinsky readings as foundational for activists, I suggest Rise Against albums.
Rise Against are vocalist Tim McIlrath, bassist Joe Principe, lead guitarist Zach Blair and drummer Brandon Barnes. More than two decades on, nine studio albums, touring the world numerous times over, and garnering millions of devoted fans, Rise Against is still writing anthems for underdogs.
Rise Against are also taking calls from Orlando Weekly while their kids are in school and they're running errands around their neighborhood. At least that's how we caught up with Principe.
"I am literally doing the most unexciting thing," he says with a laugh. "My kids are in school and I'm in my car, running errands, in my Chicago suburb."
Principe says that Rise Against never made an intentional decision to write protest anthems. "When we first got together, I think it just is a carryover from the influences that we grew up listening to, like Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Minor Threat, Bad Brains. Bands that taught us to challenge our government, and really, all forms of authority."
From protesting endless wars, challenging racism and sexism, supporting LGBTQ+ youth, boycotting states criminalizing immigrants, organizing with workers, defending animals and our planet, to taking on corporate exploitation and exposing dangerous far-right ideologies, Rise Against don't turn their backs on a fight, or bite their tongues in the face of injustice. They've been consistently present, connecting the dots and using music to inspire progressive change.
Their songs also address deeply personal issues: lost friends, parenthood and loved ones. But as the adage goes, the personal is political, and our identities are intersectional and multifaceted. There is a common tie that binds these songs. For Principe, "there's always this overlying sense of hope on all of our records, a light at the end of the tunnel."
Punk always represented hope to the band, an inclusive space where misfits like them found solace and solidarity. It's only fitting that it was at a Sick of It All show in Indianapolis when Principe invited McIlrath to join the band.
In some ways, Rise Against were an unlikely combination of influences. "[McIlrath] kind of grew up more on like the Fugazi kind of vibe and I grew up on the faster hardcore," remembers Principe.
It's a formula that created a melodic hardcore sound that is uniquely Rise Against; from their initial release, The Unraveling, in 2001 through 2021's Nowhere Generation, McIlrath's vocal range growls as it howls, paired with rapid-fire riffs and electrifying power chords.
Following our conversation, the full band were due to assemble in their rehearsal space to prepare for another tour, including a stop in Orlando this weekend, Feb. 18-19, for HeartSupport Fest. HeartSupport has been put together by August Burns Red singer Jake Luhrs, and it centers compassion and conversations about mental health. Rise Against take the stage in a headlining slot on the Sunday.
When asked how a band that has been together for more than 20 years rehearses, Principe reflects that "when we're playing together, it feels like we're 16 again."
In that spirit, Principe also made a point to speak to the burgeoning punk scene and the punk kids making it their own now, just as Rise Against did then. When asked what advice he would give young punks, he credited consistency and persistence.
"We always try to get on tours with bands different from us, with audiences that didn't know us," says Principe, "to get in front of as many new people as possible."
He continues: "Tour as much as possible, get in front of as many people as possible, and of course make good music."
And much like the shows that inspired Principe to start a band, Rise Against shows are lifelines for fans. This writer's first punk show was a Rise Against show, at age 17.
There's something so undeniably powerful about a mass of misfits from all different walks of life converging together, for one collective purpose. What's mine was always yours and yours is mine.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.