It’s safe to say that at any time since the release of 2017’s Wolves, had Rise Against sat down to write new material, there would have been an abundance of low-hanging fruit for them to pick their subject matter from. But for Album #9, Nowhere Generation, set for release Friday, 4th June, it wasn’t the low-hanging fruit that interested the band, but rather the collapsing structures of the tree from which it protruded, and the rotted roots precariously holding the damned thing together.
“It really was not just a pandemic album,” McIlrath says of the obvious connections to more recent issues that have emerged between records. “I mean the bulk of this record was written prior to the pandemic but what strikes me as odd…There are parts of this record where I listened to it [and thought], ‘I’m going to have a hard time convincing people that I didn’t write this during the pandemic or about the pandemic.'”
Nowhere Generation does inarguably capture the mood and the general malaise of the period of the pandemic, although some of its specificity was never intended to reflect events that actually occurred. ‘Broken Dreams’, for instance, references the hypothetical barricaded city streets of Chicago, the exact same streets that were literally barricaded in Chicago during the Black Lives Matters protests. “But that song had been done for months at that point,” McIlrath explains.
Far from being prophetic, this speaks to a much deeper truth that has now started to emerge from the bigger conversation; that for years now, society was heading towards an unstable, inequitable, unlivable future. “We’re a dystopian band,” McIlrath asserts. “We’ve always sung about the things that can go wrong if we keep going down this road.”
Indeed, for any band with a penchant for real-world commentary, the past few years have provided ample source material. The Trump Administration is a goldmine for satire and puns, with a romantic nihilism to be explored in the hopeless sense of living in a flailing global economy, and a rushing urgency to accelerate environmentalism. But for Rise Against, it wasn’t enough to just focus on these specific issues. Instead, for Nowhere Generation, they decided to shift their gaze to why these issues exist in the first place.
“The world has created a lot of easy targets for Rise Against to sing about,” McIlrath explains. But it wasn’t the easy targets that earned their ire.
“Let’s think about the places where someone like Trump comes from,” he elaborates. “Let’s think about some of the ideologies that create a person like Donald Trump; the sources. Donald was a symptom of a disease. Let’s sing about the actual disease.
“I’m always looking at what’s being talked about, what’s not being talked about and where Rise Against fits into this conversation.”
For seasoned followers of Rise Against, it should come as no surprise that what’s not being talked about is the main subject matter, particularly in the case of input from McIlrath’s millennial daughters. Sure, headlines might tell us what the ‘industry killing’ generation might think or want, but for the amount of coverage millennial woes get, there’s a surprising lack of actual millennial input.
“I was sat on the sidelines for just as many millennial jokes as anybody else. The word became a punchline and after a while, those jokes and poking fun at this generation that everybody wanted to deem incapable of getting ahead, they stopped making sense to me when I was looking at some of the actual realities of the experiences of a younger person growing up in this world.”
Issues that transcend the price of avocado on toast, believe it or not. Issues pertaining to a struggling global economy, a horrific decline in natural environments, the rise of the gig economy over stable work, the spread of toxic individualism, and the terrifying contagion of indifference about it all now compressed and compounded by an entire generation denied crucial in-person social experiences. We aren’t just looking at a Nowhere Generation, but a Failure To Launch generation.
“We were asking [young people] to run this race, but we kept moving the finish line on them. You have to think about how you would react to that. You’d say ‘fuck off’ if someone kept doing that, you’d say, ‘I don’t want a part of this.’
“I have teenage daughters too. The day that I kick them out of the nest to see if they can fly is coming soon and so I think about that world that I’m kicking them out into. I realised, as I was writing about this and talking about it, that my own friends were dealing with this stuff. People older than me were dealing with stuff, but it wasn’t even unique to the younger generation. There’s a landscape world, especially here in America. We’ve normalised this idea that you can work full-time and still be poor and that is how civil society starts to unravel.”
Naturally, it’s not in Rise Against’s modus operandi to simply point out problems and demand to speak to the manager. As with previous records, Nowhere Generation comes to us not just with problems, but solutions. One could look around at a society licking its wounds from 18 months of volatile social change and think we’ve been through enough. But McIlrath is of the mindset that society isn’t wounded, it’s evolving, and it’s during this state of flux that we must strike – and strike hard – to instill any element of change for the future.
“I totally believe that history is created by momentum. Momentum is created by events and you have to take those events and strike.
“I think the pandemic has exposed symptoms of the institutionalised disparities in the world and we saw who was able to survive this pandemic without breaking a sweat, who was able to actually thrive during it. We saw that all of a sudden our garbage man was more important than our advertising executives, light years more important, and we had a whole revolution of essential workers. These are the people that actually keep us humming along.
“I think now is the time to speak. There are events that are happening that are finally coming to fruition. Most progressive things that have happened in the world happened because someone got fed up and said, ‘You know what? I’m sick of this. Is anybody else sick of this?’ And then that momentum changed things.”