Band: Rise Against Member: Zach Blair
Label: Geffen Records Location: Shaw Conference Centre - Edmonton, Alberta
Date: July 18th, 2007 Interviewer: Bobby Gorman

After many fail attempts, I was finally able to sit down and talk to Rise Against again as they passed through Edmonton alongside Silverstein, Comeback Kid and Holy Roman Empire. Stepping outside to look out onto the Edmonton river valley, the band's newest recruit, guitarist Zach Blair, took a few moments out of his busy schedule to talk to me and answer some questions about his older band, Only Crime, the possibilities of a new record, the love of touring and more. Thanks a lot to Zach for doing it to and Megan for setting it all up for me.

Bobby: Starting with the basics, you guys have been on tour with Silverstein and Comeback Kid for a few weeks now, how’s that going so far?

Zach: It’s been going great. This is… Jesus… how many weeks is this? It’s going on six weeks, we’re winding it down. We’ve got about another week and a half left.

Bobby: Has there been any really memorable moments from it so far?

Zach: There’s been a lot. The band that I left to play in Rise Against was called Only Crime. They’re on Fat Wreck Chords. Bill Stevenson, Russ Rankin and my brother the bass player and they were on the tour the first two weeks which was great so we got to hang out with them. Also we’ve got our little Vespa scooters that we get to ride around and stuff, so that’s been pretty memorable, that’s been great.

But you know what, it’s like every two weeks we cycle out the first band. So it’s been Only Crime then it was 2 Cents and now it’s Holy Roman Empire and it’s just really refreshing. It makes it feel like – me and Tim were talking the other day – and it makes it feel like a different tour. So even though it’s been a real long one it makes it seem like three small ones.

Bobby: So Holy Roman Empire is opening tonight?

Zach: Yeah.

Bobby: Does that mean we’ll be hearing Roadside?

Zach: No, not tonight. We did that in Toronto the other night. Usually to do Roadside and things like that we bring out a string quartet – well actually there’s three, it’s a trio. But you know what, since Emily’s out here that means we’ll probably do it at least one night when she’s out here. Tonight we’re not doing it but we did talk about doing it while we’re out here.

Bobby: A few years ago Rise Against played a show in this very venue and during that show the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to be at a concert happened to be that night. Long story short, I got dropped off at my house in the middle of December with pants in one hand wearing a winter coat and boxers and a giant Christmas candle decoration in my other hand.

Zach: No shit.

Bobby: So I’m just wondering, at a concert, what’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?

Zach: In Amsterdam a few months ago, I move around quite a bit on stage and Tim does too. He’s a smaller guy than I but he completely macked me like just knocked me almost completely out. The whole crowd saw it. Of course it was on YouTube - that sucked. And the other night he brought his guitar straight down onto my head – just like two nights ago; and of course the whole crowd saw it, everybody’s laughing and I’m like almost knocked out. It felt like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.

It’s like when you screw up like that on stage, there’s a thousand kids in the audience, they all saw it. They automatically go from “Oh, I love this band, I like this guy, he’s doing awesome” to “that guy looks like a dork.” It’s like the most embarrassing thing in the world.

Bobby: Especially with you being new to it all. You already have to break into it.

Zach: Yeah, for a lot of people it’s the first time to see me play with the band. I’m already trying to do a good job; I’m already trying to bring my own thing to it and when something like that happens it’s just like “SHIT!” It feels like it’s been reset.

Bobby: How hard is it breaking into a new band that already is established and has a fan base knowing that you’re replacing someone who just a few months prior the fans would have been screaming and yelling for?

Zach: You know it’s one of two ways. Rise Against are the type of band - just the guys are… we’ve known each other forever. It was a real inviting, warm thing. I can’t really speak for being in another band, but these guys were just like “bring your own thing to it, do whatever you want on stage, do whatever you want musically, just be yourself.” They wanted me to play in the band because of seeing me in Only Crime and things like that – so they really wanted me to be myself. And honestly, I haven’t really read any bad press about the transaction. The fans have been super supportive, it’s been a really overwhelmingly cool thing; like one of the most inviting, warm things I think I’ve ever been involved in. In the crowd, people are holding up signs saying “Welcome Zach, we love you” and just telling me it’s the best time they’ve seen the band. It’s been really, really cool. I can’t really speak for other bands, but this one it’s been really, really nice.

Bobby: You are, I believe, the sixth Rise Against guitarist keeping up the Rise Against curse and Spinal Tap conundrum. Why do you think Rise Against can’t hold onto a guitarist?

Zach: Well, I think it’s just… bands are so weird. It’s like a marriage, it’s like a chemistry. It doesn’t say anything bad about the other guitar players, and Chris honestly with this, this bands tours constantly and a lot of people can’t take that. A lot of people don’t want to take that. A lot of people don’t want to be gone constantly and when you find weirdoes, like myself, that do… It’s like that the chemistry has just always worked with Joe, Brandon and Tim and it’s just been really hard. Also, when you’re a younger band and you don’t really have the means to travel, you have to find a guy in your area just to make it work - and man, sometimes that’s tough. Let’s find four people in the same area, within driving distance, that all get along and can be in a band together for the duration of this band’s career – it doesn’t always happen. So when you get to the point where you can afford flights and things like that, well then you kind of import. You go “this guy would work. He lives in Austin, Texas” – which I do – “but he’ll work.” So it’s that kind of situation and that’s really why it’s been such a long thing. I believe in my heart of hearts this is it. I feel like I’ve been in the band ten, twenty years, since it started. Well, not twenty years, but going on seven years. But the chemistry, we’re already writing, the whole thing, it just feels great and I’ll profess that I think it’s going to be the one that sticks around.

Bobby: You’re, of course, no stranger to the music industry. You were in Only Crime, you were in Hagfish, and I think you were in Gwar for a bit.

Zach: I was in Gwar for five years.

Bobby: Are you going to be doing anything else or is Rise Against your main thing?

Zach: A lot of people think I’m still in Only Crime, I just have no time; like Rise Against is so busy. They’ve already replaced me. They’ve got a guy named Matt from Modern Life is War. He fits in the band really, really well. They were out here with us and they did great. And that’s not easy music, those aren’t just bar chord songs, it’s some hard shit. So it takes a guy – I’m not bragging, fuck, I fucked it up – but playing with Bill Stevenson is an intimating thing so my hat’s off to the guy. He’s doing a good job. Only Crime, I always complained when I was in that band because we only toured as a side project. Bill is the most successful, busy, and deservedly so, punk rock producer. He’s done everybody’s records from NOFX to Lagwagon, everything, you name it, he’s done it. Good Riddance, Rise Against and he keeps getting busier, busier and busier. But, he’s just a musician at heart. He was in the van with Black Flag for twenty years – ten years, I exaggerate – but Descendents and All and he still had it in him to be in a band. But for us it was like the greatest thing in the world but then it was “oh great, we can only tour around this crazy schedule” and I was the one complaining the most because I wanted to be gone and do that stuff. So we toured with Rise Against I guess it was like two years ago, three years ago and right then it was like this spark of “oh, this could be fun;” and I just remember watching going “ah, I’d love to be on stage with those guys, I would be doing this and this and this.” And we just stayed in touch. But to answer your question, I don’t have time to do anything else.

Bobby: You said earlier that you guys are already writing new material and it’s been rumored that after this Canadian tour you guys are heading back into the studio – is that true?

Zach: Not after this tour. After this we go come home two weeks and then we go back out for a month in the States and then we’re home for about a month. Then we do the Taste of Chaos International with the Used and Aiden and the Gallows and that’s going to take us back to Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Asia and then we start writing and recording the record. So that’s going to take us till about November but then after that we get back into the studio. We’re writing for a few months and then we’re recording and hopefully it’ll be out by the summer.

Bobby: On July 3rd you guys released a Canadian only EP called “This Is Noise” which is a collection of a whole bunch of B-sides. What made you guys decide to do that?

Zach: Well because Canada is such a great place for Rise Against. It’s sold a platinum record here now and so much of this tour is here in Canada we figured it would be just a cool way to give back a little bit. To do a Canadian only release of some cool fun songs that the band had fun doing and some of it’s favorites songs – like the Lifetime cover and stuff like that. Just to kind of say thanks, I mean shit, Canada is so good to this band. Look how big this is, this place is huge and it’s just so great. Two nights in Calgary coming up, I’m sorry, not Calgary… we had two nights sold out in Montreal. It’s just been so great to us. Vancouver, you were at the V-Fest, that was great and it’s just kind of a little thing to give back a little bit. *looks at his pass* There are two nights in Calgary, I’m sorry; I didn’t look at the pass before.

Bobby: Do you think you’ll ever release “This is Noise” anywhere else or will it just be a Canadian thing?

Zach: I think it’s a Canadian thing only man. You know what I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s all it is.

Bobby: I interviewed Tim back in 2005 and I asked him about some of the b-sides like Obstructed View and Generation Lost and if they every played them live. He said no because the band didn’t really feel like playing them live; like he would want to but the other members didn’t really want to. Now with the b-sides EP out and with Generation Lost becoming more popular thanks to the DVD, do you play them live? Are there more requests for them?

Zach: There are more requests but we still don’t play them live; but it’s getting more requests and I think it’s something we’re going to try and work in. Like the second leg of the tour, unfortunately we’re not doing it here in Canada, but the second leg of the tour we’re going to work in some different songs. It’s just one of those things. Like this band, before I was in the band, played so many songs because they’d get a lot of requests for Paper Wings and stuff like that. So the band has played Paper Wings every tour since that song came out and it’s just like fuck. There’s the staples songs that you got to play like…

Bobby: Like The Angel.

Zach: Yeah, Like The Angel, you’ve got to play that every night. You’ve got to play State Of The Union every night. But there’s certain other things that if the band can get away with and play another song that is equally liked then they’re going to do it, because it gets old. But of course, if things get requested enough then it’s like “well, shit.” We are there for the kids, the fans.

Bobby: This CD has two covers, one of Lifetime and one of Black Flag. I know Rise Against is no stranger of cover songs. When they were headlining with Thursday and Circa Survive they would end the show with Ohio by Neil Young. They’ve done Journey on “Revolutions per Minute” and they also did the Tour Song and Buffalo Springfield on AOL’s Under Cover. I think I heard Tim doing an acoustic cover earlier.

Zach: Eighteen Alive. He doesn’t do that live, just a joke we do a sound check.

Bobby: Do you still play a whole bunch of cover songs live?

Zach: We’re doing a cover tonight. We’ve got a cover we throw in the set tonight. I’m not gonna say which one, you better pay attention, you’ll hear it. Of course, he does his acoustic thing when he comes back out. He does Tour Song when he does that. He’ll be doing that tonight. The acoustic version of that is so good but the other cover you’re going to have to listen to.

Bobby: Speaking about Tour Song, I’ve recently just fallen in love with Jawbreaker and Blake Schwarzenbach’s lyrics which are amazing. There’s one set of lyrics in Tour Song that always strike me. “Two cool people came they’re hiding by the door, eyes with fright. A guy, a girl, in love with the whole world, it almost makes this right.” Which gets me thinking that if you went out there tonight and got booed by the four thousand fans that are here but you see one person singing along, singing his heart out – would it make it worth while getting booed by that many for that one person.

Zach: I think so. Honestly, with a crowd of this size, I go onstage and I try to make eye contact with like three people and I try to keep eye contact with those people and I’m kind of playing to those people. You know what I mean? I believe it translates even to the people you aren’t making eye contact with that you’re trying to do an organic show for this crowd, for these people; and if you can make a connection with one person it means you kind of did your job. Because how many people in every day live gets their life changed or get a sort of organic human interaction in a weird, crazy place. Because this is a crazy set up. You have four thousand people watching four people on stage. That’s weird, you know what I mean? If you really break that down and to take it even bigger if you do like those stadium shows with those jumbotron screens, you have like thirty thousand people watching four people that are the same size of them. It’s a really odd concept. Sometimes you can’t even see beyond the row of lights anyway. If you’ve got them all booing you, it’s going to be really hard not to listen to that but if you can just play through it and make… cause you know, I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. How old are you?

Bobby: I’m nineteen.

Zach: See, I’ve been touring, playing in bands since I was eighteen years old, seventeen or eighteen - touring. It’s been many nights where that happened and you’ve got to fucking play through it man. What are you going to do? “Okay, I’m sorry?” No, you’ve got to win them over. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they fucking boo and then fuck it – they’ll be into you because you played through it. So you’ve got to preserve man. You can focus on that one guy that’s into it and go “well fuck it, that guy paid to get in.” Ticket prices are so God damn expensive nowadays, CDs are so expensive nowadays. This guy spent some money; you know what I mean, let’s give him an experience and maybe in trying to focus on him and letting him know that we’re into him then maybe these people will get into it as well.

Bobby: Sounds good. In May you guys announced that you are doing a partnership with Vans that are “completely vegan in consideration of the band’s animal right’s efforts.” First off, how are the shoes complete vegan?

Zach: They’re 100% either rubber or canvas or nylon. There’s no animal product, no leather, at all. It’s like a regular Converse All Star. You know what I mean? It’s completely 100% vegan shoe. Vans slip-ons are usually 100% vegan. So we kind designed the shoe with that idea and of course Rise Against wouldn’t put their name on anything that exploited animals; and the shoe’s great, it looks great.

Bobby: What made you decide to do the shoe? Did Vans approach you?

Zach: Yeah, there’s a guy named Kurt Soto that if you’re in a punk band that has toured the Vans Warped Tour then you know Kurt Soto. He’s their guy, he’s the Vans guy and he’s an awesome dude, he’s really, really cool. And he takes care of bands whether you’re Rise Against or whether you’re some baby band playing the small stage on the Warped Tour that can’t fucking afford shoes, you’re toes are sticking through you’re shoes – he’s going to give you some shoes. He’s a great guy, and they’re a great company, a great organization. It’s a really cool thing to be involved with; and plus, we’re all old punker kids. I never skated but Tim and Joe skated their whole lives and you wear Vans your whole live. So to be involved with that, it’s a real honor.

Bobby: What do you think of the kids who, because Rise Against are giving their names to big companies like Vans, are calling them sell outs?

Zach: It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen to any fucking band dude. You could stay on the same label you’re on – it could be a kid’s label out of his fucking basement and you stay with that kid’s label for ten years – some kid is going to call you a sell out somewhere. Because you’re going to inevitably play with some band that may be on a major label, God forbid that you be on the major label yourself, you’re never going to get away from it. If you tag yourself a punk rock band and align yourself with some sort of scene, you’re going to be a sell out. Because not everything you’re going to do, not everything anyone is ever going to do, is going to conform to the beliefs of everybody in that scene – because this guy may think it’s cool but this guy may not, but they’re still a part of the scene. It’s such a high school thing when you get down to it. It’s labeling people as a prep, a stoner, or a jock, it’s the same shit. When it really comes down to it, if you align yourself with businesses that don’t have you compromise your own vision – which has never happened with Rise Against - and they want to put your records out and promote your art, then fuck it. You know what I mean? If they’re not leaning down your neck “oh, we don’t hear a hit man” and your compromising your music, ‘cause to me, that’s the only real sell out – and that has nothing to do with being punk rock or whatever it is you may be calling yourself . If you compromise your art for somebody else, even if it’s a work of art, even if it’s a painting and “it needs a little bit more red on it” and you go “I like it the way it is.” They go “no, put more red on it.” You put more red on it? You just sold out. To me, that’s a vast, broad term that gets so generalized, I think Rise Against has never ever done that. So if those kids want to call the band a sell out, they’re going to fucking do it; whether it’s true or not and it’s absolutely not true.

Bobby: I guess that’s about it, thanks a lot for doing it. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?

Zach: No, just everybody here in Canada, please keep coming and thank you so much for taking such good care of the band. It’s overwhelming. Thank you.