Shaw Conference Centre - Edmonton, Alberta
July 18th, 2007
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.
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?
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
Bobby: Especially with you being new to it all. You already have to break
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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