A wolf with words: Rise Against guitarist Zach Blair talks Trump, political entertainers and “Wolves” LP

Photo credit: Travis Shinn
Photo credit: Travis Shinn

Chicago-based punk rockers Rise Against just released their latest full-length LP, Wolves, on June 9th, but guitarist Zach Blair hasn’t had much time to bask in its reception, since the band launched a nationwide summer trek with Deftones the day of the release.

“My wife keeps telling me it’s getting good reviews, but I don’t even know, because we’ve been so mired in the thick of writing and touring,” says Blair. “I guess I need to get my head out of the sand, look around and pay attention. Right now, it’s all about going out and trying to promote it. As with any record, we’re the only ones hearing it until we put it out there, so once it is out there, it’s sort of a naked feeling,” he said, with a laugh. “Because now people can hear what you’ve worked hard on.”

Rise Against has been, since it’s inception over 15 years ago, a band that has brought their anger with the status quo onto the stage. While their latest isn’t the crunchy breakdown-type of punk they exhibited on Siren Song of The Counter-Culture or Sufferer And the Witness, Blair argues Wolves is just as angry in nature, given the current political climate.

“While the direction a song takes is mostly based on lyrical content—which is one hundred percent handled by Tim [McIlrath, the lead singer]—I can say that we were writing the record before, during and after the election, when the unfortunate events unfolded,” says Blair, referencing the election of Donald Trump. “I would be remiss to say that the outcome of the election, and the political climate didn’t effect the songs and the lyrics, and some of that stuff was already in the works before the election. As far as it not being angry, I think if people listen to it with different ears, they would see that the songs are just as angry as our other stuff.”

As long as the political game is in disarray, Rise Against will have something to say about it. They’ve built a successful career as a politically and socially-driven band. And Blair himself admits he’s always worn his political beliefs on his sleeve. However, while he remains skeptical of the legitimacy of Trump’s election win, the long-time rocker is not at all pleased with how things are currently playing out around the country.

“I think it’s shameful. The way some Americans are acting is dastardly. We’ve given a voice to people, sects, and groups that should remain voiceless who are only acting this way because their guy won,” says Blair. “That being said, we’re also seeing people refusing to lay down and take it, at an alarming rate, like the women’s march the day after the election. During the Obama years, we didn’t see much of this stuff because we didn’t have some homophobic, misogynistic asshole in charge. It broke my heart to see that our people actually voted this guy in, and as far as the current state of politics, I couldn’t be more displeased and scared.”

The upcoming tour with Deftones brings Rise Against to Boston’s Blue Hils Bank Pavilion on Friday, June 16th. And while it gets old to deal with political and social frustration on a daily basis, Blair feels that Rise Against’s calling is vital to making a difference, and their messages and unwillingness to back down has brought them in contact with droves of fans all around the world.

“We all wish we didn’t have these things to write about. Shit, we’d love to say ‘everything is great! Nothing completely fucked happened today, or this week, or this month, or this year’, but that’s never the case,” says Blair. “There is always something awful happening. The small guy is always getting fucked somehow. And as long as that is happening, we’ll have something to say.”

Using examples of Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and even Chuck Berry, Blair understands his platform, and the responsibility he has to bring about social change and awareness to the issues he feels are important. Avoiding an “either you agree with me or shut up” outlook, Blair understands that freedom of speech is still a two-sided ideal, whether he likes it or not, and that entertainers should not be left off of the political and social spectrum.

“I think for people who think that here shouldn’t politics in entertainment can go fuck themselves,” says Blair, with another slight chuckle. “My favorite punk bands used to sing about the stuff that was important to them. Unfortunately, I can’t speak for an entertainer speaking out if I’m not speaking for all entertainers speaking out. If I’m getting to say something about my political beliefs, then Ted Nugent or Kid Rock should be able to say what they want.

“Their message completely goes against everything we stand for as a band, but without pigeon-holing Mr. Nugent, I would say he is further right, and I disagree with everything the man says, but he should be able to say what he says just as well as we are able to say what we say.”

Blair is no stranger to pushing social norms with the music he plays. From 1999 to 2001, he was billed as Flattus Maximus in the ever-controversial shock-rock group GWAR, with a stint in melodic-hardcore group Only Crime, before joining Rise Against in 2007. And although it seems it, Blair never fully aimed to become a part of such politically and socially driven groups – but he is grateful every day that it worked out that way.

“GWAR definitely pushed the realms of what people call good taste and bad taste. It’s an art project. I was really honored and thrilled to be a part of that, but I can’t say I sought that type of thing out,” says Blair. “I have always been someone who wears his influences and political beliefs on his shirt sleeves, and as someone with a creative mind, I wasn’t going to be satisfied with something that was run-of-the-mill, even if I did want to work as a Guitar player.”

“It was never about money for me. I never wanted to be sitting at home. I wanted to be playing guitar every night. That being said, I don’t think I would’ve just joined anything. I was so fortunate that these two opportunities came up, so looking back on it, I realize just how lucky I really am to say that I’ve done both of those things. Because in a weird way, both bands push boundaries in the same ways. They’re both saying and doing things that not a lot of people want to hear.”

Rise Against and Deftoneswill be performing at the Blue Hills Bank Pavillion on June 16. Tickets available here.