“I get excited if I see sports and politics mashed together”
Tim McIlrath from Rise Against talks music, sports and politics.
During their European tour Chicago-based punk band Rise Against recently played a show in Hamburg and they happily used the opportunity to pop in for a guided tour of the „Millerntor“, the home ground of FC St. Pauli. After learning more about the history of the club, president Oke Göttlich presented them the T-shirt and scarf that St. Pauli and the band designed together. Impressed by the experience, singer Tim McIlrath sat down with us for a quick chat.
Tim, tell us about your experience today at the stadium.
It’s been amazing! After doing our recent merchandise collaboration we wanted to see the place where the games take place and where all the magic happens. The stadium holds a museum where we got to learn a lot about the history of the club. After that we walked out on the field by the locker room, saw the murals in the stadium and the grand stand with its signs that read “no human is illegal” and “no football for fascists”. It made me realize St. Pauli really is a different kind of sports club.
How did you first hear about FC St. Pauli?
Our German fans introduced us to the team. When we were playing shows here I’d often see T-shirts in the crowd and started wondering. It took our fans telling me why St. Pauli is different, and why so many punk rock kids have embraced it.
What is it that makes St. Pauli different from other sports clubs?
St. Pauli has taken hard stances against racism, sexism, fascism and homophobia. The work the club does with welcoming refugees to Hamburg, in addition to the clean water programs like Viva Con Agua, the youth education and involvement is something you don’t see many sports organizations doing on the level that St Pauli does. They take their influence much farther than sport. You don’t have to love football to believe in and stand behind what this club does.
What does the partnership with St. Pauli mean to you?
As a band we always found that music is a great way to reach people, and we were always very unapologetic about our politics. To find a sports team that does the same thing is pretty amazing, because most sports teams will run from politics, they don’t have the spine to deal with it. It’s important though, because sport is just as powerful as music to some people. Harnessed in the right way, you can reach a lot of people with a lot of really good ideas. It started happening a little bit more in America last year, with players kneeling in protest of racism and injustice. I get excited if I see sports and politics mashed together because I think it has a lot of potential.
By taking a stand you run the risk of upsetting people, yet with Rise Against you have never shied away from saying your opinion. Why?
It’s just who our band is. We were like that before we had even one fan. It’s part of our DNA. I think it comes from coming out of a punk rock scene, which is less careerist and more about saying whatever you want to say. For me as a kid in the audience, those were the bands that really made a light go off in my mind. I knew that if anybody ever gave me a microphone, I would love to pass that down to the next kid and hopefully they can be a part of it too.
The St. Pauli Rise Against T-shirt features a line from one of your songs: “When it all comes down, can you say that you never gave up?” Why did you pick this line?
To me it sums up what it means to overcome a challenge – whether that’s a sports challenge or a political challenge. When it all comes down, can you say you did everything you could? That’s the question that you want people to answer at the end of all this. Did you give it your best effort? Did you really try or did you sit on the sidelines?
What do you do to change the world for the better?
If we identify these injustices that we see, we write a song about it and hope that somebody in the audience might identify with it, that it makes them and us feel less alone. We take our music around the world and meet people who have similar concerns. It’s amazing to see how much music can make people feel better. Music reaches people in ways that I think we don’t even comprehend fully sometimes.
Are there not enough bands out there that speak their minds, especially in the times we live in?
I don’t think music needs to be political. If you don’t feel compelled to put politics in music, then certainly don’t fake it! But if you do have opinions and perspectives and you’re keeping them back or holding them down in the interest of commerce, in the interest of not alienating fans, or you just fear of your own commitment, you fear of taking a stand – that’s sad!
Taking a look at the world around us, what are the most important issues that you think we need to tackle at the moment?
Trump represents a really backwards ideology – not just in American politics, but in worldwide politics. We have been a band through four different presidential administrations and the president or whoever is in power is almost not as important as the ideology. The president is the symptom of the disease, but the ideology is the disease. This right wing ideology is so hateful. I’m talking about racism, homophobia, nationalism and sexism. We’re taking a lot of steps back in American culture with a president like Trump, who is kind of a fraud and a coward. It’s like a giant circus. I think we’re learning a lot about who we are by putting someone like that in power, and hopefully when we come out of this we’ll have learned a lot of lessons.
What would you do if you were the next president?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. I would have more sports teams like St. Pauli!