Every younger generation is often dismissed. Some gain a bad wrap for expecting the world to come to them, or they’re barely concerned with the consequences of their actions. They are also empowered, hard-working youth that want to make a difference but for lack of resources granted to earlier generations—lack of jobs, a conducive income, societal, political, environmental qualms—have the world against them. Rise Against expose some of fallacies around these “misspent” youths, the millennials, Gen Y and those proceeding them on “Nowhere Generation,” an anthem for the younger generations, who’ve been left to fend for themselves.
“The young people I meet are really smart, incredible and hard-working, and they want a better future, but they’re dealing with a lot of things that my generation, and my parents’ generation, didn’t… income disparity, environmental degradation, the barrier of entry for jobs,” says Rise Against singer and songwriter Tim McIlrath, who began working around the concept of a Nowhere Generation, the punk band’s upcoming ninth album, out June 4.
Produced by Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, Descendents), along with creative director Brian Roettinger (Jay-Z, Florence and the Machine, No Age), Nowhere Generation was recorded at the Blasting Studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. (Every Rise Against album has been recorded at Blasting, from the band’s 2001 debut The Unravelling through Wolves in 2017). Opening on a clip of the 19th century working class anthem “L’Internationale” (“The Internationale”)—which has been translated across the globe—the Russian rendition intros Nowhere Generation, and segues into the album’s fuller generational narrative, a subject that struck McIlrath after hearing the concerns of his two teenage daughters and the incessant challenges of the band’s younger fans, prompting him to write and recite the “Nowhere Generation Manifesto,” which ultimately prompted the making of the new album.
“I’ve seen the future in a different way now,” says McIlrath. “Being a father, I always saw myself in this sort of teacher role, but these days, I feel like I’m far more of a student. They’re experiencing the world in a really different way from what I experienced. I find myself doing a lot more listening to them than talking, just to figure out what it’s like to be at that age in America today.”
Addressing their varied socio-economic struggles, McIlrath stands up for the “Nowhere Generation,” singing We are not the names that we’ve been given / We speak a language you don’t know… There’s a land of milk and honey and it’s not that far away / But the finish line kept moving / And the promises wore thin / The smoke on the horizon / Was the burning promised land, reveals the hapless consensus enclosing most youth today through it’s anthemic We are the Nowhere Generation / The kids that no one wants / We are a credible threat / To the rules you set.
“They’re living in this world where somebody keeps moving the finish line so you can’t get there,” says McIlrath, “and then when you don’t cross that finish line, people are making fun of you.”
Throughout the years the band has noticed a crop of younger audience at shows, from high school freshman age through college—many born around the year Rise Against released their debut—with an entirely different perspective and experience of the world already in tow. “A lot of my interactions with them was just getting an idea of their own anxieties and fears of the future, and they’re concerned about it,” shares McIlrath. “They’re suffering the millennial jokes, and they were really passed over, so I started to have a lot more empathy for the plight of the generation that was born right into 9/11 when the world went right into a recession, and a stock market and real estate crash. I felt like it wasn’t being talked about enough.”
These younger generations are dealing with a world overcast by a social media lifestyle to live up to, school shootings, and more burdening elements that previous generation never had to confront.
“I think what this generation is dealing with is new and improved obstacles that keep you down, that are far more orchestrated,” says McIlrath. “We’re talking about the insecurity that global warming and climate change, our response or lack of response to it, and how more and more we see business respond to the short term not the long term. Kids are told to go really expensive colleges for jobs that aren’t really there. This is the weight that young people are waking up with every day.”
Rarely going into a Rise Against album with a blueprint, Nowhere Generation was one already laid out, born out of the brunt of challenges ultimately impacting every living generation now and in the future. Even the basic component of the “American Dream”—owning house, keeping a steady job and income—are nearly far-fetched or non-existent these days.
“We’re still told to work hard, go to school and get a job and the rest will fall into place, except the reward is slowly disappearing,” says McIlrath. “For all that work, you can see that in the rise of concentrated wealth, the rise of the one percent. New resources in this country have been shifted to the wealthy and put a lot of people at a disadvantage. They’re working hard, but they’re no longer able to acquire the same thing that their parents’ generation acquired.”
He adds, “This will be the first generation that’s on track to not do as well as their parents’ generation. It’s no longer about investing in our future. Instead of planting seeds, we’re just kind of like ripping the crops out of the ground now.”
The first step is for young people, says McIlrath, is to recognize that they need to carve out their own paths. “Instead of winning that race, where someone keeps moving the finish line on you, you can now pick your own destination,” he says.
“I think that that people are starting to wake up and realizing that they’re starting to rely less people in control and starting to question the decisions of people in power. I think we’re starting to realize how important it is to invest in people.”
A complete generation since the band’s debut 20 years earlier, McIlrath says part of the magic of writing and making music with Rise Against goes back to the very beginning.
“The challenge is to not overthink songwriting, but to strip it down to a guitar and a pen and paper,” he says. ”Back then we were just trying to write songs and playing them in our basements. We really had no idea it was snowball into what it is. We went from being just four kids in a band to now we have a team around us and a label doing press and all these different things are part of the whole infrastructure, so it’s easy to get lost and for that to overtake the songwriting. The challenge is to push all that shit aside and forget any pressure and your responsibility, forget about who you are, what your band is.
“In that moment, you’ve got to trust that whatever you write will make somebody else feel good when they hear it, and always capturing that childhood innocence when approaching the music,” says McIlrath. “I think back to playing in my friend’s basement,” he says. “We were in high school and just making music, and those memories and experiences are just as rewarding to me as like the biggest show Rise Against ever played.”
McIlrath adds, “Whether you become as big as our band or not, what you’re doing right now will be just as important to when that day comes. You’re making memories and having fun and those are all just like things that are so important.”