Tim McIlrath Interview

The Killing Tree just released a new EP on One Day Savior. I spoke with singer Tim McIlrath who now is the frontman for Rise Against. Many things were discussed including Chicago music old and new. Tim also gave me some good insight into his old band Baxter which came before The Killing Tree and Rise Against were even conceived.

How did the Killing Tree start out? I heard you formed the band while Rise Against was looking for a new guitarist after Dan Precision left.

The Killing Tree actually began to take shape prior to Rise Against and then during Rise Against's first year of mishaps. I used to play in a band called Baxter with Geoff Reu and Remis, and we always had an itch to do heavier music. After Baxter broke up we would have sporadic, impromptu jam sessions in my basement for a year, with no real intention of starting anything. We actually had a female roommate at the time singing for us for awhile! Either way, the songs began to take shape and we realized we needed someone else to complete the chaos, so we enlisted Todd to shred with us, and all the pieces fell into place. After we completed a number of songs we realized that what started out as fun we thought might actually go over well.

During this time, I had tried out for Rise Against after running into Joe at a Good Riddance/AFI show in Indy. That was around November of 2000. Over the next year we went through three drummers and one guitar player before even playing our first show, mainly due to how impossible "Mr. Precision" was to deal with in a band situation.

How did you hook up with ex members of Baxter to form The Killing Tree?

We'd all been friends since the beginning. The only reason we broke up is because we felt we accomplished what we set out to do. I have a musical bond with those guys like no other.

While Chicago has always had one of the biggest scenes in the United States, there has always been a shortage of hardcore bands like The Killing Tree. Why is this?

In my experience, Chicago has always been about old-fashioned, hard-working punk and rock bands like Pegboy, Blue Meanies, Sidekick Kato, Capn' Jazz and Screeching Weasel. Chicago never really followed trends, and for awhile hardcore was and arguably still is pretty trendy. Lots of bands in Chicago are just immune to the outside world, which can be a good thing because it breeds individuality in bands. But it can be a bad thing when great bands go unrecognized, which happens way too often here. So many great bands that don't have the resources to get on the road remain unknown, but I suppose that also adds to the charm of Chicago. Chicago isn't a thirty second sound byte, or a generalized sound, it's a sound you will only find by digging deep into the bowels of our fair city.

What are some of your favorite Chicago bands throughout the years? How do you compare current bands to the older ones?

Whatever was playing when you first got into punk, thats what always sticks, thats what you'll always consider "prime" no matter how shitty it is. I'm not really a "live-in the past" sort a person. I grew up on Minor Threat and Black Flag, and then Capn' Jazz, The Smoking Popes, Slapstick, and Pegboy. These bands are my favorite Chi-town bands. Sidekick Kato where the reason I wanted to be in a band. I saw the Blue Meanies every year at their Christmas Winter Nationals show and each year was like a religious experience. But I don't believe in griping about how good the scene used to be when there is a great scene blossoming here right now if people would just let it. Alkaline Trio, Preacher Gone To Texas, Lawrence Arms, Spitalfield, The Reputation, Dead to Fall, Fallout Boy, tons of bands on the new THICK Records new OIL comp. Chicago is poised to explode any time now.

What bands and artists influenced you the most?

A lot of the local bands I mentioned above. But also bands like Fugazi and Jawbreaker really influenced me. They showed me that being a musician is not about playing keyboards in a bar band or trying to find an image to sell to a record label who then owns your life. It's about playing what you feel and how you feel.

Who is Helen Trent and what is the album's meaning as a whole? It seems like a concept album.

The Helen Trent concept took hold of this record in ways that no one could plan. Our songs and lyrics were pretty much complete when we heard the Helen Trent tapes. None of us expected the messages in Helena Marie's audio diary to parallel the The Killing Tree message so closely, and when it did we knew it was just meant to be. It still gives me chills sometimes.

Helen Trent was a radio DJ in the 50's in search of love, and died never finding it. The samples are from an audio diary found in a garbage bag of a girl known only as "Helena Marie." The tapes in their entirety are very emotional and moving. There is a recurring theme of love and loss in our record, and also one of choosing not to be the victim in that situation.

What's in store for the band's future? With Rise Against's new album Revolutions Per Minute gaining new fans every day, it doesn't seem like there's too much time for The Killing Tree...

This much is true. Rise Against has some seriously busy plans in the next year and we're really stoked about our new record. The Killing Tree will always be playing locally when Rise Against is home, and touring, while maybe not imminent, is certainly inevitable.

What are some of your favorite albums?

Cave In - Until Your Heart Stops
Pegboy - Strong Reaction
Helmet - Meantime

Final comments?

Thanks a lot for nominating us one of the top releases of 2002! We have a new release planned, keep checking our website for more info. If you wanna hear some of the record check out www.onedaysavior.com they also sell the record and merch.


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