Former Rise Against guitarist reflects on 15th anniversary of ‘The Unraveling’

Rise Against
Rise Against ca. 2001

Nowadays, Rise Against is known worldwide as one of the biggest bands in contemporary punk, having racked up three Gold records in a row for their albums Siren Song Of The Counter CultureThe Sufferer & The Witness and Appeal To Reason and landing dozens of songs on rock radio throughout the past decade and change. But before Rise Against’s commercial breakthrough, they were just a scrappy melodic hardcore quartet from Chicago that got a lot of attention early on from being the new project of two members of popular punk band 88 Fingers Louie, bassist Joe Principe and guitarist Dan “Precision” Wleklinski. Based on that pedigree, Rise Against scored a record deal with Fat Wreck Chords which released their debut album, The Unraveling, on April 24, 2001.

Less than four months later, Wleklinski was out of Rise Against, with the band citing myriad personal and creative differences. Rise Against cycled through three more guitarists before eventually landing on Zach Blair, who has been in the band since 2007; Wleklinski has since reunited 88 Fingers Louie for sporadic dates since 2009, usually without the participation of Principe. Wleklinski has never shared the stage with Rise Against since his 2001 dismissal, but that didn’t stop him from revisiting the album for the first time in years and writing a lengthy post explaining his thoughts on the record, nearly 15 years from its initial release. You can read his essay in its entirety below.

I awoke a little after 2am, my mind racing with millions of thoughts, but not really sure which one brought me out of my slumber. After about 45 minutes of attempting to return to sleep, I decided to put on my ear buds and listen to some music. Apparently, my Facebook post from yesterday regarding “The Unraveling” turning 15 this year really stirred something inside of me…so much so that I decided to give it a listen. I really didn’t think I’d even have it saved on my phone, but low and behold, I had both versions. I cued up the original mixes and closed my eyes. I had no idea the flurry of emotions I’d experience over the next 30 odd minutes.

It started off with “Holy shit, I don’t think I’ve listened to this since my awful departure in 2001.” However, as the songs rolled by, I began to remember the great and grueling times we had recording this album. So many memories and little details that I had forgotten entered and exited my mind in quick flashes…even faster than the tempos of the songs I was listening to. I thought about how it took us 5 solid weeks to record “The Unraveling”…12-hour days for 4 of those weeks, and then 22-24 hours per day during that last week of tracking. These were the times of “If you don’t play it right, you have to play it again,” not “That was good enough, I’ll edit it so it’s on time.” Mind you, being the musicians, we were only working/playing/singing about 8 hours a day. The engineers were the ones that were putting in 8-12 hours each day. Since I was an assistant engineer, I had to split my time between playing guitar and engineering/editing vocals. That last week of tracking was hellacious. Joe would start recording bass from about 9am-3pm. After we’d break for an hour, we’d record vocals from about 4pm to midnight with Mass Giorgini at the helm and me being the assistant. From 1am until about 7 or 8am, I would track my guitars with Phil engineering. At 9am, I would roll out my sleeping bag onto some sound-insulating foam in the guitar booth while bass was being tracked during the 9am-3pm time slot…not an easy task, but the guitar booth was the only room that didn’t have daily traffic of people walking from the control room to the apartment/bathroom. All in all, we survived.

As the music kept rolling along, I really started to feel pride for the music we had created. I was quite amazed at all of the different parts we had structured together and that we did so with great fluidity. For the first time in a long time, Rise Against brought a huge smile to my face.

I’m almost embarrassed to mention the next part, but as “401 Kill” played through, sadness flowed. I’m not even sure why. Was it because I felt that these were some of the best songs I had written, or was it because of memories from when it all came crashing down for me. Whatever the reasons were, I soldiered on and continued to listen to my heavy riffs that were continuously jumping to octave chords and back. “Damn, I played a lot of octaves back then,” I thought to myself…but it totally worked.

I had also forgotten all the different styles we had written in. Sure it was all punk rock to us back then, but there was definitely a wide range of feelings that we tapped into and (mostly) succeeded in capturing.

As the album was coming to a close, I really enjoyed how throughout, the guitars and bass complimented each other so well. I guess with 8 years of Joe and I writing together, we had found amazing ways to blend our parts.

It’s now almost 5am and I’m trying my best to stay awake. It’s still strange to me that after listening to this album after a 14+ year hiatus, the strongest feeling I’m left with is pride…I’m proud to have written such a strong record that will be around long after I’m gone. Sure, there are times when many negative feelings crop up, and I sometimes get pissed at how terribly everything ended, but looking back at it now, I realize that it was all just part of this thing we call life. I’m extremely happy that I had those experiences and that I can recall those memories, with whatever emotions that are firmly attached to them. I’m grateful that so many fans still regard this album as their favorite…I don’t think there are any words on how amazing and heartfelt that makes me feel. I am also thankful that I’ve been able to write music once again with 88 Fingers Louie, which you all will be hearing soon. As I’ve stated before, music has sometimes given up on me, but luckily, I’ll never give up on music.