Zach Blair’s life is something of a punk-rock fairytale. Since joining Rise Against as lead guitarist in 2007, he’s played the Vans Warped Tour, headlined music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Rock on the Range, toured the U.S. and Europe, and topped the charts with 2008’s Appeal to Reason, which hit #3 on the Billboard 200 Chart and pushed 482,000 copies.

Rise Against are banking to top that showing with, Endgame, their new album that dropped March 15. The release is an empowering, honest-to-goodness punk collection that sees the band embracing driving, melodic hardcore and, as always, sociopolitical commentary. caught up with Blair to talk about the Chicago outfit’s new album and why the Les Paul is “the greatest rock and roll guitar of all time.”

You have a new album out, Endgame, and the first single, “Help Is On the Way,” already hit #3 on the alternative chart. Congrats!

Thanks. It’s crazy. It exceeded our expectations. For us, it’s just four guys in a room, trying to make a cool record, and when it does well, it’s always amazing. When our last album debuted #3 on the Billboard chart, we literally couldn’t believe it. We thought it was a joke. And with this one doing well off the bat, it’s awesome.

That song was a response to the devastation after Hurricane Katrina, right?

Yes, for an event like Katrina, there was quite a bit of help and aid, but we also believe there wasn’t enough. It’s just like any other major thing we should be paying attention to, the second Kim Kardashian trips, it’s in the news and nobody is paying attention to a real news story anymore. We’re just trying to say, “While your short attention span is taking you to another place, this is still going on.”

Bill Stevenson (The Descendents, Black Flag) worked with you on this release, and he has produced all of Rise Against’s albums. What is it about Stevenson that makes him the right fit for Rise Against?

It’s more the question what doesn’t make him the right fit. He was in our favorite punk bands: Black Flag and The Descendents. When I was a kid, we would go to see him play every time he came through town and I talked to him and created a band to basically sound like The Descendents. When he ended up recording my record, it was a dream come true. He and those bands really invented the contemporary punk rock genre and the whole pop-punk thing. Not that we’re a pop-punk band; we’re not. But if you do play in that style at all, you have to give credit to him. He’s worked his way into to being the fifth member of this band. He hears the songs better than we hear them. He’s able to stay rooted in what makes it a punk rock influence. He’s an integral part of the whole situation and I couldn’t imagine doing an album without him.

Are there any surprises on the record?

The only surprise is that once I was able to step away and listen to the album as a whole work, I found it was a heavier, faster, and darker record than we have released since the last few records. Parts of it will remind people more of our really early stuff, before we were on a major label. That’s just the mood we were in at that point.

What Gibson guitars do you favor?

I’m a Les Paul and SG guy. My first real guitar was a SG, and I knew Pete Townshend used that guitar, so it was always cool to me. For a while, when I started playing in punk bands and I would be the only guitar player, I would only use SGs. Then, with Rise Against, I found the Les Paul was better for me as a tool, because it has a bigger sound and a fatter sound. For me, the Les Paul is the greatest rock and roll guitar of all time. If you’re not playing a Gibson guitar and you’re playing this kind of music, whether it’s punk, metal or anything grounded in rock and roll, you’re not really doing it right. I don’t think professionally I’d every play anything else. Gibson, thank you for making greatest guitars ever.

You guys are known to live an anti-rockstar lifestyle, meaning you don’t drink or do drugs. How do you think that affects Rise Against’s performance?

It’s not everyone in band, but for me, it’s just a personal choice. It just wasn’t something I ever did. I don’t know why, that’s just my life path. It’s been hard being a professional musician, though, because that stuff is everywhere and it gets pushed on you, and you’re almost an outcast if you “don’t” do it. But for my performance and my stage show, it really helps. The show is intense, and I have to stay in shape for it. I can’t imagine if I was on drugs or alcohol--- I couldn’t do it.

Rise Against are going on tour with Bad Religion and Four Year Strong this spring. Stoked?

We couldn’t be happier. Bad Religion going out with us is one of the most amazing things that’s happened for my entire career. They were one of my favorite bands as a kid, and they gave Rise Against a great supporting tour when we were young, before I was in the band, and now that we can return the favor is my career highlight. Greg Graffin (guitarist, Bad Religion) is also a Gibson player.

Any tips for our readers?

I have a ritual before any show to practice the entire setlist before I go on. I don’t care if they’re songs I could play in my sleep. I’m still going to go over those songs backstage. Because if you’re onstage playing a song, and it becomes about just muscle memory, you can get to a point when you don’t remember what’s going on. And that’s the worst, because that’s when you really start making mistakes. When you turn your brain off is when you’re going to play a bad show. Kids are paying good money to see your show, and maybe they didn’t hear the mistake, but you did.