Outernational is a band to which music writers love making comparisons about politically outspoken musicians of yesteryear. Just about all of them stick. Yes, the New York-based rock group agrees with Woody Guthrie about whose land this is, shares the musical eclecticism of Joe Strummer (the Clash) and, hell, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, the Nightwatchman) has been a mentor and producer for Outernational since nearly day one, but the times, they have a-changed since those revolutionary icons were first starting out. The routes to finding captive listeners have modernized with YouTube and social media, but, as this band has witnessed, sometimes connecting with an audience can still be as simple as playing Guthrie's "Deportees" on an acoustic guitar to a group of Mexican farm laborers in a California field.
We talked to Outernational singer, Miles Solay by phone from Chicago about the band's last tour through Mexican border towns, its new EP Future Rock, and the band's upcoming release show at the Stagger Inn Again (104 E. Vandalia) in Edwardsville on Wednesday, August 1 (tomorrow).
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Brian Heffernan: Immigration and our border relations with Mexico is an issue that Outernational seems to be defining itself by, at least with your last album Todos Somos Illegales. First, would you say that's true? And second, what gravitated you towards immigration and border issues?
Miles Solay: Well, we wrote, recorded, collaborated with other artists and released Todos Somos Illegales, as you said, a number of months ago. On the surface and in actuality, it's a record that takes place at the border. It's a record whose central characters are people trying to cross the border, people caught in that vortex of survival and dehumanization.
We released it as our first full length album because in many respects, we felt it was kind of a springboard to help people see the myriad and multitude of ways that late American capitialism in the year 2012 is so brutal and dehumanizing and is really just reeking havoc on people and the planet.
...But its kind of like if you see a movie -- how The Godfather is about the mafia, but in a lot of ways it's about America in the twentieth century. And in that regard, those are the characters and those are the themes, but I think there are larger themes, like the last song "Que Queremos:" "What do we have? Nothing / what do we want? The whole world."
We just felt like this was a really good entry point and a really good springboard and a microscope, if you will, to help people see a lot of other things. So, if that's part of defining who we are, then that's cool. But we're by no means to be simply reduced to an immigrant rights band. They were stories that we thought needed to be told.
So if that's a springboard, what are some of the other things that you'd like to take on? Well, I guess probably my favorite Outernational song is a song that's on Totos Somos Illegales that's called "Fighting Song"... And in that song there's a verse that says "Look down on our planet from the heavens above / see it as it. See it as it is / no borders or banks / no wars or tanks / no nations."
...Imagine if the way that humanity was organized was the way that it looked from outer space. And obviously that's an analogy and it's a poetic way of putting it. But I would say that's kind of the essence of it. Imagine if all of humanity was working in common for good, and it wasn't that one or a couple countries were dominating or exploiting the rest and waging war and occupying other countries. Or you didn't have most of humanity living on less than two dollars a day...
And that's kind of the essence of Outernational. We're a band. We're not a political organization. We may be involved with different things, but as a band, we're trying to jump start, I would say, a next wave of revolutionary culture among a new generation of young people and people all around the world.
So, Todos Somos Illegales was sort of like one record. And now we're releasing Future Rock, that we did with Tom Morello out in California. This one is a little more direct and bold on the surface. Louder. Heavier.