Being called the next Rage Against the Machine might sound like the superlative of an overly excited music critic, but when it comes from the guitarist of that band, it packs a little more punch. That endorsement was enough to gain this one unsigned band plenty of attention.
Fiercely political, the band eschewed traditional shows to concentrate on political rallies and benefits before grabbing the ear of Warped Tour head honcho Kevin Lyman who promptly booked them on the tour. An exciting mix of punk, ska, dub and world music, Outernational produces a sound as diverse as their multi-ethnic lineup. Besides his endorsement, RATM guitarist Tom Morello also opted to produce their newest demo and you can check out songs on their MySpace page.
Punknews.org decided to exchange a few emails with guitarist Minimum Tek
The band also sent us a few tracks and you can stream those from their punknews.org profile.
First, could you give us a little bit about the background of the band? In terms of how you got together, what motivated you to do what you do?
Outernational was born from an idea shared by Miles Solay, our vocalist and lyricist and Jesse Williams, the bassist. This must have been in 2003, after the Iraq war started and Joe Strummer had passed. Basically, they saw the need for some serious revolutionary, captivating music and saw a void where groups like Rage and the Clash had been. Of course, there have since been uncompromisingly political bands in the underground, but from the start the vision for Outernational has been a broad, global appeal.
When I met these guys in 2004, I was playing in a hiphop/funk collective and was very torn to leave that group. I loved the music and the players in that collective, but what really convinced me was the purpose and dedication behind Outernational. I didn't want to make music to simply move butts or rock out- I grew up listening to punk and as much as i love a lot of styles of music, the uncompromised message and meaning behind bands like Op Ivy, 7 seconds, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and Against All Authority was really an inspiration to me. Of course, there have been other inspirational political musicians: Fela Kuti, Tosh and Marley, Public Enemy, but I've been going to punk shows since I was a kid and it's those experiences that have really set up my expectations as to what music should do for a person and for a scene and for a culture as a whole…
I've been going to punk shows since I was a kid and it's those experiences that have really set up my expectations as to what music should do for a person and for a scene and for a culture as a whole…
How do you describe your sound, and what you are going for with your sound?
This is the hardest question to answer.
We have two vocalists, trumpet, and a serious rhythm section. We incorporate rhythms and melodies from rock, hiphop and all over the world - latin america, jamaica, india, the middle east, nigeria, zimbabwe… You can dance, you can mosh, you can sing along and pump your fist. We want our music to affect people, uplift them and inspire them to move. This starts in the venue, where we want you to get off your seat and come to the dance floor and move and bump and connect with the various people who may not look like you. When the show's over we hope you will continue this interaction wherever you go. Our sound is literally Outernational - beyond borders - and we are open to incorporating any sound into our style, confidently, without losing the furious rock flavor at the core…
Shortly after forming the band, you immediately set your sights on more political rallies and less of the kind of "label showcases" and other things bands do to advance their careers. Are you guys motivated by your music first or your political beliefs?
Well, performing at political rallies was a natural first step… everyone in the band is an activist and a musician. From the start, I could see it in people's eyes - our music gets people juiced to demonstrate!
We know that we will have to really dig into the industry to take this music the distance, but that has never been the goal itself. Labels and the industry are simply a means of getting this music into the hands and ears of kids all over the world, who from every indication we've received, are looking for something like this.
Outernational is not a career choice. Its not "living out our dream". Outernational is putting these 5 people's talents to best use to overthrow this corrupt system and selfish society to create a global culture of resistance based on equality, cooperation and communo-anarcho-socialist values.
Frustration with the Republican administration is finally at a critical mass, what do you think people should be focusing their energy on (besides gloating :)
First off, if you are gloating right now, you need to pause and take a look around. What is there to gloat about? Most Americans and most of the world dislike Bush and his program, but what signs are there that him and his people are backing down? I don't see much. The lies and irrational justifications continue to pile up, this goverment is being stacked with reactionaries from the supreme court to the CIA, the Iraq war is getting worse and worse and they are heading full steam for Iran. New Orleans is still in shambles and the right to abortion and even birth control is under attack. You can gloat all the way to your mass grave, its time to wake the fuck up and act!
If you understand this, you'll see that the intent behind this new legislation is not to purge the US of non-citizen immigrants. The intent is to take away their rights so as to further exploit them. What can you do if your boss is abusing you if you are considered illegal? Nothing.
Lets look at 20th Century American popular movements and progressive changes. The Civil Rights movement was exactly that: a movement. There were legislative and electoral changes in response to the movement, and they were exactly that: responses to a movement. Lets look at the anti-Vietnam War movement. It took years of resistance, burning draft cards, soldiers fragging their officers, and demonstration after demonstration to convince the public and that lying peice of shit Nixon to end the war. Lets look at the gains made by unions and organized labor at the beginning of the 20th Century - that wasn't electoral politics, that was another popular movement that often clashed with the police and was disdained by the government and much of the press.
What I'm trying to say is that waiting for an election to express your discontent and is foolish. The most important thing now is to create an undeniable mass movement of resistance that is saying what the mainstream media will not. The media is not a complete tool of the administration. If we are able to mobilize enough, not only will be able to speak for ourselves, but the media also will respond. Realize that global news outlets are paying attention to whats happening here…
One element of this movement must be criticizing the Democratic party. There are indeed some truly progressives trying to make their mark in that party, but by and large, the Democrats are just as down with the Republicans for a program of global economic exploitation and a buildup to Fascism right here. Look, Howard Dean told Pat Robertson: "I don't think that the first thing on our agenda is gonna be to get in a big partisan fight about whether the President should be impeached or not." Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson has said: "Impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it." Hillary Clinton sat on the board of directors at Wal-Mart.
These democrats are wolves in sheeps clothing. Vote and organize locally, but it will take much more than a democratic presidental candidate and democratic senators to turn this burning, sinking, oil-dripping ship around.
We need a critical mass of people right now, who not only oppose the Bush program but also are inspired by other struggles, like the 20th Century movements I mentioned earlier… people who are inspired by the Zapatistas and the Nepalese Communists and the Palestinian Resistance and the left-turn in Latin America right now. We need people to oppose what is happening now and also stand for something new. Every new generation of youth knows they are inheriting the world and knows that significant change is not only possible, but a very real necessity if we are not going to inherit a nihilistic distopia of war, poverty and environmental collapse…
With regards to your comments about the Democrats, there seems to be some fairly large disagreements in the left; some who are very centrist, others on the hard left, and it seems sometimes like this division is very easy for the united right-wing base to exploit. What can be done to make sure true progressives are represented?
Its true that the left is divided and there's two things to notice about that. First, people who want to see real change need to get rid of their prejudices towards things like communism, anarchism, socialism and various third-world movements often slandered as 'terrorist insurgencies'. Challenge yourself and read up before you write off these important elements of our struggle. Secondly, there IS a very real division in the "left" that should be highlighted. Centrist Democrats who repeatedly compromise with the fascist, fanatical idealogues of the Republican party should know what side of the divide they're on.
Because you seem to have a fairly cynical view of corporate entities, would you sign to a major label? Do you think that you'd be able to do so without compromising your message?
We've always very much beleived in the strength of the indies to push new music and do things that the majors never could. Especially now with all the things going on like downloading, blogs and myspace. The music industry is really shifting right now and indies are taking a much larger role in developing new artists. But an important part of our vision is taking this music globally, touring globally and getting global distibution. If a major label is the best way to get this music to the people who need it, we could very well sign to a major. I think it would be possible to be on a major and retain 100% creative control. But there may be other ways a label might try to limit or shape our expression, and we definately have to be wary.
But if people are expecting us to sound like Rage, they're going to be dissapointed.
The makeup of the band seems to be reflected very much in the sound and issues you tackle. With immigration the latest "wedge" issue designed to divide Americans, what do you have to say about the various bills and proposals that are floating around?
Immigrants are some of the hardest working people and without their labor this country and especially the capitalist economy behind it would fall apart. It's a fact that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes and receive less in social services than citizens. They put money INTO these systems and don't ever get payed out.
If you understand this, you'll see that the intent behind this new legislation is not to purge the US of non-citizen immigrants. The intent is to take away their rights so as to further exploit them. What can you do if your boss is abusing you if you are considered illegal? Nothing. This is the key. By criminalizing people's status, it assures they have no method of complaining or organizing their labor. It removes the checks and balances.
One thing rarely mentioned is the reasons why so many people, particlualy Latin Americans risk death and deportation to come to this country to work. "Free-Trade" agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have destroyed small businesses and small farms throughout Mexico and Central America. With no means to subsist, thousands and thousands of people have chosen to risk it all to come this racist country to do all types of demeaning work, while receiving shit pay, few rights, and even less respect. Who really should be criminalized?
Meeting up with Tom Morello and getting his overwhelming endorsement was quite a coup for a young band, how did that come about and do you plan on working with him on your next record?
Tom has been a friend and supporter of the band from the start. Him and Miles have been friends for over ten years and after a year and a half of us getting our sound together, we finally stepped to him to do some recording. It was an amazing experience. He really is a musical genius. He helped us rearrange the two songs we recorded with him. We didn't write any new parts, but the way he structured the songs was brilliant. He simplified a few sections and made sure to always highlight the lyrics and build tension. We learned a lot and have been applying these ideas as we write new material. But I can't say for sure who we will be working with on our first-full length. We're not even signed yet!
Being compared to a beloved band like RATM must be a little nervewracking?
Its true, at this point we really have to live up the expectation. But if people are expecting us to sound like Rage, they're going to be dissapointed. We're on some whole other ish… I can tell you though, there's going to be a lot of attention this year and we plan on blowing people away with our new compositions, lyrics, and live show!!
You're playing the Warped Tour this summer, which should be an interesting experience. how did that work out?
Basically Kevin Lyman, who runs warped tour, heard about us from a few different people and we just told him, "look, you want a new band like us on the tour." Our friends Gogol Bordello played Warped last year and they really broke the mold for more eclectic bands like us to get on it.
It seems like music is a way to convey a message based on what you've said so far. Do you ever worry about people focusing too much on either the music or the message since obviously both require a lot of you?
You know, I'm not so worried about this. I think we fuse both elements together pretty well. Just the fact that we incorporate sounds from places like India, Africa and South America speaks volumes about our goals and global outlook.