As Paul Ryan painfully discovered this week, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine doesn’t give out political endorsements to everybody.
So when he agreed in 2010 to record a cover of Woody Guthrie’s plaintive immigration ballad “Deportees” with Outernational, which plays the Satellite in Silver Lake with Las Cafeteras on Saturday, the gesture spoke volumes about the direction of the politically minded, guitar-centric New York indie rock band.
Outernational went on to record the anthemic “Todos Somos Ilegales” (We Are All Illegals), a ferocious wail of solidarity with what are sometimes euphemistically referred to as “undocumented aliens,” with guest cameos by Morello, Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Residente of the Puerto Rican urban-hip-hop superstars Calle 13.
Now Morello has produced Outernational’s follow-up EP, “Future Rock.” Along the way, Outernational has been praised by the New Yorker as “hellbent on restoring righteous indignation to rock ‘n’ roll” and as “brilliant” and “aggressive” by the Chicago Tribune. Their upcoming record will be titled “Welcome to the Revolution.”
Here’s an edited transcript of a phone interview this week with Outernational frontman Miles Solay.
Pop & Hiss: What gave you the idea of playing in cities on both sides of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border when you were performing “Todos Somos Ilegales”?
Solay: The trek itself was like 11,000 miles. For two months we just went up and down, back and forth. You live in the United States, you’re living on land that was stolen through genocide of indigenous peoples and all this wealth was built up on the enslavement of Africans. So to me the question isn’t so much why did we do it, it’s why ain’t nobody else talking about it? I mean obviously it’s not that there’s nobody. Even on our record we sampled about 10 or 11 of these really fantastic films that have been made about the border, from “Sin Nombre” to “The Border” to “El Norte.” But for us, why did we make this record? Man, there’s millions of people in this country living in the shadows. So much wealth is built upon their backs. And I thought it was a bitter irony what’s been going on for decades.
Pop & Hiss: How did Outernational get turned onto some of the textures of Mexican or Latin music?
Solay: Rock is our thing, but all the dudes in the band, we’ve always been into different styles of music since we were children, through our parents or through kids at school. In my parents’ living room I remember listening to reggae a lot. I remember during apartheid listening to a lot of the South African music that was being played. So to me Latin music is beautiful like many types of music. On “Deportees” I wanted to do like a conjunto in punk-rock style. We’re into people like Manu Chao.
Pop & Hiss: What’s the idea behind the name Outernational?
Solay: For me, the fact that the world is so carved up into oppressed and oppressor nations, between those who work with their minds and those who work with their hands .... Our point is, emancipate humanity and emancipate planet Earth from this capitalist nightmare. Artistically, because in art you can distill reality and you can concentrate it and bend it to help people look at reality differently, we kind of [chose] “Outernational” in the sense like of, “Imagine the borders above and beyond today.” The fact that things get so boxed in, we want to break a lot of people out of that.
Pop & Hiss: What’s your sense of identification with Woody Guthrie?
Solay: Woody was really out there, man; Woody was really out there in the Dust Bowl with struggling people, he was really out there with farmworkers. To me that’s really committed. You’re singing these songs and then to be out there and delivering them to the people you’re singing about. And not just singing them, learning about them.
Pop & Hiss: I imagine the band will be staying active during this fall’s presidential election campaign.
Solay: You know man, Romney, Obama -- both are worse. That’s how I feel, to put it provocatively. I’m not going to say all the different sections of the ruling class are all the same. I understand why so many people were excited when Obama was elected, but that actually was a way of blunting fighting back against so many of these injustices and outrages. The important thing now is for many of the young people who got really enthused then and have now seen that not much has changed, it’s important for them to realize that, ‘Oh, you know what, I tried to change the world in 2008 and that didn’t work, so [expletive], I’m just going to worry about my iPhone and not even pay attention.’ The point now is like, OK, c’mon, now let’s actually go out and change the world.