I caught up with Leo Mintek, guitarist of Outernational, outside of New York’s Highland Ballroom for a quick Q&A. After their killer opening set for Birmingham, England’s vintage punkers, GBH, Mintek sat me down in the empty venue and explained that Outernational is much more than pretty sounds but a message of civil unrest from as far left as you can get.
Without concern for personal politics, Outernational—who have loose ties to the Revolutionary Communist Party of America—were introduced to me by Jimi Vee, owner of New Vision Studio (a silk screening company out of Clifton, NJ). I spent the hours before the show watching this dedicated fan and friend print out dozens of tee shirts with the Outernational logo and slogan; “No boarders. No banks. No wars. No tanks. No nations,” emblazoned across the chest and I started to see, this band is giving people something to believe in.
My initial attraction to the band was to the sound of the music; they have a broad point of reference and they execute each genre well while still having a consistent style that makes them identifiable and memorable.
Eyes On Fire EP is worth listening to over and over again. If you get that Rage Against The Machine vibe from a few tracks, that would be thanks to producer/RATM guitarist Tom Morello, who worked with the band on this latest effort.
The first song was “Sir No Sir.” The intro is a military march that leads to a Ragey verse. The intensity draws you in and the intelligence keeps you listening. It calls for you to experience the song with more than your ears; with more than just our “What-the-fuck Wikipedia knowledge” of the world, said Vee of people misjudging things because of being misinformed and uninformed.
Outernational is spreading an informed view all over the country on their latest tour. Being no strangers to life on the road, prior to embarking on this six-week tour, the band traveled the US for two months.
It would be a disservice to call this band anything less than determined. Mintek casually jested about life on the road, claiming his home was the van and his roommates, “4 other smelly dudes.” The other dudes to whom Mintek refers are singer Miles Solay, bassist Jess William Massa and the amazing Dr. Blum, who plays trumpet, organ, accordion and a slue of other instruments. This band is known for heightening the standard for stage presence and the fans return their efforts by pumping life into the band.
Before I reached the front doors of the venue, hordes of enthused fans were on the street waiting to regale the ignorant with Outernational’s music (and message). Unfortunately, Solay was suffering for laryngitis and was unable to belt in the raspy voice that won me over in Outernational’s recordings. Thankfully his band was there to pick up the volume, “My amp goes to 20,” Mintek laughed. If I could wrap Outernational’s essence into a neat little package, I would call them nothing short of radical. With many songs focused on global issues I had to wonder, were these activists with instruments, or musicians fighting for a cause worth dying?
The answer is both—Outernational is starting a revolution. Dig it.
How did you guys get together?
The original concept of the band started in New York a few years ago to be a revolutionary band no matter the genre of music.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
“The Fighting Song.”
I don’t know. I like it ‘cause it’s a folk song—we play it heavy, but it sounds like a folk song. It’s really easy to learn. I like teaching it to people that guest with us. People like to sing along and I like the message of it. If Outernational was known for one song, I’d want it to be that one.
What exactly is the message?
No boarders. No banks. No wars. No tanks. No nations. We’re all in this together.
Do you ever feel like the music gets lost behind the message or vice versa?
No, I think we do a good job of combining them. Our message isn’t just lyrical; you get it from the sound. We’ll play a song that has a Spanish lyric or just has a Spanish sound to it and people say it sounds like Mariachi music and that enough can say something to people that are trying to break down boarders. They hear it and understand it includes you too.
So would you consider yourself an activist first or a musician?
Both. They’re not that different. All music has a message and people that say their music doesn’t are just fooling themselves and that’s just supporting the status quo. There is no such thing as not political music. We have an agenda, a mission and a message more strongly than others but a band that is just out there writing love songs or hate songs or self-absorbed music—fucking, sex and alcohol—it’s all a message. They’re not challenging anybody so they think it’s normal. Music, for young people, it shapes their whole identity and how you view the world, it’s all through music. What are we giving these kids? That’s what we’re worried about.
Would you guys write a love song?
We did. We played one tonight. We did a song called “We Own The Night,” it’s about different ways to have a relationship and different ways to interact with one another. Not isolation but the two of you together in the world. We did another song called “Here’s The Rose, Now Dance,” it’s another song… one face value. It has a deeper meaning; the rose is a metaphor for the moment—here it is, now go! At face value and on a certain level, it’s a love song.
Do personal politics ever clash and make it hard to get something down?
Not in terms of the music. We’ll have disagreements about things that we’ll have to discuss but it never gets in the way of the song. The singer, Miles, writes the majority of the lyrics but we all contribute—it speaks for all of us.
What were you listening to when you guys were putting together the album?
Wow: The Clash, Manu Chao, Woody Guthrie, Los Fabulosos Cadillac, Otis Redding. We went to Detroit and every time we go there we try to see Motown and sure enough, it’s closed. We’re always there on a Monday or a Sunday and it’s closed. What drove you guys to deal with more global issues than personal ones?
I think as Americans, we have a responsibility to think about these things. Like where did your recorder come from? Where did your clothes come from? Where did your food come from?
I’ll leave you with those questions and the assurance that every little bit does matter. We don’t have to go to the extremes and start a punk band that treks from coast to coast, but we can start small. Buying locally grown produce, mom-and-popping it or supporting your local music scene are all small steps building to a giant leap. Whether that leap is to the right or left is up to you.
Outernational will be performing Nov 11 at Southpaw in Brooklyn, supporting Patti Smith in a “cross-generational passing of the torch.” For more on the band go to Outernation.net. For more on Jimi Vee’s designs and New Vision Studio check out nvscreations.com.