Feature photo by Ashley Noelle Studios
“We chose the name “Outernational” to try to get people in this country to stop thinking like Americans, and start thinking about humanity”, says Miles Solay with quiet but fierce conviction. Solay, a composer and lead vocalist with the Brooklyn-based punk rock band is speaking by phone while the band is at Sundance Film Festival, on the way to a week of shows around the country (including Chicago) that will take them back to New York City.
Solay’s conversation is a whirlwind of ideas, as he goes from topics like Mexican History (“Half of the U.S. was Mexico, before 1848. It should still be Mexico,” he comments) to music as high art (making music in the way Jackson Pollack, Frida Kahlo, Francis Ford Coppola approached their art) to a brave new world (organized on something else than a capitalistic, imperialistic system) as he describes the band’s mission to create a new generation of artists and people: “ We are a revolutionary rock band – we’re talking about a revolution, a new world, a new system based on the ashes of this one.”
After the signing into law of infamous SB 1070 in Arizona, which required that law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest”, Outernational was one of the first bands to get behind the musician’s boycott of Arizona, joining Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine in the Soundstrike movement. The band did play one already planned gig in Phoenix right after the law passed and as Solay puts it, “ made a big stink about SB 1070 at the show,” which nearly created a riot as a portion of the audience of punk rock kids actually supported the law.
Their second CD, “Todos Somos Ilegales”, is an eighteen-track compilation of material that includes new versions of classic tunes like Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees” as well as original material, and inserts sampling of films about immigration such as “El Norte”. This CD was written like a film, with a nearly cinematic structure, says Solay: “It’s a linear project, every track is different. It’s written as if we were scoring a film that millions of people are living, a story that has not been entirely told.” He describes that the band spent time in the desert in order to complete the project: “It has a whole desert vibe, so we spent time there trying to capture that, how it looks, sounds, smells.” It’s also a natural development from their first ever composition, a signature Outernational song called “Qué queremos” which Solay characterizes as speaking about “the ones you don’t see, those who create all of this wealth, who are so vilified.”
“Todos Somos Ilegales” also features collaborations with prominent artists, including René (Residente) from Calle 13, Ceci Bastida and Tom Morello. But Solay clarifies that not all the songs are “in your face politically.” To sing of the Juarez femicidio tragedy, Solay composed the song “Ladies of the Night”, which creates a world where the thousands of murdered women never really died, but have gone to the desert to dance:
Heads held high in the Southwestern sky
Spirit strong in flight, what was wrong is made right
They were never ladies of the night
Free women walking side by side
There’s a revival tonight
These women and their little girls
Messengers of a whole new world
The music of Outernational, denouncing the shameful stories of the old world while beholding visions of the new could truly be the beginning of the revolution.