Leo Mintek is tired.
His voice is hoarse as he rides in the back of a road-worn van, driving North through South Carolina. Last night, he and his four other band mates tore through an ear-scorching energetic set, leaving everything they had on a stage in Nashville, Tenn. They played for eight people.
Guitarist Mintek and his band, better known as Outernational, cannot be too discouraged. The Nashville show was on the way home to New York after an incredibly busy week at SXSW in Austin, Texas. In four days, the band played seven shows. For three of these seven, Outernational was brought on stage by Street Sweeper Social Club, the latest destructive rock force from guitarist Tom Morello, best known for his time with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.
In the fan videos online, Morello stops his band’s set short to introduce the Brooklyn quintet and its flagship “Fighting Song.” Clearly, Morello knows something we don’t. Vocal duties are shared by nearly everyone in the massive gathering onstage, though the song is clearly commandeered by Outernational singer Miles Solay.
Solay is responsible for giving the song an insane live energy. His feral, hellhound-growl lights the powder keg that is “Fighting Song” and several of Outernational’s hard-rocking, revolutionary anthems. One wonders how anyone’s voice could rebound fast enough to play a show the next night, let alone finish a set of songs later that evening and every night for the next month with the same intensity.
Outernational is on a mission. One that requires raw intensity with every song in every city the band plays.
It’s a mission the guys have been honing and improving since the earliest incarnation of the band in 2004, which brought guitarist Mintek, bassist Jesse Williams Massa, and vocalist Solay together. Yes, the mission is about music. But like the lyric from “Fighting Song,” Outernational wants something more.
“It’s about a world free of class distinctions and borders, where people aren’t exploited and enslaved, and there is no longer this division between people who work with their hands and work with their minds,” Mintek says, echoing the sentiments of his band mates.
“In short, it’s about revolution. Not a fix and repair, not a save the system type of thing. It’s about something new.”
In Outernational’s struggle to get its message into the ears of those who will rally and act, the band faces 20 hour drives, van troubles, poor sound systems at sketchy clubs, and, on occasion, playing as hard as they can to empty rooms.
“We have no disillusions,” Mintek says, taking coughing breaks to clear his throat after a night of over-use. “We have to work incredibly hard to get the music heard and the message out. We don’t know if rock music is the best way to spread the word, but it’s what Outernational needs to do.”
The combination of Outernational’s work ethic and the message of revolution is what inspired Tom Morello to take such an interest and develop a mentoring relationship with the band. Morello’s Rage Against the Machine had a message or two to deliver as well, and at its best, the band delivered it with an unparalleled attack.
It was on the set of one of Rage’s most notorious performances at Saturday Night Live that a young Solay would meet Morello for the first time. This meeting began a long-lasting friendship that would serve as an inspiration when Outernational got around to recording its first release, the six-song EP Eyes on Fire, produced by Morello himself.
“When we brought our music to Tom the first time, we had everything in there,” Mintek says. “Gypsy, ska, hip-hop, world music … you name it. Morello said ‘Outernational is going to be a kick-ass rock band.’ He really helped define our direction.”
The result is a working blend of hard-rock, with elements of world music, ska and even a little gypsy peppered in. While Outernational has the traditional makeup of drums, bass, guitar and vocals, the band strives for a more complete sound, which led to the inclusion of horns, accordion and organ, all wielded by multi-instrumentalist Dr. Blum. Blum joined the group in 2008, Outernational played in its first real tour, opening for Chris Cornell.
An hour later, the band stops to refuel and check on the van they purchased a month ago, but has been giving them grief all tour long. Outside stretching his legs, Mintek talks about Outernational’s earliest days.
“We formed in 2004 with Bush in office and the Iraq War in full swing,” Mintek Says. “There was a lot of action and anger. One of our first shows was at a RNC protest. Outernational is how we fight for change.”
Outernational believes it’s a fight they inherited, which is part of the reason the band feels Morello was so quick to work with them.
“Rage Against the Machine received that fighting torch from bands like The Clash, Mintek says. “Tom believes we’re the next band to take that torch and run with it.”