Q&A: Outernational, Ready for the Revolution

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NYC’s future rock band Outernational has been on the road these past few weeks promoting their latest album, Todos Somos Ilegales, a spanglish-rock political manifesto that calls for the eradication of all the world’s borders. In keeping with the spirit of the album, the group performed shows in many Southwestern border cities throughout Texas, Arizona and also Tijuana, Mexico.

I spoke with guitarist Leo Mintek after his band’s “May Day Afterparty” concert at The Echo, which featured a special appearance by Ceci Bastida. Though the atmosphere in the back patio was relaxed and chill, Mintek was still fired up and filled with energy despite a long day that included performances at a few labor rallies. He had plenty to say about imperialism, capitalism, immigrant rights, and more.

Thumbnail photo by Deneka Peniston
Oval frame by Alonzo Alcaraz

What does the name Outernational mean? Is it the opposite of International?

It’s not the opposite, it’s the correct meaning. It means the whole world.

So it means something that’s all-encompassing and global?

Yes, global! Stop thinking like an American [and] start thinking about humanity.

What’s the backstory to Outernational?

We’re from New York. We started years ago, always with this concept of outernational: global rock n’ roll. The whole world comes first. The world right now as it is is intolerable. It’s horrible but, there’s a way out. We don’t have to be this way. It’s this system of capitalism [and] imperialism, which we’re fed on from birth. We have to uproot it and we can make a different kind of world. People all over the world want that.

Were you all friends at the beginning or did you meet through this project?

Not all of us. A few of the guys were friends who were activists and radicals and they said “let’s make a band.” We connected one by one as musicians and we were like “I want to make shit that matters. I don’t want to make party music, I don’t want to make forget-your-troubles music, I want to make release-you-from-your-troubles music.”

So from the very beginning you made a choice to create music with a purpose.

Yes, a very serious purpose that we can be a lot different and really think about humanity and learn from the past. We need radical solutions to the problems of today. Radical means the root. We gotta end this endless chase for profit, this callousness, this dehumanization that’s so common and start to build a movement for a real revolution.


How does that tie in with the album, Todos Somos Ilegales? Why or how are we all illegal?

That’s the heart of the album. It’s a concept record about the border, but that’s just the focal point of these contradictions. The border signifies so much. It signifies the economic situation where businesses can move freely across the border and suck the blood and life out of people, but people can’t. People gotta be policed and hunted down and shot down by KKK-style vigilantes and it focuses on so much of that. Undocumented people in this country are kept in the shadows and kept in fear. They’re invisible. The idea about We Are All Illegals is solidarity. If you’re gonna call them illegal then you better call me illegal too, motherfucker! We’re all illegal. The foundation of this country is genocide, slavery and stolen land.

You mentioned businesses hopping borders. The one that comes to mind is NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Is that a direct critique?

NAFTA really sharpened the contradiction and made it a lot worse. NAFTA was when they allowed the businesses to move freely and it basically decimated Mexico’s and other countries’ agriculture where people can no longer survive for themselves. Farmers can’t sell their produce. It’s subsidized in the United States and it’s so much cheaper. These [agricultural workers, families, and others] are living in poverty levels and they have to make economic decisions too. That’s what’s cheap, that’s what they have to buy, they have no choice. And countries changed their production to serve the world market…and when there’s a fluctuation in the world market, they’re fucked. NAFTA really intensified that under Clinton, under a Democrat.

They’re all representative of the same system. They’re all representative of the same ruling capitalist class. Democrats have a different face and a different style but it’s the same system and you’re being fooled if you think they’re going to be the solution. People like Obama are a trick to bring people back into the fold. It’s a trump card: come back and believe in America!

How did you come to develop your political ideals? Was was one of the main influences?

By getting exposed to a lot of stuff, from my personal experience, musically. I grew up with bands like Operation Ivy and the Dead Kennedys and this kind of scene where they do a lot of truth-telling with humor and style. That inspired me a lot. Also getting involved with a lot of activism and reading about a lot of revolutionary communist movements. The Chinese revolution is very significant. People sleep on it. Mao’s been demonized. You should learn from the fact that he’s been so demonized because he was such a threat to the state. People don’t talk about how in the ’60s, the Black Panthers and so much else in the U.S. that people still talk favorably about was very much influenced by the Chinese revolution and by communism and people don’t talk about that anymore. We need to learn about history and not let it be white-washed.

It’s hypocritical because the United States props up a lot of savage dictators. That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes made. Stalin in particular made a lot of mistakes, but they all have made mistakes and they all needed to go further and develop more. That’s what the new synthesis of communism is about: valuing dissent. Understanding that you need so many different ideas wrangling about so you can get to the truth. That was the past mistakes of communist movements. The movement itself was not a failure. It was defeated.


Activist-wise, what do you do up in NYC?

We used to do a lot of work under Bush, [participate in] a lot anti-Bush rallies, [and in] a bunch of anti-war rallies when the Iraq war popped off, continued, and dragged on when Obama re-upped the Afghanistan war. We’ve done a lot of stuff against police brutality. They have a program in New York called Stop n’ Frisk were the cops can stop anybody but, of course, it’s mostly used against a lot of black and Latino youth.

How did your May Day go? I saw you guys met Dolores Huerta.

May Day was badass. This morning, we played at a thing that was like a recycling facility or garbage processing facility. It’s almost all immigrant labor and they sift through the garbage and pull out the recyclables. [The workers] get treated like garbage, they treat them like shit. They’ve been trying to unionize and they’ve been busting ‘em so it was a union rally. There’s a lot of contradictions with the unions but it was good to stand up for the people that are being treated like shit and support them and try to bring a more radical message too. We need a revolution. That’s the way to solve these problems. We gotta take the power back and set a new thing in motion.

It’s going to take a lot of people and it’s going to take the conscious action of the working people, the suffering people, the prisoners, the immigrants, all these people are going to have to take that up consciously. There’s a lot of anger, frustration and desire but right now people aren’t ready to do the right thing with it. We have to cultivate the ideas and have a vision and a method of “what are you going to do if you take power?” What are you going to try to set in motion so that ultimately you don’t need to have a state and a government because people are free-associating? That’s what we’re doing now. We’re fighting the power but we’re also transforming the people and trying to educate people, and trying to get these ideas out and dialogue so that we’d be in a position to do something if we had the right moment.

Let’s go back to the album. How did you guys set up these collaborations with Tom Morello, Ceci Bastida, and Rene of Calle 13?

[Tom Morello’s] a mentor of ours. He’s a badass. We try to challenge him to be a little more radical sometimes. He’s helped our band very much and he’s challenged us in a lot of ways. Our singer Miles Solay and him have been friends for years. He was a super Rage [Against The Machine] fan. He went to every show and he was an activist kid so they developed a friendship on that basis.

I don’t even know how we met Ceci. We met her in L.A. and we just kept in touch. She dropped an album and was looking for remixes and our song is actually a remix. We took her acapella vocal and redid all the music. She performs our version live without us. We linked up with [René of] Calle 13 because we had some mutual connections via recording engineers. He’s very political and very aware of his audience. We told him about the concept of the record and the song, and he really liked it…so we collaborated on a song.

Your tour is coming to an end. What comes next?

We have a new record coming out at the end of this year called Welcome to the Revolution. We played a lot of it tonight. Even though we already have two albums, we consider this our debut record. Everything else has been preparing for this. Chad Smith from The Red Hot Chili Peppers is the drummer on every track. We did it in the most raw, aggressive rock n’ roll with a global flavor that we could do.

Are you going to tie the release date with the upcoming election?

Forget the election! We’re gonna drop this record so you have something else to put your hopes and dreams in. Don’t be fooled! They already fooled everybody back in ‘08. Don’t be fooled again. Obama is no solution and I know these Republicans are crazy and horrible but, this guy Obama conciliates with them and compromises with them, and he’s there to make you feel better about the fact that they’re still running things. The same people are funding them both. Don’t be fooled again in 2012, please. We need a revolution. This election is no solution.

Watch Outernational’s music video for “The Beginning is Here” below:

[insert-video youtube=JwEm4RYnfDI]