It's one thing for your buddies hanging out in the garage to tell you that your band might be the next Rage Against the Machine. But it's quite another for Rage's former guitarist to take you under his wing and tout your band as the next socially conscious act that could make a difference.
Luckily for Miles Solay, his group, Outernational, is in the latter category. The New York-based five-piece — which also features Sonny Suchdev (trumpet/vocals/percussion), Minimum Tek (guitar), Jesse Williams (bass) and Turbo Garcia (drums) — have been drawing comparisons to the groundbreaking band since they formed in mid-2004, but it wasn't until Morello recently produced two songs for them that the larger world began to take notice.
"We've grown to accept and cherish that comparison," said frontman Solay, 25, whose high-energy group fuses punk, reggae, ska, rock, Latin and Middle Eastern rhythms with soul-searching lyrics. "One of the things that was so admirable about Rage was how much they got out there. Beyond the fans they reached by their message, they created oxygen for other people in society."
For Solay, the journey from superfan to potential heir has taken the better part of a decade, beginning with a bum rush on Morello at a 1996 "Saturday Night Live" taping when Solay was just 15. "My friend and I went downstairs [at 'SNL'] and I said I had an appointment with Tom Morello. The security guard called upstairs and when someone picked up the phone, you could hear the noise of them soundchecking. He couldn't hear what they were saying, so we snuck by and watched Rage soundcheck 'Bulls on Parade.' " Solay and Morello met after the soundcheck and forged a friendship.
When Outernational formed two years ago, their second gig was fitting: a protest against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. That was followed by gig number three, coordinated by Morello's nonprofit Axis of Justice. Solay said he was so pumped up after playing on the same bill as established acts like Steve Earle, Saul Williams and Spearhead that he asked Morello for some advice immediately after. "He said, you need to play 100 shows and get a great recording out," Solay recalled.
Though they haven't signed to a label yet, the group has been gigging nonstop and last year released a three-song single produced by Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz. Yet the Morello-helmed songs are the ones that have gotten Solay's phone ringing.
It's easy to understand why: The slow-rolling calypso funk of "For It All Now" finds Solay alternating between laid-back rhyming on the verses and melodic choruses. The other Morello-produced track, "Arise," has more of a Rage feel, with a bouncing reggae beat and an explosive chorus in which Solay chants, "Arise/ Hey/ Something's got to give/ No more hopelessness," over a massive wah-wah guitar riff.
The song was written shortly before news broke about the National Security Administration's secret eavesdropping program and Solay said he was listening to Neil Young as inspiration at the time, feeling like the band needed to write an anthem that would capture the moment.
"Anybody with a conscience can see that these are dangerous times we're living in," he said. "Just look at the paper and it's one ominous, odious, repressive thing after another. I believe that all art is political in a sense because it espouses one way of viewing or understanding reality. We're making art and music that will contribute to transforming culture and changing the world."
Outernational will be playing select dates on this summer's Warped Tour.