Few people get to meet their idols, let alone have conversations and hang out with them. For Miles Solay, a chance meeting with his idol has led to collaboration, musical creations and a friendship.
Solay, the singer for the band Outernational, snuck into a taping of Saturday Night Live in the mid-'90s for a chance to meet Rage Against the Machine, his favorite band.
"I met Tom on April 13, 1996, believe it or not," Solay says by phone from Los Angeles. "Rage Against the Machine was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live when Steve Forbes -- billionaire, right-wing, socially awkward and strange-looking candidate for president -- was the host of the television show. There was a whole fracas you can read about online. I busted in there to meet my favorite band as a young, rabble-rousing teenager. Tom and I got close after the death of Joe Strummer -- I had written an article for Revolution magazine and he inducted The Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We've been friends since then and he's kind of taken us under his wing."
Solay is in L.A. to record a version of Woody Guthrie's "Deportees" with Morello. Last year, Morello produced roughly 18 songs by the band which were used for an EP, Eyes on Fire, and their upcoming full-length album, Future Rock.
One might think that working with a major influence would be almost dream-like, but Solay says that feeling has worn off.
"It was for a time, but we've been working so close with him and he's a friend, so it's not surreal anymore," Solay says. "It's amazing because for all of the attention and notoriety that our band gets for being a close collaborator of Morello, the actual No. 1 benefit of working with him is that he's a tremendous musician -- not just a skilled electric guitar technician, but when it comes down to songs and producing an arrangement... The No. 1 attribute is his musical influence."
The close association of Outernational to Morello might make some think that the band's music is similar, and while there are revolutionary aspects to the lyrics, Solay says that's not at the forefront of the band's goals. As individuals, they get involved with different political and activist-based organizations, but they aren't looking for that with their music.
"For us, we're striving to be a finely tuned rock 'n' roll machine," he says. "The songs we're writing are fighting songs, they're love songs, they're stories about the way people are living today and fundamentally how it can be a lot different. There are a million stories every day. There's a need for revolutionary overt anthems, but there's a lot of different ways to draw forth that need. We're going to be the first revolutionary band to bring out love songs, but they're not going to be love songs in your pants, it's about a whole other way to love each other. We're not a protest band or activist band -- we're a revolutionary art band."
Solay believes art exists in everything, and that it's just a matter of challenging the way people see or perceive something.
As for the band's music, you can hear the influence of Rage, but there are also elements of punk, rock and even folk. While one song might find roots in The Clash, another relates more closely to Gogol Bordello, another band they've worked with in the past.
"Back when we were first trying to start this band, I was rolling with Tom, but the band we kind of hung out with the most was Gogol Bordello -- they kind of took us under their wing for a short time," Solay says. "[Singer Eugene Hutz] was our producer, which was a level of excitement and hilarity unparalleled. Eugene is serious in his purpose, but he produces by a method of direct psychic injection. It's just kind of enthusiasm and crazy phrases."
One song influenced by Gogol Bordello is "Fighting Song," which Solay calls his favorite song by any band. They've recorded two versions of the song -- the first appears on the EP and is more folk and mixed by Morello. The second version will be on the full-length album and has a different mix and a "classic Tom Morello electric guitar solo."
While the band has been getting attention and positive feedback, it's also had its share of hurdles in getting to this point. The first was the lack of a label to help distribute and get the music out.
"We were on a label at a certain point, which helped to get the records done, but then the economy sent the record industry the way of the Titanic," Solay says. "We were able to get all of our music back and said, 'Fuck it. Let's release an EP right now and release it ourselves.' We could have released our full album that way, but we wanted to build up the fan base a bit more."
The second hurdle has been finding a permanent drummer. Through the recording, Outernational had Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gil Sharone formerly of Dillinger Escape Plan and Joe Tomino from Dub Trio on the drums.
"The positive side is that we got to work with the best drummers on our recordings," Solay says. "The other side is that we're still searching for our amazing drummer who also believes in what we're doing. We have a drummer for the tour and hopefully we'll soon be the five of us and not just the four who are looking for someone to play drums."
Outernational will open for GBH on June 2 at Tremont Music Hall. Antiseen is also on the bill. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 on the day of show.