Dealing with rejection, competition, judgement, financial uncertainty and personal struggles are all par for the course in a thankless and oversaturated industry.
Since the release of their debut record We Will Reign back in 2014, New York-based outfit The Last Internationale has certainly endured their fair share of difficult times. Having been dropped by their then record label Epic, evicted from their apartment in LA, as well as not having the money to make a new album – things were certainly at rock bottom for the pair. But in stepped Tom Morello, who gave the band the strength and motivation to keep on going.
The support of the RATM machine legend was not only morale, but he also took the role as Executive Producer on the band’s new album Soul On Fire.
National Rock Review recently caught up with The Last Internationale before their show opening for Rival Sons in Liverpool to talk about their new album, touring and the ups and downs of the music business.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I know you’ve literally just come off stage here in Liverpool. How was the show for you guys?
D: It was cool. Liverpool is one of our favorite cities in the UK. So like the crowd was cool. I think it’s a student place or university. So yeah, the energy and there was posters on the wall about political meetings and it seems like there’s something going on, like some energies.
Do you think that touring with Rival Sons is a good match for you guys stylistically?
E: Yeah, judging by tonight’s show, I think it’s a perfect fit. You never know before you start a tour before you open up for bands. It’s always a little bit nerve wracking, like man is their crowd gonna like us? But our experience has been that every single time we opened up for some kind of either blues artists or blues based rock band or artist that it actually goes over better than any other person we’ve opened up for. Like when we opened for Robert Plant or Lenny Kravitz – anything blues based works. This is it. So it’s perfect.
You recently toured with The Cult as well. What was that experience like for you guys?
D: It was interesting. See, I didn’t know that the singer was very involved in the American Indian movement. And he also did a documentary, so we talked to him before one of the shows about it and we had that influence and political leaning ideas – he’s really cool. They had a New York, like a CBGB vibe to them.
E: But they had been living in the U S for a while. It’s kind of funny cause when you jump on a tour and then jump on another tour, it’s like you’re six shows in. It’s like everyone’s becoming family. Oh see you later – jump on another tour. And then now like today Rival Son’s crew are so fucking cool – just like The Cult. They’re all cool and it’s like, alright, at the end of this tour I know it’s going to be like we’re building a bond here and then we separate.
The Cult, their guitar tech Bailey was so cool. The guitar player and his tech was also really cool man. He liked helping us out and talking to us about sound and we learned a lot just from seeing how they interact. Like he’s Billy’s right hand man. He’s there for him. It’s cool to see how different crews work and how the whole thing comes together. And it’s funny because I always pick the guitar techs brain.
I guess you could say Tom Morello is not just a friend, but we have the same philosophy of music. And that is that usually, it really does not matter. Like, for the most part guitar players or musicians can obsess over tone or equipment. His philosophy is who gives a shit? Like Morello what pickups you use? I don’t know – I don’t care, whatever my tech puts in there, you know what I’m saying? And so to me that makes sense. I just want to play the guitar and sound good. Why even analyse it or even know what pickups are in there.
And so when I’m on stage on tour, I don’t have my own tech. Like, I wonder how this works. I just go over to the tech, excuse me, can you help me. They usually pour a lot of knowledge and it’s like, all right, great.
I understand that when you guys started to work on Soul on Fire you were at a particular low point. There was a lot of stuff going on in your career and your lives. Did you find that writing music helped you overcome those problems or hard times – was it therapeutic or cathartic?
D: Yeah, I think it forced us to write more personally. Like I thought we were doing that already and then I’m like, now I’ve gotta go darker and deeper – even into personal stuff and trauma. It felt like a really cathartic release to do those songs and that’s why I love doing them. Even like, I like doing old songs, like playing them now because they also like morph or change every time depending on the emotion attached to it.
You guys did some dates and festivals in the UK over the summer. How were those shows for you – was that a good run?
D: Yeah, I think every time we go out, I dunno, we’re growing all the time and changing things. We don’t want it to be the same every time we go out. So it always feels new and we always want to push ourselves to give more or to push ourselves to write bigger songs or write more personally or darker songs and more political. It depends on what’s going on in the world. If we do this song, no, I want to do this song today because this is happening and it’s really making me mad and I want to like play this. So I don’t know. It’s kind of like that.
Since you’re traveling, you’re on the road all the time. Would you say you were inspired by not just the events that you’ve seen in the news, but the events that you see out in the road?
D: Oh yeah, definitely. And whenever we’re at different cities, someone’s always talking about something even if it’s something small like, Oh my union – like I work in the factory and they’re telling us about what’s happening in their town. But sometimes I wish we could do more, like we’re playing music and I’m like I want to go and fly right now. I want to be in Chile. I want to like be there in person.
E: We call our manager like we want to go to Chile there’s a revolution happening and they say you’ve got a tour coming up.
D: We’re here to play music and that’s what we’re supposed to do. If you have a talent you’ve gotta feed your talent but feed it in a way that helps the world or like at least relates to something that’s real.
Going back to the album, you talked about Tom Morello. I mean he was quite influential in the album.
E: He’s the reason why we’re still here man – straight up. If it wasn’t for Tom, him and our booking agent from the UK are the only two people that – I mean there’s a few other ones. My boy, Michael from Metal Blade, but I can count on one hand the people that stuck around, you know what I mean? And those are the ones that kept us sane and kept us from fucking being committed to a mental institution or something.
So was there ever a time that you thought the music business was too hard and that you were going to call it a day. Or where you always determined that you were just going to keep on pushing on and that you can never give up.
D: We had like a few seconds of that and then we were saying no. Like one person would say like, come on man, and we’d start crying. We can’t do, we gotta keep going. And then we’d be back and forth for a little while. Like one person would say this is too fucked up.
E: That’s a little bit over simplified in a way. Cause there’s a lot you’re talking about like human emotions. So it wasn’t this two month period, it was like a three year period and I’m saying all of ’em. It’s hard to say, but it’s like there’s an emotional roller coaster ride with highs and lows where some days you’re more optimistic, some days you’re a little pessimistic or whatever. But it wasn’t in the sense of like, can we do it, can we not? And that’s it in the story. It’s like our whole entire being in existence was pulled into question. I didn’t know where the fuck I was. There were times where I’d stare into a mirror for hours, just touching my face, like I’m going fucking nuts. Like I’m losing my mind. I’m going fucking crazy.
I’m literally thinking like, dude, if I forget my name, just fucking throw me some hospital food and drugs and bring me back or let me go. I swear I didn’t know and the same thing with her. I’m talking about like really frustrating shit. Like you can pick the worst scene in The Joker other than the murder scene. That was us. I’m watching The Joker and like that was us. I did the same thing – I fucking lost it. You know what I’m saying? But it wasn’t cause the music industry is hard – It ain’t like that. When you contextualize the whole thing, it’s like there’s people in the world going through some shit much worse than us. To me, music is easy.
Being in this industry is very easy, it’s nothing to do with that, it has to do with having bad people around you. We were insulated by terrible people except like five or less. And so having these people constantly around you psychologically fucking you and bringing you down, questioning you and nitpicking everything. She couldn’t fucking eat at one point, if she grabbed a slice of pizza, they were threatening to the end her career and through us off the label – real, real abuse. You know what I’m saying? I mean it’s not like abuse that Iraqis might feel, but it’s just something that psychologically fucks you and then it’s like they’re constantly putting you down. Crushing you after three years of this shit. It’s like, I don’t know who the fuck I was.
You’ve got a new single, which came out October – Freedom Town. Can you tell us a little bit about that song and kind of the inspiration behind it?
D: We did a lyric video that’s all about the lyrics. The song it was actually a song that we started writing like almost two years ago. We started writing it and then we ended up like finishing it and it was just very organic and we could have released it two years ago and we could probably have released it two years from now, which is kind of depressing. Like it doesn’t seem like the world is changing. So it could have been released at any time. But it just felt like now, okay that’s good. So whoever wants to hear it, just read the lyrics and see what it says to them.,
E: The title’s a little ironic though. Cause it’s like we’re from the US so being outside of the US for a while on tour the United States becomes surreal. Like it ain’t real. But it is, you know, and I think we wrote the song outside when we were in the US cause everyone, when you ask everyone, you know, freedom isn’t free, all these slogans, it’s freedom, this freedom town. And ironically, it’s definitely not the free society. I’m more free here talking to you than I am over there – you know what I’m saying? So and then of course the Trump wall and all that. That’s what really the song is about.
D: And it’s talking to the people that you don’t know and to all the people I’ve never known I love you just like my own. We are brothers and sisters no matter what they say. And I’m leaving and in the song, the person is leaving freedom town like they’re leaving it all behind and leaving hate and fear behind.
So what would you say that you guys listened to when you kind of kicking back at home?
D: Sam cooke – I think we might listen to him every day. And the same song when we are driving. If you want to hear a beautiful, amazing song it’s him at the Harlem club live, but the intro to Bring It On Home To Me. And he gets the whole band and you hear the crowd and it’s like his voice is heaven. Heaven that’s what it sounds.
E: We keep going back to soul music since when we started writing Soul on Fire, it was almost like a new awakening. Kind of like we knew about soul music. We’re from New York, we’ve heard it all our lives, you know what I’m saying? But we didn’t delve deep until soul, until Soul on Fire. And it was weird, man. It’s like every day I listen to it probably more than rock actually. And those rhythms even like not just, you know, funk, there’s many different artists – Sly And The Family Stone or we could go to Al Green for some fucking real soul, you know? And when I hear those rhythms, I’m just like this is what it’s about man. Like, ah, I feel like shit and good at the same time. Like I ain’t shit listening to this shit. Listen to Al Green – what the fuck was that? You know what I’m saying?
And so it’s like, that’s the bar. That’s high man. That is the bar like, but then of course like Beatles can’t groove like that. You know what I’m saying? The Beatles are my favorite band. So I kind of kind of put ourselves in that context. But listening to that all the time, it invades your DNA, it becomes part of your DNA if you listen to it over and over religiously like we do.
We’re approaching the end of this year. Have you kind of got the next 12 months mapped out? What’s on the cards?
D: Yeah, we finally do – a lot of road. We’re going to be on the road a lot and releasing probably a new record. We wrote a ton of songs – next year releasing a record. We have dates for next year – UK, Germany, and France. And festivals I think they’re starting next summer.
Soul on Fire by The Last Internationale is out now.