If one were to compile a time capsule of American history over the last 60 years, there’s no doubt that protest music would occupy its own special corner of the collection. Through the years, artists from Woody Guthrie to Public Enemy have helped soundtrack much of our world’s big-picture problems — and sometimes even helped pose solutions. And though the U.S. agenda has long felt as if it needed a new musical voice to rage against it, it wasn’t until recently that The Last Internationale stepped up to the plate. The N.Y.C. trio, composed of frontwoman Delila Paz, Edgey Pires, and newly added drummer Brad Wilk (of Rage Against the Machine fame), makes the kind of rip-roaring, blues-ingratiated rock ’n’ roll that helped cement the fate of acts like The Black Keys and The Kills but with an undeniably outspoken twist. Lyrics pull direct inspiration from our nation’s rocky international affairs but are delivered in Paz’s wholly personal voice, a ferocious mix of sultry and full-bodied powerhouse that only helps drive her points home.
We caught up with Pires last week, on the morning following the band’s late-night television debut, to discuss inspiration, driving forces, and their upcoming show at Velvet Jones.
I read that you and Delila connected around protest rallies. Is that how you guys originally met? Well, we met about five years ago through a mutual friend. Delila was the only person around my age who could not only sing really well but was also into folk music, traditional music, blues — naturally we just clicked. We started writing topical and political folk music, attending and playing protests, making these home demo recordings, and putting them out on our own. We eventually started touring the U.S. and Europe, and just this past November, Brad Wilk joined the band.
Were there artists or albums that you and Delila bonded over when you first met? Oh, yeah. Woody Guthrie was a huge inspiration. We were like religiously listening to him, especially for his songwriting — he was one of the greatest songwriters of all time. We listened to a lot of Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Delilah was especially into Odetta — I was too, but she’s in love with her. And Dylan, of course. He’s a master and one of the most prolific in history. As far as blues is concerned, we were listening to a lot of Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, B.B. King — all the kings! We became obsessed with traditional folk and blues music. We were constantly going into record stores to try and discover old blues records that maybe weren’t so popular, but we’re still doing that. The search will never stop.
Had you been in other bands prior to The Last Internationale? No. I never really wanted to get involved with anything. I only like working with people who are dead serious about what they do. I’m an extremist in that way. If I’m going to do something with somebody, it has to be a life commitment, and you have to put every single thing you have into it, and Delilah’s the only person I’ve ever met that’s like that, so we clicked right away.
What were you doing prior to this, then? I was actually getting my master’s degree in political science. The funny thing is, I discovered blues music right around then — I discovered it very late. I was playing guitar before then, and I was heavy into music, but I was really into hip-hop; that’s where I learned to write. It was in college that I discovered Son House and other blues musicians, and from there on out, I realized that I didn’t want to pursue the career I was pursuing. I was going for my master’s, and I was about to enroll in a PhD program; I wrote two books — it was all I was doing, and it consumed every single part of my being. When I discovered artists like Son House, it was almost like a new religion for me. I finished up my master’s, but I never picked up my diploma. It’s still sitting at the university.
Do you feel like bringing Brad on board has changed the band’s sound? He definitely added something in the rhythm section. To me, it’s gotten a lot more unique — it got tighter. I guess everyone else’s playing — my playing, Delilah’s bass playing — got better. When you play with someone of that caliber, it makes you perform a lot stronger. I’d definitely say we took it up a couple of notches.
And you guys met through Tom Morello, right? Yeah. He heard about our band from his bandmate, Boots Riley. He started tweeting at us and sharing our music on social networking sites. When we went out to L.A. a little over a year ago to do a residency there, we reached out and invited him to one of our shows, and he showed up. From there we just became really good friends.
Were you a big Rage Against the Machine fan growing up? Oh, yeah. That was like my favorite band. Rage would be pumping in my Walkman on the way to school, at school, coming home from school. [Laughs.]
I’d imagine meeting someone like Tom has to be a little surreal. Never mind meeting them — I had to play in front of the guy! [Laughs.] That was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done. I remember that night and just thinking, “I cannot play in front of Tom Morello right now.” It was insane.
The Last Internationale plays Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Tuesday, September 9, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com for tickets and info