The interview was nearly over and Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst had said next to nothing about himself, his music or the band's Friday show at the Salt Palace.
There were, after all, more important things on his mind. Australian Aborigines and American Indians were being booted off sacred lands. Entrepreneurs were raping the environment. And there just aren't enough people speaking out about those crucial questions."We care about the last little 5 percent of rain forest that hasn't been bulldozed," Hirst said with conviction. "We're part of that group of people that tries to counter the propaganda from mining companies or from the racist governments. We've got to counter the big money men."
Not exactly what you'd expect from a 20-minute chat with a rock star. But Hirst and Midnight Oil are far from the stereotypical guitar-toting Neanderthals. As part of the latest wave of Australian pop culture to wash up on American shores, Midnight Oil is a slick yet lyrically viscous musical operation that takes inspiration from sources as diverse as Buddy Holly and Nelson Mandela.
Still, Hirst laughs at the suggestion that Midnight Oil may too cerebral and he doesn't kid himself into believing he's changing the world. He admits the band's impact on the political scene in his native Australia is negligible, even though Oil lead singer Peter Garrett, who is also an attorney, narrowly lost a hotly contested race for the Australian Senate.
"We just think of ourselves as writers who have written about things that they care about - about the country. We just try to transcend the usual meaningless drivel from so many people in leotards posing as Hendrix."
Certainly, meaninglessness is not a problem for Midnight Oil. On their latest and most successful LP, "Diesel and Dust," the five-man band documents the plight of Aboriginal tribes who have been forced from their ancestral homelands.
"The time has come/A fact's a fact/It belongs to them/Let's give it back," runs the chorus from "Beds Are Burning."
The message is simple, perhaps overly so. But their music, if not profound, it at least thoughtful, and that's quite an accomplisment in an art form generally devoted to expositions of sex and drugs and partying.
What's more, it's a message that has relevance in places other than Australia, a fact that is not lost on Hirst or Midnight Oil.
"That's where this theme of land rights and drawing parallels with the Native American experience came from," Hirst said. "That's why we're shouting so loud about this."
To bring that message home as pointedly as possible, the band is touring with a spear-brandishing Aborigine rock band called Yothu Yindi and an American Indian band known as Grafittiman.
In addition, Midnight Oil is also holding a benefit concert Nov. 7 in Mesa, Ariz., to assist Indians fighting relocation attempts stemming from the 100-year feud between Hopis and Navajos.
With that kind of a record, it may seem impertinent to question their sincerity. Still, the fact is that the self-obsession and self-indulgence of rock bands 10 years ago is anathema today. Responsible rock is in. And if a social conscience can be a marketable commodity, it's only fair to question the motives of a band that manages to parlay it's concerns into success.
Hirst acknowledges potential conflicts, but he believes the band's convictions will find their way into music regardless of whether it sells.
"The band basically will exist in a microcosm where it can sense instinctively if the band is trying to be bought off or marketed like toothpaste," he said. "Then we just withdraw from it."