17th Mar2010

History Lesson: Dean Wareham and Galaxie 500

by Todd

Artists that appreciate the fragility of music, will always have a place in our heart. While the bombast and anarchy of The Sex Pistols or Nirvana have their merit, we find the subtlety of bands like Galaxie 500 create more lasting emotion for us. Formed in Boston in the late 80′s, the trio of vocalist/guitarist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski crafted songs that made us weep with their beauty.
We were thrilled to learn that all three G500 albums were being reissued on March 30th. Today, On Fire, and This is Our Music have all been lovingly and respectively bundled with Uncollected, their legendary Peel Sessions and their lone live record, Copenhagen to create this years’ first “must-have” release.
To promote this project, we were given a rare opportunity to speak with Dean Wareham. Since leaving Galaxie 500 to continue his amazing career with Luna and Dean & Britta, he hasn’t discussed his past in great detail. We’re extremely proud to give you this in-depth discussion about his work with this seminal band.

TDOA: How did you feel when you were approached about the Galaxie 500 reissues and to what extent were you involved in the packaging (liner notes, etc.) on this project?

DW: We knew these albums would be re-released one way or another, but I was very very happy that Domino offered to do them. They put out so much great music, and recently re-issued discs by the Feelies and Young Marble Giants, two of my favorite bands, so I feel we’re in good company. Domino commissioned the new liner notes, and the rest of the design is similar to what Naomi did for the earlier releases, so there wasn’t a whole lot to discuss.

TDOA: Most artists tend to tell us that they don’t listen to their older music. Assuming that’s true for you, I’d be interested to know if you went back and listened to the Galaxie 500 and what thoughts you had about that period of your career.

DW: I listened to the Galaxie 500 albums closely last year when they were all re-mastered for vinyl, and I really enjoyed the experience. For me those albums still contain beautiful moments that make my skin tingle. I’m not an objective listener, but apparently some other people love them too. And yet others hate them – we were that kind of band.

TDOA: In retrospect, I wonder if there is anything that you would change about the production of those records and how you feel about Kramer’s work on those records.

DW: No, and I don’t like it when people go back and re-mix older records because they think the production could be improved. It is what it is, a product of the circumstances under which you recorded — the album is what you create in those few days or weeks in the studio. And Kramer was the perfect match for us, you could make the case that he completed the band. He didn’t write the songs of course, but he contributed mightily. He is a multi-instrumentalist with a great sense of sonic texture, and really I can’t think of anyone else who would have done a better job.

TDOA: Music is cyclical and we’re seeing a lot of bands that were clearly influences by your music, experiencing a resurgence (not to mention the numerous “Spaceman 3/Mercury Rev-like” bands). Some of these bands are making great music, but perhaps not breaking new ground. Do you still seek out newer bands to listen to or do you find them to just be treading water?

DW: I agree that many bands are a pale imitation of something else, but that’s how we all start out; not everyone has to break new ground. But somehow the really good bands find their own voice; they combine their interests and influences into something new.

TDOA: Can you talk about how the songwriting process has changed for you over the years? Are the definable differences in the way songs were written for Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean and Britta music?

DW: It was much the same with Galaxie 500 and Luna, in that somebody (either myself or someone else) would come up with a riff or chord progression, and the band would rehearse it over and over, refining some kind of structure, and during that process I would start singing a melody. And then comes what I consider to be the hard part – writing lyrics. It’s easy enough to start writing a song, to come up with a piece of interesting music. But it’s hard to finish it — to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. And writing lyrics is a solitary pursuit (or at least it always has been with me). Sometimes the lyrics would be written the night before I had to sing in the studio, so Damon and Naomi would be hearing them for the first time as we recorded (and so would I). With Luna the technology had changed a little — I tended to write lyrics on a computer instead of scribbling them on paper, and I started pushing myself harder, re-writing certain lines over and over again, looking for the right word.

TDOA: The only time I got an opportunity to see Galaxie 500 was when you were supporting Cocteau Twins. It was an amazing show, but I fear it wasn’t a fun tour for you. Can you share any stories of being on the road with Cocteau Twins and what was going on within your band at that time?

DW: Well I go into this in some depth in my memoir, Black Postcards, so I won’t do that again here, but it was a strange tour. This was April of 1991; there had already been some talk of the band breaking up a few months before that; and once that three-week tour started I knew inside that I didn’t want to continue. So it was awkward. We had a couple of labels pursuing us, and Damon was keen for us to move to a major label (which was sensible enough – Rough Trade filed for bankruptcy soon after that tour). So I would listen to these discussions, but my mind was elsewhere already. And of course that’s not healthy for a friendship, is it? And things weren’t entirely healthy in the Cocteau Twins’ camp either, though for quite different reasons. That’s what it’s like inside bands — from the outside you don’t know what’s going on at all.

TDOA: You’ve dealt with smaller labels like Rough Trade and major labels like Elektra. How was the experience of dealing with a larger label, immediately after leaving Galaxie 500?

DW: It was very different. At Rough Trade I knew a lot of people in the office; at Elektra I discovered that the label people didn’t want to deal with the artist directly — they preferred that the artist have a manager, and they would talk to that person. And of course it was a much bigger company, so we needed a manager to deal with the business affairs and radio and publicity departments of a big company like that. Anyway, there were some visionary people at both places, and some annoying ones too.

I will say that the notion that the big record companies are inherently more dishonest than the indie ones is nonsense. Of course a smaller indie label will have a more singular musical vision, whereas the majors are trying to release albums in whichever format they think might be profitable – country, hip-hop, indie rock – they don’t care. And the long-term contracts the majors sign you to are onerous and unfair. But things can and often do turn ugly at indie labels too.

TDOA: The music industry has changed so much since the 80′s. Do you think we’ll ever go back to a system of major labels dominating the industry or has the internet changed the landscape forever?

DW: Again, this is something I go over in my book, that the music industry expanded in the second half of the Twentieth Century based on the spending power of affluent western teenagers, culminating in the ’90s, an era of fantastic profits for the major labels. But it seems the ride is over. We still have affluent teenagers, but their spending habits of changed – they don’t buy much recorded music.

TDOA: With the reissues of these records, inevitably people will ask you about the possibility of playing shows with Damon and Naomi to commemorate the release. Add us to the list of people and let us know your thoughts on the concept, please.

DW: It almost seems that we are the only band that hasn’t reformed. Which is an achievement in itself, something to be proud of.

TDOA: Can you talk about your plans for 2010 and when we will see new music from you?

DW: I have been touring this multi-media show: playing songs to 13 Screen Tests by Andy Warhol, and those performances are ongoing. We are going to release a 2-disc soundtrack album for that project, with thirteen songs plus remixes by Sonic Boom, Scott Hardkiss and My Robot Friend.

To pre-order the Galaxie 500 reissues, click this link!

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