Catching Up with Galactic, Where Y'at's First Cover Story
On Where Y'at's very first cover, we presented a group of young men who had started a funk-inspired band a few years earlier and were on the road to becoming big. We interviewed them about their burgeoning career, and wondered what their future would hold. We've caught up to the band called Galactic, comprised of drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines, keyboardist Rich Vogel, and sax player Ben Ellman, to talk about what the last fifteen years has been like for them.
WYAT: We're doing this interview because we're celebrating our fifteenth anniversary, and you were on the cover of our very first issue. What was going on with the band at that time?
Rich Vogel: We were hanging flyers. And we had probably just moved into our second Ford Econo Line van; we retired the 1978 Ford Econo Line, and got the 1986.
Stanton Moore: And I think we had just released our second record, Crazyhorse Mongoose.
WYAT: And what has changed for you in that time?
Robert Mercurio: We're traveling a little better than the Ford Econo Line, but pretty much doing the same stuff: making music, playing music.
Moore: We have our own studio now, which is enjoyable. We make all of our records in that studio. It's very close to where we shot that first cover on your magazine. I think it was the telephone pole in front of Tip's, if I remember correctly. We don't do quite as many gigs as we used to, but we still do over a hundred a year. Mercurio: In '98, we were probably doing almost two hundred gigs.
Jeff Raines: We just did our eighteenth Jazz Fest this year, which I think shocks and stuns all of us, especially myself. Jazz Fest has always been a highlight of the year, at least for me.
Moore: It's definitely one of the gigs we look forward to and we enjoy. It was fun this year; we all had our kids backstage. It was kind of like a kid-vibe back there.
WYAT: Do you have to play differently at a big festival as opposed to a club?
Vogel: Hopefully not differently at all. When a festival set really goes well and feels good, it feels like playing a club. Some stages are huge and the sound is massive; you're trying to get it together on the fly, and it could be tricky. Some days, it just really comes together. That's what happened for me at Jazz Fest this year. It was great.
Moore: For us, we always try to have impact. For me personally, I'm trying to hit the back of the wall of whatever venue we're playing. I'm trying to punch the people in the back of the room in the chest. So when you play bigger clubs, you have to have impact, and when you play outdoors, you still have to have that impact because there is no back wall. So you have to throw it out there infinitely and project. So with Galactic, for me, I'm trying to hit the back of whatever venue we are doing with as much impact as I can.
WYAT: Your last album came out a little more than a year ago. Are you working on any recordings right now?
Mercurio: Yeah, we are. We're currently working on some singles with some different people that we're collaborating with. I don't have anybody that we can announce quite yet; we have a few things on the plate that we've been working on.
WYAT: You do like to use a lot of guest artists.
Mercurio: We have in the past, and it seems like a good formula for us right now. We are a rhythm section band without a permanent lead singer, so it puts us in a position where we can do stuff like that. It's kind of fun for us.
WYAT: What kind of music has influenced you throughout your lives?
Mercurio: That's so tough. I think we've all gone through so many different genres: funk, jazz, R&B.
Moore: Ben and I play in a klezmer band called the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.
Ben Ellman: Everyone listens to different music. It comes together. It's cliche, but it's true.
WYAT: Are there any musicians that you would like to work with in the future?
Moore: I can say off the top of my head, one of my favorite musicians to play with is Maceo Parker, and [I'd love] if we could do anything more with him in the future. The hair stands up on my arms every time I get a chance to hear him play. He was the saxophone player for James Brown, so he's on most of my favorite records, and he's still out there killing it.
Raines: We got to work with Allen Toussaint a while back. He sat in with the band and I thought that was pretty awesome. I would love to be instructed about what to do by him again.
Moore: We've been very fortunate to play with a lot of our musical heroes. We've all played with different configurations of the Meters; it's no secret they're one of our biggest influences. George Porter comes and sits in with us every now and then. And it's great to have Leo Nocentelli teach you the way he wants you to play the songs.
Vogel: Find out what we've been doing wrong for twenty years.
Moore: Exactly, so Leo knew. I went to Japan with Leo, Frank Wesley, and Bernie Worrell. That was awesome to hang out with those three guys. People start bringing them records for them to sign: P-Funk records for Bernie to sign, James Brown records for Fred to sign, and Meters records for Leo. These are all my favorite records. So we've been fortunate to work with a lot of people, but, of course, there are still people out there.
WYAT: I really want to talk to you about pop music, and whether or not you think that funk can be popular music today.
Ellman: We don't really look at ourselves like a funk band. We all love funk and play funk music. People will, do, and have thrown us in genres. But for us, I think we don't set out to make a funk record. We just make records of the things we dig; what we think our crowd will dig and what we dig. It's kind of hard to say. I'm not an expert in how things sell. They called us a jam band for a very long time.
Vogel: I think there's a difference between bands, no matter what style they play or what type of band they are, whose discs go out and develop an audience over time, and they can keep it over time. I think that's a different thing necessarily from what you're hearing all over the radio. There are bands that maybe seem more present and you're hearing about a lot that seem to have a lot of success in a short period of time, but the question is, do they have longevity? You can think of artists like Bruce Springsteen, who obviously sustained his career popularity over decades. It's more about who gets to do this in the long run, is how I think about it. I think about working in the music business. You can have a career in music if you work hard, get in early, and are lucky.
WYAT: Do you think that people consume music differently and will continue to as technology changes?
Mercurio: MYeah. It seems like people don't listen to albums anymore. They just want singles. They might not even listen to the whole song anymore. I'm guilty of it too, with Spotify.
Moore: It seems like people are buying vinyl.
Ellman: It's like a short attention span thing now, where you've got to keep things coming. You have to release an album every two years, or you can't expect to keep your audience engaged in what you're doing.
Mercurio: We had done some big, full-concept albums for our last few albums, so the singles are a way to open ourselves up a little bit in that world. And not have the whole album as a concept or have the tracks be the same thing. And people are listening more to singles instead of the whole album.
WYAT: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Mercurio: We're just happy to be doing it eighteen years later. Glad to see Where Y'at still at it too.