April 14, 1997
The Empire Funks Back
Galactic is blasting off, but isn't too big to share a bathroom with the mayor.
by Rex Rose
Coolin' Off is a curious title for Galactic's new CD, since it very well could be the final fuel-soaked straw that makes the band completely catch fire.
Billboard called it a "party record that you put on to leave on" and L.A Weekly declared the band "almost too good to be true." Hot off a U.S. tour, Galactic was nominated as best emerging funk band in the Big Easy Awards and recently claimed Offbeat's "Best New Funk Band" honor.
"Funk" covers a Louisiana Purchase-sized chunk of musical territory these days, and out on the road they've been called everything from "acid jazz" to "swamp groove," but if you're from New Orleans, you know you don't have to dress this music funny. Galactic doesn't live in a swamp, and encounters jazz only as a distant cousin, twice removed. Let me use a real New Orleans story to illustrate. A guitarist who was once jamming with some members of the Meters asked what key the next song was in. "Dem funks," was the answer he got. Well, that's Galactic's key, too--dem funks.
Theryl deClouet, Galactic's singer, is about two decades senior to his bandmates, and a faded, homemade tattoo on his cheek matches an old-school musical pedigree stretching way back to the 1970 New Orleans vocal group Hollygrove. "I come from the basic Uptown thing," deClouet says. "I went to junior high school with Cyril Neville, and I know Aaron Neville and all his brothers since I was young. They were my inspiration-- they had records out, you know, when I was a little kid! We won the Offbeat best new funk band award, and we're up for the Big Easy best emerging funk band award, but everybody that's been around--they know how long I been around. They laugh, you know: 'How's it feel being the oldest best new artist?' So I just laugh along with it, because it is kind of funny. It's just been peaches and cream for me. I'm just riding the wave."
Even with deClouet as vocalist, Galactic's lineup seems a little unlikely for a New Orleans funk band. Jeff Raines (guitar), and Robert Mercurio (bass) have played together since attending junior high just outside of Washington, D.C. They both came to college in New Orleans, and soon started developing songs under the name of their high school band, Galactic Prophylactic, cribbed from a Saturday Night Live skit. After going through a few drummers, they found Stanton Moore, who grew up in Metarie and began drumming by playing parades. "I was so impressed by the way the drums sounded when they came down the street at Mardi Gras," Moore remembers. "I thought that was the baddest thing. So I told my parents I wanted a drum, and they asked, 'Why do you want a drum?' When you're at a parade, nobody listens to the trumpets or the flute. Everybody hears the drums coming down the street."
During an instrumental period, Rich Vogel (B3 and other keyboards) added yet another dimension, says Raines: "We went from a college, guitar funk band to more of a groove, kind of jazz-influenced group. It just went up a level in complexity. We played with some really killer horn players, and then we added Theryl a month before we recorded Coolin' Off just kind of as a guest vocalist, but he ended up doing every gig since. It wasn't much of a conscious effort, but the people we ended up working with made everything change." (Several other guest collaborators regularly round out the Galactic lineup.)
After a well-received tour of the West Coast, an amazing nine local gigs during the week of Mardi Gras cemented Galactic's reputation as a hard-working outfit, illustrated by a story Moore recounts from a day he is lucky to remember at all: "We played till 6:15 Mardi Gras morning at Benny's, so we didn't have time go to sleep. We just walked straight to the parade route and got into the procession. By the end of the parade, man, we were all, like, sleepdprived, inebriated. It was crazy, man-- a crazy Mardi Gras day. After the parade, I'm completely out of it, and we walk down to Cafe Brasil. I tell Ade, the club owner, 'Hey, man, let me go sleep upstairs in the apartment.' You gotta understand Ade. He's a beautiful freak. He's run one of the most successful clubs in the city for the past 11 years and doesn't have a telephone, because he knows everyone would be calling him. So, I go up there and go to sleep for about an hour. Then Ade comes in and says, 'It's started! It's started! Come on! The party is waiting for you! Wake up! It's time to play! Come on! You need to get in the shower! Come on! Got to get in the shower!' So I'm in the shower and Ade comes in and says, 'Somebody needs to come in and use the bathroom.' So this guy comes in the bathroom, and sits on the throne. He's like, 'So what's your name?' I'm like, 'Stanton. I just played all night--haven't had any sleep--gotta go play right now.' He's like, 'That's cool. Nice talking to you. I'll see you later.' So I didn't see him, right, because I'm behind the shower curtain. Later, Ade says, 'Do you know who that was in the bathroom? That was Mayor Morial. Ha, ha, ha.'"
It's been said before, but what the hell. Only in New Orleans.
Check out Galactic's website at http://www.fogworld.com/galactic for more info on the band and their nonstop tour schedule. You can also listen to their entire album online, in stereo and for free!
Article copyright © 1997 Tribe Magazine.
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