As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, and acid house or grunge troubled the airwaves depending on what side of the Atlantic you lived on, a young Harvard educated band flared incandescently for a few short years. They released a handful of albums (containing at least one stone-cold classic), of which none sold that well in spite of fine reviews. The band then broke up acrimoniously, and that was pretty much the story of Galaxie 500.
Yet the 20 years since their demise has seen the stature afforded to Galaxie 500’s small catalogue grow to a point where their influence can be heard through an entire genre (so-called ‘slowcore’), and their name invariably invoked in any review describing guitar music that is dreamlike and slow. However, as more bands attempt to emulate Galaxie 500’s sound, the more it has become clear just how singular it was. This is Our Music proclaimed their third and final album, and indeed it was – a hugely improbable chemical symbiosis of the three members’ individual musical quirks, namely Dean Wareham’s tremulous off-key voice and oozing lead guitar, backed by the slow motion abstraction of Damon Krukowski’s and Naomi Yang’s rhythm section. It was beautiful inimitable stuff, finished off by a hallucinatory lyrical sensibility that hung on the tiny details of things – dog biscuits, weathermen, toy birds.
Last year saw a reissue of the band’s back catalogue in the form of a gorgeously packaged box-set. Influenced in part by this, guitarist and lead vocalist Dean Wareham began playing a selection of the back catalogue live – a project that he and his current band will bring to Dublin next month. Ahead of the gig, he speaks briefly to State about revisiting the old material without Damon and Naomi, and how it feels to look back on those albums 20 years later.
The Galaxie 500 back catalogue was recently completely reissued as a box set about 20 years after the initial recordings. Did this release have a role to play in you revisiting the music?
Yes, we did this thing at a show a while ago, a 45 minute set of Galaxie 500 stuff. It sounded really good and people seemed very excited about it. I came home, and the records were being re-released and I thought ‘if I don’t do it now when will I ever do it?’ And I’ve had promoters ask me from time to time ‘why don’t you play Galaxie 500 albums, like Leagues who is organising the show in Dublin. So I thought, if not now, when? You know?
A lot of water has passed under the bridge for you musically since those albums. You were all young then of course and you have been involved in a lot of projects since. Has your relationship with the music changed? Did you appreciate it differently when you started playing it live again?
Appreciate? Well I appreciate how the records still sound good 20 years later. I don’t listen to those records often but when I do I think maybe they reason they still sound so good is because we were so obsessed with doing our own thing and didn’t sound at all like what was going on at the time. In the States it was like the start of grunge and there was thrash metal. And what was coming out of England was all that sort of shoegaze music which wasn’t quite like us either. So we stood out.
So you sounded singular among your contemporaries back then. Yet now, and I don’t know how much attention you pay to new music, maybe your sound has been more assimilated into new music as an influence. Do you notice that? Do you ever hear echoes of Galaxie 500 in contemporary music?
I don’t know about echoes. I mean I’ve heard people say that about Beach House and things like that, but I don’t know. I’ve listened to Beach House and I can’t really hear it myself.
With this line-up you are the only original musician from Galaxie 500. Has that made it difficult to get back into the music, or did it come naturally?
It was a lot of work. It was actually difficult. I mean you listen to these songs and they sound simple. Some times there are only two chords but there is a lot going on. And when you are a trio it’s tougher. Dublin is going to be our first show as a trio. You can’t mess around. I’ve had to sing differently to how I normally do now. It makes me cough [laughs].
Yeah. One of the appealing and I suppose distinctive things about Galaxie 500 is your vocal. It is a young man’s vocal, like on a lot of the album On Fire your vocal is very high and almost keening.
No doubt. I sound like a kid, because I was. But I’m still able to do it. One journalist, Michael Azzerad, came up to me after a show and asked me if we had changed the keys to some of those songs and I said ‘no, we have not’. So you see, I can still just about manage.
Fans never seem to have a clear favourite from your three albums. Is there any one album that is a personal favourite of yours?
My favourite is our first album Today. It contains ‘Tugboat’ and ‘It’s Getting Late’. I mean there are things there that I’m not wild about too, but I’m just amazed that we made that record in three days. I mean we had done some pre-production, but we just went in and we really had no idea what we were doing. There were songs where I hadn’t even finished the lyrics. And we walked out of the studio with our producer Kramer after three days with that album, which is something we were all really proud of.
Musically are you at work on anything other than this project at the moment?
Yes. We are working on a show with the Andy Warhol museum where we make music for these short films that he shot, which are sort of silent portraits. That’s been a big part of our lives for the last two years. We’ve played about fifty times now at arts festivals and sort of arty fancy places. That’s been quite interesting to do, to play in those sort of little places. That project is still going.
Are they original compositions, the songs you are playing for the Andy Warhol shorts?
Yes, but we do some covers as well. There is a Dylan cover and a Velvet Underground cover. It’s a beautiful show and I would love if we could have brought it to Dublin but there are a lot of places we haven’t done. But the production is elaborate, you can’t just pack it up into a van like you would with a band.
About the other members of Galaxie 500, Damon and Naomi. It’s clear from articles and interviews that you haven’t had the greatest relationship down the years. Has this changed at all, professionally or any other way since the box set? Are they aware of these shows for example?
Oh yeah there is no doubt that they are aware of them. But I didn’t ask their permission to do these things. We have a limited communication via email which is fine I think. It’s probably the best way. But you know, I think if you are in a band and when you make records together then those records are like your children. And if you get divorced, you still feel the same way about your kids.
So you’ve joint custody of the albums?
Yeah something like that.
Well as long as the children are doing okay…
Dean Wareham will play the songs of Galaxie 500 at Dublin’s Workman’s club on Friday 11th of February, at 7pm.