DOWN TO EARTH
"Learned technique Is law method. Natural technique is nature's method." -Ornette Coleman
"We all learned to play together a few years ago," says Damon Krukowski, sensible drummer of Boston's Galaxie 500. Three New York high school kids, Damon (drums, percussion), native New Zealander Dean Wareham (guitar, vocals) and Naomi Yang (bass, vocals) picked up some instruments and fucked around. They have since crystallized into a stunningly subtle band, one that lavishes admirers with a kind of soothing predictability.
In the band's earliest incarnation, hints of myriad influences such as the Velvet Underground, the Feelies and general barbituate psychedelia were prevalent on songs from their debut 7", "Tugboat" and "King of Spain", released in 1988 on Boston's Aurora label. This was followed by the Today LP, soon to be re-released by the ever-tasteful Rough Trade Records, which also put out he second LP, On Fire. Critical accolades began flooding in from both sides of the Atlantic as Galaxie 500 developed a new-found sense of purpose. Now, with a new LP, an upcoming European tour, a Peel Session appearance and many onlookers, they are waiting around for more good stuff to happen to them.
This Is Our Music, stolen from an Ornette Coleman LP title, slyly lures the listener in with its booming, inviting ring, only to subject him to a didactic flogging of the music's concepts and contents on the album jacket. Damon says, "Ornette's arrogance is based on his idea that his music is so advanced and avant garde - what would he think of our two-chord songs?
"...For me the only method for playing any instrument is the range in which it is built." Ornette said that, Damon. Learn more guitar? "You don't wanna learn too much," Dean says. And this from a guy with a Gibson semi-sponsorship ("Half price, but I've got to use them in my videos, which I do anyway..."). Although he did decline the poster-boy offer ("They'll have to pay me for that.").
"I want to be the rock and roll Kurt Weill." -Lou Reed, 1984
"None of us have a mission or a message at all," says Damon, whose mom, Nancy Harrow, is a professional jazz singer and Galaxie labelmate in certain European countries. Change isn't so obvious an ingredient of This is Our Music, the slow-bum jams, the incendiary chord changes, melodic vocals that make you blush. If there's change, don't look at Kramer. "He said, 'I can do anything,'" Damon recalls of their early meetings. Certainly it takes a bit more than sensitivity or understanding or noodling with Noise knobs to mesh Dean's voice into the dizzy sound of a straw blowing watercolor across construction paper, as on the stunning "Hearing Voices". Yet, , even with the maestro of maelstrom at the helm, recording is a bit unnatural to Damon.
"No point in pretending it's a neutral medium - it's a lie anyway, you have to reproduce sound through microphones." And while Dean and Damon (Naomi was out for a walk) agree that this record has more of a live feel, there is still plenty that unravels spontaneously in the studio, for instance the Yoko Ono cover, "Listen, the Snow Is Falling". "That's the moment we impressed ourselves," Damon muses. "Hearing it, it's like someone else played it."
"Seems like everything is business And we're sorry all the time" -"Sorry", Galaxie 500, 1990
You must understand, these two have been staring at Smiths gold records for four days. Rough Trade UK, who graciously tea-ed them to death during the grueling press sessions, have been extremely helpful in maintaining the artistic standards dictated by the band. Galaxie's finicky nature and attention to their craft have attracted great publicity here and abroad, and thus have brought the inevitable major label interest to their doorsteps. Both men speak of heightened distribution and complete artistic control as priorities. What about being locked in a studio with some prehistoric A&R guy saying, "How about an Allmans' tune?"
"We don't know how to whip out a rock song," Damon offers, although their songwriting approach (the embellishment of very basic sonic structures and riffs) is a whipping out of sorts. Still, Damon sees little hope of Galaxie becoming anything other than precisely what it is. ("We don't even know how to change.")
Their mellifluous, hit or miss edginess on the first two LPs has given way to something entirely more calculated and disciplined; the arrangements now seem to strive more for clarity than for its opposite. This maturation can perhaps best be explained by what happens (consciously or otherwise) to a band in the limelight of a very hungry, projection-oriented business like major label talent scouting. Certainly the scouts are hearing songs that seem to have existed before somehow, songs that are being heard through Galaxie for the first time but that've always been there. The writing quality is there. And for every time Galaxie downplay their ability to be the vehicle from which these ancient songs emanate, there will be another fan, another scout, another good review.
Few bands can afford to indulge themselves in the "find me" ethic as deeply as Galaxie 500. They are going nowhere awfully fast.