Haunted by Luna Tunes
They're based in New York, former Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison played on their latest album, and on their 1993 EP, "Slide," they covered the Lou Reed-John Cale song "Ride Into the Sun."
Is alternative-rock band Luna having an identity crisis?
Responding to criticism that his group is derivative of the Velvets is nothing new to Dean Wareham, Luna's articulate leader. Not surprisingly, he has no problem tackling the issue head-on.
"I think we can take things musically -- pick and choose from here and there -- without sounding retro, and I don't think we do," said the band's 30-year-old singer, guitarist and lyricist during a recent phone interview. "Hopefully, you create something that's unique. I believe we sound like Luna. We do have a distinctive sound."
But the use of Morrison on Luna's new album, "Bewitched," would seem to invite even more skepticism.
"We're gonna get the comparisons anyway, but it is true that it is worse now," said the New Zealand-born Wareham, who brings his band -- which also includes drummer Stanley Demeski, guitarist Sean Eden and bassist Justin Harwood -- to the Coach House on Wednesday.
"If I was that worried about it, though, I wouldn't have asked him to play. I love what Sterling adds to 'Bewitched,' and if you can't sit back and enjoy him without getting nit-picky, it's just foolish. The only stuff on this record that sounds like the Velvet Underground was played by Sterling -- and he's allowed."
Unveiling a quieter, more hypnotic pace than heard on 1992's "Lunapark," the quartet's latest recording makes the Cowboy Junkies sound energized. Dreamy melodies float along from the simple, Meat Puppets-like "Tiger Lily" to the, well . . . sleepy "Sleeping Pill." Although low-key, a gentle folksiness graces the 12-song collection.
"The softer sound developed by accident, really," Wareham said. "I had written a few half-baked acoustic songs at home, and they wound up on the record," he said, referring to "Into the Fold" and "Great Jones Street." "And Stanley (Demeski) was playing drums more with brushes, so we did pull back a little bit. Actually, I thought we'd turn up the guitars a little more for 'Bewitched,' but it just didn't happen. Maybe the record is louder in a quieter sort of way."
Thematically, buried beneath soothing melodies are melancholy tales of breakups, unrequited love and other matters of the heart. Exemplifying the feelings of self-doubt and loneliness that creep moodily through "Bewitched" is this verse from "Into the Fold": "Well, you know I ain't no mystic, but I'm wrapped up in your life / And I don't ask silly questions, 'cause I couldn't stand the lies."
Are these songs of fiction, or has Wareham found an avenue for venting his own romantic frustrations?
'Well, I'm hopeful for myself because my own situation is quite good. . . . I've been in the same relationship now for seven years," he replied. "I don't know; you have to look around you. You never know what's going on between two people. It's a mystery. Sadly, people do all kinds of horrible things to each other. We're capable of all kinds of hurtful things." Another fairly recent change for Luna is the addition of guitarist Sean Eden, who splits the lead licks about equally with Wareham. Eden has been touring with Luna for the past year, including the group's recent three-month stint opening for the Cocteau Twins.
"We always wanted to be a four-piece (band), mainly because there are all kinds of things that you record that you can't get across live as just a trio," explained Wareham. "So we placed an ad in the Village Voice, and Sean wound up our man. Now, I do play less lead, but it frees me up as a singer, and Sean gets to play all of the tricky parts."
In case you're wondering, this Luna is the same band heretofore known as Luna 2. As Wareham tells it, legal entanglements forced the band to buy the rights to the name Luna.
'We always just called ourselves Luna, until someone wrote a letter to our lawyer claiming she was Luna," he said. "So (on 'Lunapark') we put a little '2' there in the corner and hoped no one would notice. But this woman noticed, so we payed her off to avoid being sued. Now we get to be Luna, and she's going around calling herself Lluna, or something like that."