Interview: Galaxie 500 in Boston Rocks #95

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Drivers, start your engines
By Susan Tanner

The Boston local music scene is filled with a wide variety of musical styles- from garage-grunge rock to groove-based pop to industrial dance. Yet one of the most promising bands around here these days sneaks up on you with a fuzzy, almost psychedelic sound. They are guitarist/vocalist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang, and drummer Damon Krukowski, collectively known as Galaxie 500.

Galaxie 500 was formed one and one-half years ago by these three high school and college friends. "Basically," Dean explains (who had previously played in a band with Damon), "the band really happened when Naomi decided to pick up the bass guitar, and I agreed to move to Boston. At that point we went shopping for a Gibson EB2, one of the very earliest electric bass guitars" [ Affectionately known in some circles as the tart bass.'-ed.].

A summer was spent practicing together in New York, a demo tape recorded, and, back in Boston, Galaxie found themselves playing regularly at Chet's Last Call. Trips to New York, and tips from others led to another recording session, this time at Noise New York. Tape in hand, Galaxie 500 shopped around with the idea of putting out their own single. Dean picks up the story: "We had sent our earlier demo to about ten labels. We sent one to Taang!"

"We knew they would hate it," Damon interjects.

"At that point in time," Dean continues, "Marc Alghini was still working at Taang! but was thinking about starting his own label. He heard the tape and liked it, and was following our progress. We then recorded this session with Kramer [of Shimmy Disc and Bongwater fame] in New York, and played a great gig with Beat Happening at this belly-dancing club, and then wound up being the first band signed to Aurora records [Alghini's new label]."

Aurora records released Galaxie 500's first single, "Tugboat/King of Spain" in the summer of 1988 to a fairly receptive Boston audience. "College radio in Boston has been really nice to us," Damon remarks. "Especially WMBR and WHRB. And when Bill Abbate was at WFNX, he did a lot for the local music scene."

Along with "Tugboat" a second single, "Oblivious" was released as part of an issue of the fanzine Chemical Imbalance. The band rerecorded "Oblivious" for their debut LP, entitled Today, which was released in October of last year. Again recorded at Noise and produced by Kramer, Today highlights the laid-back, fuzzy sound that is an integral part of Galaxie 500 [ Is that anything like the whirring noise my '63 hardtop made?-ed}.

Anyone who attempts to describe that sound almost immediately mentions the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, or the Feelies. The band does share a few of the aural aspects of both bands, but does not consciously attempt to do so. "We write deceptively simple songs," Dean says. "People might even accuse us of writing dreary non-songs. Well, they are structurally simple, but they're kind of thick. We write love songs," he laughs.

When pressed for the story behind "Tugboat," Dean's favorite track on Today, Dean replies, "Suffice it to say that Sterling Morrison [from the Velvets] was a tugboat captain for a while, but that's not what the song is about"

Naomi and Damon are a bit more hesitant to narrow their favorite to just one song. "I don't think there are any weak songs on it," Damon replies. "So that makes it difficult I guess at the moment it's 'Pictures."

Similarly, the members of Galaxie 500 can't isolate one particular influence. Damon mentions Topper Headon [Clash], David Licht, Jay Spiegel, and Scott Krauss, among others, as drummers he admires. "But I'm also into Kenny Clarke, the jazz player, and Cozy Cole, cause he has the best name of any drummer," he adds. Dean's list of favorites includes Sterling Mornson, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, Robert Quine, and the Feelies' Glenn Mercer on guitar, and vocalists Ian Curtis, Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed. "They have such technically pure voices, but I start to cough when I try to sing like Ian Curtis."

Naomi cites Peter Hook, Kramer, Jah Wobble and Kim Gordon as some of her favorite bassists. Damon adds, "Kramer's a modem Beethoven, only he's not deaf."

Galaxie 500 plan to release a new single, "Temperature's Rising," and outtakes from their last studio session of March, 1988. Then, it's a two-week tour through the Northeast and Midwest They wouldn't mind touring Northern Europe later on this year, but for now, they are working on making their name and music a household word in the States.

On Fire | 30

A 30th anniversary celebration of Galaxie 500's masterpiece

On Fire 30 CD sleeve (design: John Conley)
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