Luna(cy) by Joshua Mills (Fizz, May 1996)
Back in July Josh was kind enough to send me his lovely review of Luna's Golddiggers video shoot show. At the same time he sent me this interview with the band he carried out for Fizz magazine in 1996.
This interview originally appeared in Fizz, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Cathy Rundell
Led by the founding member of Gaxalie 500 Dean Wareham and rounded out by ex Chills bassist Justin Harwood, ex Feelies drummer Stanley Demeski and guitarist Sean Eden, Luna are not what you'd call a flashy band. Unlike many flash-in-the-pan rock bands Luna are thankfully more substance than style. (Are you listening Spacehog?) Luna play intricate but seamless music that is both challenging yet somehow blissfully peaceful. After 3 full length releases and 2 EPs (their newest entitled the Luna EP, is on the label No. 6 Records, run by the bands A&R man from Elektra) is every bit as good as any of their supurb releases.
Having toured Europe with the reformed Velvet Underground as well as the Cocteau Twins and have had the likes of Tom Verlaine, Sterling Morrison and Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) play on their records, it's clear to see that not only are Luna gaining fans, they are gaining respect from their peers. With so many inovative artists lauding this yeoman-like band, it was time to sit down with the most even keel man in this business we call show (Wareham) and get the scoop on why it's better to lose than to win in corporate litigation, why good musicians are not necessarily the the best musicians and why it's best not to say anything on stage in between songs.
Fizz: You were born in New Zealand?
Dean Wareham: I was born in New Zealand, but I am an American. I just became a citizen. I could have done it ten years ago I just didn't get around to it. I moved here in 1977, so I have been here a long time.
Fizz: So your parents moved…
Wareham: …when I was 14…
Fizz: …to Manhattan?
Fizz: So you were in the middle of the whole 'new wave'/'no wave' music scene, right?
Wareham: Yeah, that's the period I started getting excited about music. Like Talking Heads, Television, Suicide… and The Clash, Elvis Costello, all that stuff. That's when I got into music.
Fizz: Did you feel like an outsider being so young and in the middle of this huge city in that whole scene?
Wareham: No, it was all right. I fit in pretty quickly. It wasn't that strange.
Fizz: So do you have any ties to New Zealand? Any family?
Wareham: I have grandparents and cousins but I don't go back very often. I listen to some of the music but I am not 'mad' over the New Zealand scene. I liked The Chills, The Clean, The 3-D's… I like New Zealand bands more than Australian bands, I think.
Fizz: How did you get together with all these players, from all these other bands?
Wareham: Justin I met in England, when I was in Galaxie 500 and he was in The Chills, we had the same European manager for a while. We borrowed their van and their equipment for a tour and then fired the manager at the end of the tour. (Laughs) A couple of years later I was putting together another band and he had quit The Chills and I called him up and he came over to New York. Stanley… I was just a big Feelies fan… they were another band that got me into music. They were a fantastic band. So, I called him up when they had just broke up.
Fizz: But you knew them socially?
Wareham: No… I didn't know them socially. I just gave them a call. With Stanley, we just wanted someone to make the record (their debut 'Lunapark') and he ended up staying which was good. Since that first record we really turned into a band. That first record, it wasn't a band, we were just evolving.
Fizz: What was the whole story about Luna2 or Luna(squared… ie pie r2)(Luna was originally called Luna2)
Wareham: There was this woman called Luna who started sending threatening letters to our lawyer, so we put a little 2 next to it. But that wasn't enough. Eventually we had to pay her off.
Fizz: Is she a performer?
Wareham: She's a chanteuse. She doesn't have any records out or anything. If we had gone to court we would have won because we had records out. But it would have cost more to win than to lose.
Fizz: When you started… did it (the band) work immediately?
Wareham: Did it work immediately? It felt good as soon as I started working with Justin. We were using another drummer and as soon as we got Stanley, all of a sudden… (he trails off). We were also working with Grasshopper from Mercury Rev, who was the other guitar player at the time, which is sort of unknown. The moment we got Stanley to play, we all started playing better. If you get a really good drummer… they make everyone around them play better. Well, actually ANY really good musician will do that.
Fizz: I was always a big Feelies fan and he was a major part of that.
Wareham: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Fizz: Have you heard of Wake Ooloo (featuring ex Feelies Glenn Mercer and Dave Weckerman)?
Wareham: Yeah… I've seen them live.
Fizz: I just got the new album and it didn't get the greatest reviews but I liked it.
Wareham: It's not bad, I think I like the first one more. But they are good live. Actually, Dave Weckerman was the very first drummer in the Feelies. They've had a lot of drummers. At one point they had 3 drummers… they had Dave, Anton Fier and Stanley. Just for a short time.
Fizz: The one thing that got me was that the few times I saw them (the Feelies) open for Lou Reed, they would stop and tune their instruments after every song and it just killed any momentum they had built up.
Wareham: We try not to do that.
Fizz: I notice you don't say much after each song.
Wareham: Yeah, what are you gonna say? Unless I'm drunk and in the mood to chatter… but usually we are not (drunk). Especially not in the big cities, you get a bit more nervous.
Fizz: For a while everyone called you guys an alternative super group. Do you shy away from that or is it something you don't even think about?
Wareham: Well it's sort of meaningless. It's sort of a press angle that they (Elektra? the press?) dreamed up. It's silly, just because some people are from such-n-such a band, that just because you get a bunch of good musicians who were in other bands doesn't mean that they will do anything interesting. So that's why I think we are a better band now that we have developed our own, I think, very distinctive and recognizable sound. A band must be more than the sum of it's parts. Often what will make a band more interesting is the weakest musician, you know. People are too good.
Fizz: I noticed that in your song writing there is this fascination with Americana or 'the west' or traveling…
Wareham: Traveling, yeah, I guess that's a little trap you fall into. You have to watch that. It's being on the road too much. Ahrg, too many road songs! But I guess there is a few mentions of places. But you don't want to start writing about truck stops or anything. It's kind of like writers who get jobs at universities teaching literature and then 5 years later everything they write is either academia or them having affairs with students… it's one of those traps.
Fizz: So you've played with Tom Verlaine and Sterling Morrison… what is that like?
Wareham: Both of those things were a real thrill. They are both such stylist, such great players that after 10 seconds of hearing them, they are instantly recognizable. Sterling did an amazing job. He was a very smart guy too. (Morrison died in early '96) Not just another bonehead guitar player. Very witty, very well read. Tom… was very cool too. He doesn't use any effects. He just plugs his Strat(ocaster) into the amp, he's a bit of an amp nut, but again he's got a tone that you just know instantly, "That's Tom Verlaine".
Fizz: Is he difficult?
Wareham: He wasn't with us. He knows exactly what he's doing in the studio. He'll be going over something and he'll say, "Wait, back me up 15 seconds and drop me in after this note". He's sort of a late night person. He's like "I have an idea for that song. Just gimme 10 minutes" and them an hour later…
Fizz: Do you write a song and think "Tom Verlaine would be good to play on this" or do you build it around them? or…
Wareham: No, no, no… well for the song "23 Minutes in Brussels" and "Moon Palace" (off their most recent release 'Penthouse') I had done a solo. He (Verlaine) had been hanging around the studio and our Engineer Mario Salvanti, who works with him, brought him in. It was his idea. Or maybe it was Justin's. In fact we were a little wary of it with Tom. I was like "Oh, another guitar legend on the record" but once he played it, it was like "This has to go on"! It was so good.
Fizz: Is it daunting to play with guys like them?
Wareham: Well, I wish I could play that well.