A Head Full of Wishes

A Head Full of Wishes is a site for Galaxie 500, Luna, Damon & Naomi, Dean & Britta and Dean Wareham. With news, articles and lists of releases and past and future shows.

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My uncut Terrascopaedia interviews: #1 Damon and Naomi

Back in 2018 Phil at Terrascopaedia suggested I might get a piece into his wonderful hand-made fanzine about Galaxie 500 and, mostly becuase the idea of having my name in a copy was exciting I jumped at the chance. My angle was to interview Naomi, Dean and Damon about how they “kept Galaxie 500 a going concern when it wasn’t actually a going concern”. I approached all three with the proposal and they all agreed so I rattled off a few questions. In retrospect the questions could have been better and more carefully aligned but I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Terrascopaedia #13 - November 2019
Terrascopaedia #13 - November 2019

I attempted to get the three interviews into a single article, but the best work on that was done by Phil, who took my rather clumsy attempt and made it perfect. But I thought it might be quite interesting to see how those raw interviews went. First up, Damon and Naomi. You can read the second part with Dean, and see the finished article, as beautifully presented in Terrascopaedia 11.

AA: When was the auction where you bought back the rights to Galaxie 500’s masters and contracts?

DK: Oh gosh I can’t remember if it was late 1991 or maybe it was 1992 - all those files are buried deep in a closet, with a drawing Naomi made of a dollar bill sprouting wings and flying away. Anyway it was more or less a year after the band had broken up, and many many months after Rough Trade US had padlocked the doors to its offices and warehouse. The wheels of justice turn slowly.

AA: When you bought back the rights did you have any plans or was it more about not wanting other folk to have plans on your behalf?

DK: Well it felt simply about maintaining some ownership over our work. We had signed a contract “in perpetuity, throughout the known and as yet unknown universe,” as the music business likes to say, which meant all our recordings would belong forever to whomever took over that contract. And the band was finished, which meant we had no bargaining power anymore – there would be nothing new to offer, nothing to temper any decisions made by a company with ownership of the rights. We had heard enough music business nightmare stories to know that wasn’t a good situation to be in.

AA: Between Rough Trade’s collapse in 1991 and the Ryko reissues in 1996 what was Galaxie 500’s position ~ had you put things on the back burner while you were doing the solo work, and Magic Hour? Was there always interest in the band? As the records became harder to find (before the Ryko release) was there a noticeable increase in enquiries about reissuing the records? From labels or fans?

DK: As soon as the Rough Trade bankruptcy was settled, I started offering the rights around but no one was interested. The answer I got from everyone I spoke to at labels was the same: there would be nothing new from the band, so there was nothing to build toward, and the records themselves had already sold as much as anyone thought they could at the time. It was the 90s, there was a lot of money being thrown around in the music industry but it wasn’t for bands that couldn’t tour, make videos, or produce new recordings. Also there were plenty of used copies around, the Rough Trade US warehouse stock had been auctioned separately from the contracts – the distributor Dutch East India had bought it, and we didn’t know even how many copies there still were. I remember buying a few Fourth of July singles from a cut-out bin at a chainstore, cause we only had one or two for ourselves.

AA: Did the growth of the Internet and the WWW make a difference - was the reissues arrival in 1996 a reaction to that?

DK: Your website played a crucial role, anyway! But the full story of the 96 reissues starts a bit before the web really hit. As I mentioned, none of the labels we knew seemed to have any interest because the band was defunct, so I got the idea to approach Rykodisc, who specialized in defunct bands. Of course they were all much older bands…but anyway I wrote a letter to Don Rose, the head of the label. This was definitely pre-internet cause I remember it was a proper letter with a stamp. I had no introduction to him, I just thought maybe since they were based in Massachusetts they might know of the band and be interested.

He wasn’t. And I don’t know why, but I kept trying – maybe I was just out of other ideas. As time went by, every so often I would try Ryko again. And eventually an A&R guy there named Jeff Rougvie got interested! I think he was the one responsible for a bunch of more recent bands they started to reissue then, like Mission of Burma and the Misfits.

Here’s where the web – and specifically your site – enters the story. Cause Jeff Rougvie got Don Rose interested, and we managed to get everyone on our end together, and we made a contract. And then nothing happened. Cause here’s another problem with having a defunct band: there’s no urgency. No upcoming tour or recording or promo opportunity to pin it to. It’s just a project in a folder in a pile on a desk – it could happen anytime. Or never.

But then Jeff hired a young assistant – maybe she was even an intern at first? – named Andrea Troolin, and Andrea found the project in that pile and made it hers. How to rally the company behind finally doing something with it, however? Your website! Andrea pointed to the Galaxie 500 mailing list, and the activity on it, as evidence that there was interest out there in the band and its out-of-print catalogue. Next thing you know…box set!

AA: The 1996 reissues seemed to arrive at a time when the Internet was changing how the industry dealt with the “back catalogue” of bands - do you think that you got lucky with timing?

DK: It didn’t feel that way at the time! After a slog of five years with nothing, it just felt like a relief to get the records back in existence. But then the reissues went better than anyone expected, which was a wonderful surprise. And there was certainly luck and timing involved with that – there always is, I think, no matter how much labels and bands would like to believe that they caused it.

AA: As someone who has worked for most of my live in archives I appreciate that the Galaxie 500 archive is clearly well kept. Did you and Naomi put this stuff aside with an eye on the band’s history and legacy - or was it more for your own personal “archive”?

NY: I think I was just saving ephemera for myself because I enjoyed having it – I didn’t think that it would ever be of interest to anyone else. My father was a meticulous archivist of his own photographic work and his archiving habits extended to saving every scrap of my childhood artwork, so I guess it is not too surprising that I kept everything that was of interest, it seemed natural to me. Actually I still save the interesting ephemera, though now, with the internet, there are generally fewer things to save because so much is shared by social media rather than magazines and flyers.

AA: The reissues in 2009/10 received such good reviews (5 stars in The Guardian, On Fire getting 10 in Pitchfork) did this put more pressure on you to keep the momentum going?

NY: It was a very gratifying response; but it didn’t feel like a pressure, we just wanted all the music to be available to people who wanted to hear it.

AA: Fans of the band have been well served over the years (with the DVD set, the beautiful oral history book, and beautifully packaged re-releases) you have clearly been working hard to keep the bands momentum going, has maintaining the legacy been difficult? Been a chore? Do you feel that it detracts from your other work?

NY: It’s taken up some time at different moments, but for the most part I haven’t minded. In some cases recently, for larger projects, when the companies asked me if I wanted to design the releases I have declined – Plexi did the DVD packaging and Yeti did the book design. I felt that if I took on those projects I would be spending a lot of time “in the past” which would definitely take time from my work in the present.

AA: Is what you do reactive or proactive - do you actively try and keep Galaxie 500 on the radar or is it something that happens and that you are happy to support?

DK: It’s a business we’ve been managing – and because the business at large is in such flux, it actually needs attention all the time. Records aren’t just sitting in warehouses slowly shipping out anymore – I mean that is still happening too – but there’s downloads and streaming and licensing and trying to keep up and chase down all the various ways our music is used out there. At the moment, it feels like we’ve put out all the releases there could be – but I’ve thought that before, and then formats change and we have to respond to how people are changing the way they listen and access music. So it’s ongoing.

AA: Galaxie 500 have been continually referenced by other bands since the split (either by covers, or in interviews, or in lyrical or musical references) has this had any influence on how you view the legacy and how you "market" the band? Does it create opportunities to "spread the word".

NY: I don’t think it has changed our marketing plan because we don’t have one! But it has been amazing to us that the music still finds its fans all these years later. We feel very lucky about that.

AA: There seems to be a fondness for Galaxie 500 in Argentina and Japan and I guess elsewhere, how much is the legacy an opportunity to engage beyond the west?

DK: As you know, Naomi and I love to travel so we’ve toured a lot of places and been surprised at times how much the band was known. But there have been other places where we thought the band’s legacy would be greater than it is – the luck we talked about earlier wasn’t the same everywhere! Some places it definitely fell between the cracks. Streaming will probably shake that up again. But that’s also why it’s important to keep the work available – it’s always new to someone, somewhere, and you really can’t predict who it will connect with and why. But that’s the reward - and surprise - of making music!

Interview via email with Damon and Naomi - September 2018

I’ll post Dean’s interview in a couple of days.