Influential indie rock group Galaxie 500 had a modest start. Three high-school friends wanted to form a “real” band after attending Harvard University and ended up making music that Spin critic Pat Blashill called a “wintry opiate. Sounds like love (lost) in a cold snap.” Though Galaxie 500’s first album, Today, was released in 1987 and the band disbanded four years later, they made a major impact on the indie rock scene. In addition to numerous independent singles, the group released three major-label albums, Today, On Fire, and This Is Our Music, on British label Rough Trade. Rykodisc continued to release Galaxie 500 material after the band’s demise.
Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, both New York City natives, met Dean Wareham, a New Zealand transplant from Australia, in high school in New York City. Wareham took on the guitar and Krukowski learned to play drums from the high-school percussion teacher. After graduation in 1981, Krukowski and Wareham went on to Harvard University, with Yang following a year later. Once they arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Krukowski and Wareham started a band called Speedy and the Castanets, which played punk rock covers but was short-lived after the group’s bass player quit to pursue religion.
That left Wareham on vocals and guitar, and Krukowski on drums. The two placed an ad in the Village Voice for a new bassist, but found no one. They graduated from Harvard, after which Wareham traveled Europe. Originally a “graphics advisor” for Speedy and the Castanets, Yang, with no musical experience, finally stepped in to play bass. After a summer of practice in New York, the group returned to Cambridge in the autumn of 1987. Spin magazine’s Pat Blashill dubbed the new trio “a hypnotic open loop of gentle drums, a bass that becalms like mother’s finger to her lips, and a guitar that drifts purposely from languid to leveling. A voice singing high and strange.”
The group took its name from the mid-1960s Ford muscle car, the Galaxy 500, and began playing shows around Boston and New York. A tip from a fellow musician led them to record a three-song demo tape and send it to Kramer, the producer and owner of the independent record label Shimmy Disc and New York’s Noise Studio. The three spent eight hours in the studio with Kramer and recorded seven songs, including the two singles “Tugboat” and “Oblivious.” The latter was included as a flexi-disc with the magazine Chemical Imbalance. It was in those recording sessions that producer Kramer gave Galaxie 500 their signature sound—the guitar effects and heavy reverb he added to the vocals gave the music its soft, billowy, ethereal feel.
Though the three had their roots in punk rock, they shared an affinity for older music. The Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison’s work on The Velvet Underground ‘69 was Wareham’s favorite. Krukowski played on a vintage drum set from the 1950s or early 1960s, and Yang played an old, semi-hollow Gibson bass, which produced a warm, natural tone.
“Tugboat” was the foundation for Galaxie 500 to start recording its first full-length album, Today, again with Kramer. Wareham went into the studio with a vision, he said in an interview with Chemical Imbalance. “I’d like to make one of the best albums ever made. I want to do it because I like this sound. I like playing it, I like listening to it. And if you’re not going to let me do that, I’ll quit, because there are much better ways to make money.” Demand for the group grew, especially in England, where the band’s label, Rough Trade, was based, and where Today was enthusiastically received. The British music magazine Melody Maker called Today “an astonishing debut by anybody’s standards.”
In the summer of 1989, Galaxie 500 returned to the studio with Kramer to record its second release, On Fire, and its companion UK-only release, Blue Thunder. On Fire captured Galaxie 500 at its finest and included the singles “Blue Thunder” and “When Will You Come Home.” Critical response to On Fire and Blue Thunder was overwhelming. Pat Blashill wrote in Spin that On Fire sounded like “AM radio pop at three in the morning: lost, beautiful, a very loud quiet.” Sounds declared the album was a work of “utter magnificence,” while Melody Maker called it “a stunning collection of daydream pop.” Rolling Stone gave it three-and-a-half stars.
Members include Damon Krukowski (born on September 6, 1963, in New York, NY), drums; Dean Wareham (born in Wellington, New Zealand), vocals, guitar; Naomi Yang (born on September 15, 1964, in New York, NY), bass.
Group formed in Boston, MA, 1986; performed live throughout Boston and New York; Shimmy Disc produces singles “Tugboat” and “Oblivious;” released full-length debut, Today, 1997; signed to Rough Trade in the United States, issued On Fire, 1998; released This Is Our Music, 1990; disbanded, 1991; Wareham formed Luna; Yang and Krukowski continued as Pierre Etoile, then as Damon and Naomi, and as members of Magic Hour.
Addresses: Record company —Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970, website: http://www.rykodisc.com.
Krukowski and Yang dropped out of graduate school at Harvard to pursue music full time with Galaxie 500. This freed the band to travel more, touring Europe and the United Kingdom, where they were adored, in 1989 and 1990. In the spring of 1990, Wareham, who called Galaxie 500‘s music “spacy” in Spin, moved back to New York, leaving Krukowski and Yang in Boston. Also in 1990, they released a limited-edition seven-inch single featuring live covers of Jonathan Richman‘s “Don‘t Let Our Youth Go to Waste” and the Beatles‘ “Rain.”
Galaxie 500 returned to Kramer‘s studio to record its third release, This is Our Music, whose title was borrowed from Ornette Coleman‘s classic recording from three decades before. The record was confident and dynamic. It featured the single “Fourth of July” and an eerie cover of “Listen, the Snow is Falling” by Yoko Ono. The record‘s release garnered the strong reviews Galaxie 500 was used to, and powered the band up for its first extensive American tour and the UK festival circuit.
Rumors of internal upset in the group proved true in 1991. After the tour supporting This is Our Music Wareham phoned Krukowski and Yang to announce he was leaving the group. Soon after, Rough Trade went out of business, taking the group‘s three releases, and any royalties, with it. Wareham launched a successful band, called Luna, and Krukowski and Yang regrouped first as Pierre Etoile, then as Damon and Naomi, and played in the group Magic Hour. In 1991, Krukowski acquired Galaxie 500‘s original master tapes at an auction of Rough Trade‘s assets. From those tapes, Rykodisc released a live album recorded in Copenhagen, a Galaxie 500 box set, and the band‘s albums once again went into print.
Today, Rykodisc, 1988.
On Fire, Rykodisc, 1989.
This Is Our Music, Rykodisc, 1990.
Galaxie 500, Rykodisc, 1996.
Copenhagen (live), Rykodisc, 1997.
Portable Galaxie 500, Rykodisc, 1998.
Chemical Imbalance, Issue 8, 1988.
Spin, December 1989.
“Galaxie 500,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 30, 2001).
“Galaxie 500,” Rykodisc, http://www.rykodisc.com (March 30, 2001).
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