Born out of the intense heat, oppressive humidity, and unique rhythmic sense that marks New Orleans, Galactic burst onto the city’s scene in 1994. Through near-constant touring, the six-member band has continued to build a name for itself among critics and fans alike, crossing over into jazz, funk, and jam-band environments. Early on, the band described its sound as “swamp funk,” a term originally coined to define the sound of such bayou-bred, funk-fed artists as Doctor John, Chocolate Milk, and Galactic’s avowed idols, the Meters.
More crucial to swamp funk than atmosphere, though, is the singularly syncopated New Orleans rhythm, known traditionally as playing the “second-line.” Rather than placing the beat on the one, second-line hits it on the four/one, or the “and-a-one” beat. “It’s New Orleans syncopation and that sensibility of space, which basically we sort of copped from the Meters,” guitarist Jeff Raines told Orlando Weekly.
Originally known as Galactic Prophylactic, a reference to an Eddie Murphy skit on Saturday Night Live in the early 1980s, the band was formed by Washington, D.C., transplants Robert Mercurio and Raines, both of whom chose to attend college in New Orleans for musical, rather than academic, reasons. Mercurio attended Tulane and Raines chose Loyola, where he met future Galactic drummer and New Orleans native Stanton Moore. Although his professional career began with a rock band, Moore brought an eclectic resume to Galactic. He had been trained at New Orleans’ Young People’s Jazz Forum, held at music hot spot Tipitina’s.
There, he worked with such percussion luminaries as Phil Parnell, Richard Payne, and Johnny Vidacovich, with whom Moore went on to take private lessons. To bone up on his funk influences, Moore began following Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste closely and worked as a de facto tech for legendary local drummer Russell Batiste.
As the D.C. natives became more serious about focusing on the New Orleans sound, they shortened their name and picked up, in addition to Moore, organist and keyboardist Rich Vogel, who grew up in Omaha. The group worked with a rotating cadre of horn players and eventually made Los Angeles transplant Ben Ellman, former member of the Little Rascals Brass Band and co-founder of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars (which also featured Moore), the group’s permanent saxophonist.
Although originally intended as an instrumental outfit, the band collaborated with veteran New Orleans vocalist Theryl “Houseman” deClouet on a handful of the tracks for Coolin’ Off and have continued to feature the singer more prominently with each successive record. DeClouet tours with the band as well. “He became the ‘special guest,’ and it’s still kind of like that,” Mercurio told OffBEAT magazine. “He’s a permanent ‘special guest.’” Twenty years older than the rest of Galactic’s members, deClouet brought both experience and clout to the band—his neighbors growing up in New Orleans included the Neville Brothers and Allen Toussaint.
The combination of five young, energetic, tradition-steeped instrumentalists and a skilled and versatile vocalist made for a unique sound that, with the release of Coolin’ Off and nonstop touring to support it, made waves worldwide. “I think [our use of traditional New Orleans rhythms] is unique in terms of this band because that’s sort of a lost art in terms of the second-line beat and all that. There’s not a lot of drummers out there who have learned to do that. Even in New Orleans, that’s pretty rare, actually, in terms of the younger generation,” Raines told Orlando Weekly. Their uniquely stamped throwback sound mixed with modern-day danceable funk garnered the band early notice in such venerable sources as the New York Times. “Galactic is steeped in the New Orleans funk concocted by the Meters and the Neville Brothers . Lean bass lines, stuttering drumbeats, chords placed cooly on the backbeat and melodies like bluesy epigrams add up to some of the most danceable music on earth,” wrote Jon Pareles. All Music Guide’s Greg Prato called the album “an excellent debut from a band that is destined for great things.”
Although succeeded by two well-received follow-ups, Crazyhorse Mongoose and Late for the Future, Galactic built its name not through studio releases but with an ambitious touring schedule marked by lengthy sets that changed nightly. The band’s winding, soulful, improvised sets drew a major following among jam-band
Members include Theryl deClouet, vocals; Ben Ellman, saxophone; Robert Mercurio, bass; Stanton Moore, drums, Jeff Raines, guitar; Rich Vogel, organ, keyboards.
Group formed in New Orleans, LA, 1994; released first album, Coolin’ Off, on San Francisco’s Fog City records, 1996; signed to Capricorn, re-released Cool’in Off, Crazyhorse Mongoose, 1998; released Late for the Future, 2000; contributed music to film Rated X, 2000; Capricorn sold to BMG-backed Volcano; Volcano released live album We Love ’Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s, 2001; and Vintage Reserve boxed set, 2003.
Addresses: Management—Superfly Management, 4824 Prytania St., New Orleans, LA 70115, e-mail: [email protected], website: http://www.superflypresents.com. Website—Galactic Official Website: http://www.galacticfunk.com.
crowds, and the group has become a mainstay on such jam-band tours as the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, and, of course, their hometown New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. “We realized when we started out that our music would not have mainstream commercial acceptance,” Vogel told Rolling Stone. “We’re not a band making a living off of record sales, or anything else at this point. Our live show is definitely who we are and how we’ve found our place at having a life in music at all.”
While they resist labels and comparisons to other so-called jam bands—such as the String Cheese Incident and Dark Star Orchestra, or even the more popular Blues Traveler and Dave Matthews Band—Galactic does see that their method of playing live gigs differs from that of the standard pop group. “I think it has more to do with approach than musical style,” Vogel told OffBEAT. “Playing a lot, and playing long sets that lend themselves to stretching out into improvisations. I see it as sort of the antithesis of the pop model, where it’s really just about promoting the record, and performance is more of a promotional thing to try and sell the record, basically performing the record verbatim and then maybe throwing in a couple covers.”
“We intentionally took a lot of those ‘jam band’ touring ethics from the beginning,” Mercurio said in the same article. “We said, ‘All right, we’re going to do a mailing list, the Internet thing, tour constantly, try to play differntly every night.’”
In 2001 the recording and live sides of Galactic melded on the album We Love ’Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s, recorded at the famous New Orleans hot spot and released by BMG-financed Volcano, which had purchased Capricorn. Testimony to Galactic’s crossover appeal, the album hit number three on Billboard magazine’s Top Contemporary Jazz Album chart. Volcano then dropped the band from its roster, though it later released the 2003 boxed set, Vintage Reserve. All Music Guide’s Thorn Jurek noted that Vintage Reserve “feels more like a fifth Galactic album than a best-of,” and he called it “one of the party records of the year.”
While We Love ’Em Tonight hinted at a more rock-oriented direction for the band, Moore indicated in a 2002 OffBEAT article that a return to Galactic’s New Orleans roots is likely in order. “We’ve come full circle,” he said. “We’re back to funk, but we’re now incorporating all of our influences of the past couple years in a more subtle manner.” The resulting album, Ruckus, was released in late 2003 on the Sanctuary label. Thorn Jurek praised the album and the new direction the band took (using electronic loops, keyboards, and extreme bass beats) in All Music Guide: “This is music as the deconstruction of a sonic palette, as the destruction, death, and rebirth of a band . Galactic is all the better for its brave new world direction.” Jurek concluded, “Highly recommended.”
Members of Galactic have begun to make names for themselves as solo artists as well. DeClouet released The Houseman Cometh! on the Bullseye Blues label in 2001. Moore has released two albums, All Kooked Out! on Fog City and Flyin’the Kbop on renowned jazz label Verve. The drummer also leads his own group, Moore Is More. Despite the title of the latter album, Moore assured OffBEAT that he had no plans to leave Galactic. “Galactic is a band, and having a band concept is something I really dig,” he said. “I like being able to get on stage every night and be with the guys that I love to play with.”
Coolin’ Off, Fog City, 1996; reissued, Capricorn, 1998.
Crazyhorse Mongoose, Capricorn, 1998.
Late for the Future, Capricorn, 2000.
We Love ’Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s, Volcano, 2001.
Vintage Reserve, Volcano, 2003.
Ruckus, Sanctuary, 2003.
New York Times, April 17, 2000.
OffBEAT, December 1996; March 2002.
Orlando Weekly, October 6, 1997.
Rolling Stone, April 23, 2002.
“Galactic,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (September 9, 2003).
Galactic Official Website, http://www.galacticfunk.com (September 9, 2003).
ga·lac·tic / gəˈlaktik/ • adj. of or relating to a galaxy or galaxies, esp. the Milky Way galaxy. ∎ Astron. measured relative to the galactic equator.