Thurston Moore himself called Galaxie 500’s pioneering debut record, Today, “the guitar record of 1988.” Considering 1988 marked the release of Sonic Youth’s landmark Daydream Nation and Dinosaur Jr’s pedal-stomping sludgefest Bug, that bold proclamation by Moore was indeed a revelation. But it was right on the proverbial mark.
Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski formed Galxie 500 at Harvard in 1986, and immeasurably defined the college rock aesthetic with their gorgeously morose yet epic dreamgaze. The debonair Wareham matched his ascending, gyrating guitar solo-age with a shrieky, delicate croon of girl-swooning proportions and, after three records, departed Galaxie 500 in 1991. He then formed the exquisite and hilariously snarky Luna, whose run ended in 2005. After that, Wareham teamed with bassist (and wife) Britta Phillips for a string of records and penned a candid memoir, Black Postcards. For the last year or so, Wareham has revisited his Galaxie 500 catalog, with sets devoted exclusively to his old band’s classic material. But Wareham is retiring that nostalgia act after his current tour, instead focusing on his first solo album under his own name.
Sound of the City spoke to Wareham on the phone while on tour to talk about his solo album, ending the Galaxie 500 sets, and moving to Brooklyn.
Tonight is the last time you’re doing the “Dean sings Galaxie 500 songs” sets in New York?
Oh, yeah, it’s the last [one]. We’re doing it somewhere else. We’re doing it in Los Angeles in September.
Why did you decide to retire it?
Well, I’ve just been doing this for a little over a year now… it was an idea for [a festival] and I think it was a good idea, but I just don’t want to keep doing it.
Yeah, you’ve been doing the Galaxie 500 sets for a while now.
Yeah, I didn’t want to do it forever but and they just asked me “Oh, will Dean do this?” and I was like “Oh, okay.” But it’s not like I’m going to stop playing these songs completely. I will continue to play the songs but I’m just not going to do the particular set where it’s only Galaxie 500.
Have you gauged more excitement from your audience doing the Galaxie 500 sets as opposed to a Dean and Britta set?
There was excitement because mostly I hadn’t played these songs for about twenty years. Just for myself, seeing for myself as a fan of certain other music, when you go see them play and never, ever expected to hear the songs performed live by them, it’s exciting. I went and saw Glen Campbell recently, and to me, that was thrilling, and I think some people get that same thrill out of these [Galaxie 500 songs]. And so, to a certain extent, do I. It was fun.
But you’re still going to perform Galaxie 500 songs after this; just not the whole set.
Will you be doing a “Dean sings Luna” set now after the success of doing the Galaxie 500 set?
No, I don’t think so. With Galaxie 500, we were a trio but I was the voice and the guitar and I could pull that off. But I feel like with Luna, I’d really want to have Sean [Eden] there.
What are the chances of you playing again with Sean happening?
Well, you know what, we’re actually—we’re not talking about a Luna reunion or anything—but we’re playing this benefit on Long Island [tomorrow night] and Sean is going to play like four or five songs with us. So, we see him; we’re still on good terms. I wouldn’t rule out that we’d play shows together or something.
So you and Britta will be playing a benefit at Mulcahy’s in Long Island this Saturday. Have you played there before?
Maybe not… maybe not an actual show on Long Island. I can’t remember. I could be wrong. [The benefit came out] when I actually kinda met these guys because I was selling a guitar on Craigslist and this guy who came over to pick up my guitar and he was like “Hey, You’re Dean Wareham” and I said “Yes, I am” and he then got in touch and he asked [me] just to play this foundation for his brother, who had died in an accident very young. He was a huge Luna fan and so they try to have a benefit with music that he liked or would have liked and the proceeds from this will go to the camp where he worked.
And Sean will be playing with you at the benefit?
When he said his brother was a huge Luna fan, I was like “Maybe Sean can play with us.”
Dean and Britta on Yo Gabba Gabba!
Obviously, you’ve probably seen all the reunions that have happened over the years. Did you ever think to yourself “Now is a good time to resurrect Luna?”
[laughs] I think it’s too soon. It feels like we only just broke up. But it has been probably like seven or eight years. I’m not sure if a lot of bands get back together that quickly.
You’ll have to reunite Luna on the 10th or 15th anniversary of the breakup or something.
There’s an idea.
Getting back to the Galaxie 500 stuff. Was Britta psyched to play those songs or maybe intimidated?
I think both. I think she really enjoyed it. She had to work quite hard on the bass lines. We all had to work hard on actually figuring out how to play the songs. You would think they are very simple because all of them are only three-chord songs. But they are deceptive that way—hard to make them work… live.
It’s been a few years now since the release of your memoir, Black Postcards. Looking back now, any regret about anything you put in the book?
Yeah, I have a few. There were sentences I went back and corrected for the paperback. There were a few little things I wish I hadn’t said, but mostly there were little things that I accidentally insulted somebody where I probably should have thought a little more carefully. I mean, [laughing] I think I was really pretty careful about what I said about band-mates and, you know, my ex-wives and girlfriends, and stuff like that… although there was only one ex-wife—not a plural [laughs]. But the people who are going to be insulted are not the ones you are worried who are gonna be real mad at you. It’s someone who’s gonna call you and be like “I can’t believe you said that.” But it’s just like they are only mentioned in one little sentence and you’re just like “Oh, yeah, well, I’m sorry but if you read the rest of the book, you would understand I kinda take that tone with myself.” [laughs]
Did you lose any friends over anything you put in the book?
I had a one-off friend who was pissed off at me about something. That’s a shame, but I think it’s hard to write a book without pissing somebody off and no matter what you write a book about—I could write a book about, you know, Henry VIII, and it would piss somebody off. I think the difference between writing lyrics or poetry or fiction of some kind and writing non-fiction is it’s kinda brave. I have respect—for even journalists who have to do it—because you put yourself out there in a different way and people come back at you and get mad at you.
Would you ever consider writing fiction?
I don’t think I’d ever read a novel by me. I would rather read Philip Roth. But maybe I’ll do it… no. I’m not ready yet. I’ve written a couple of little, short thing. Writing is slow for me. I just wrote something for Salon and I wrote something for The Paris Review last year online. That was a little tour diary thing about playing the Galaxie 500 songs in Japan. It just takes me a long time [to write].
What are you up to as far as new music goes?
I’ve been recording towards a solo album—a Dean Wareham album, which I haven’t done before.
Will you release it yourself via your Double Feature Records imprint?
I don’t know; it hasn’t been determined yet. I’ve been talking to a couple of people. I do have that option of doing it on my own label. The last thing we did was the soundtrack to this Andy Warhol Screen Test project, and we did that on our own label. It was only a quiet release but it’s interesting to watch the checks come in directly and actually getting paid having it come straight to you.
Yeah, you don’t really need record labels anymore.
Yeah, but on the other hand, you know, a label with a few people who will work hard on your record—that is worth something, actually.
There are still some good labels out there.
Yeah, and it’s a lot of work. This is the thing about DIY—about doing it yourself, this indie band ethos. It’s a lot of work and it’s kind of like you’re running a little business and each release is a ton of paperwork and stuff to do, so… [laughing]
One of the main points of contention you covered at length in Black Postcards was your experiences—much negative—at record labels.
That’s interesting because now having putting out a few things myself on a label, I look at all the people I’ve worked with and I guess, occasionally, there was a problem but mostly these are people who are working really hard, especially at indie labels, and they are not making a lot money. They’re doing it because they care about the music… hopefully. The best ones are, anyway.
How deep are you into doing your solo album?
I have recorded about eight tracks and still got overdubs and mixing to do and maybe I need a couple more songs. I’m doing this with Jason Quever from Papercuts, who’s producing. It’s Britta playing bass and the drummer we’ve been using for about five years, Anthony LaMarca. He plays drums, guitars and keyboards. He plays everything—he plays everything better than we do [laughs]. And then Jason from Papercuts himself—he’s been playing on it, too.
What will the new record sound like?
I think it sounds different. It’s hard for me to tell yet exactly how. It’s not like I’ve gone and made a dance record.
You’ve lived in New York forever. Do you still live in Manhattan?
I live in Brooklyn now, for three years. We live in Prospect Heights. I like Brooklyn but I was very hesitant to leave the East Village, where I was living. It was a big decision. But ultimately, I think I decided that… I had this romantic attachment to a place that didn’t exist anymore in the East Village and it was just horrendous there on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It used to be quiet and you’d be able to get taxis. Now, everyone just descends onto that area to pee on your door [laughs].
So you’re digging Brooklyn?
Yeah, it’s great.
And all the high-rise luxury condos built seemingly overnight, plus you’ve been living downtown for a long time.
Yes, it’s true. I used to live in NoHo on Bleecker and Mott forever ,and that was just desolate. I would say “I live in NoHo and people would say ‘Where is that?'” Now, that area has become just like a mall.
Can you recall any of the glory days of New York City that is memorable for you?
I don’t know what the glory days of New York are. For me, I went to high school in New York City in the late ’70s, so to me those are kind of the glory days. Musically and that’s when the Village was even scarier, obviously, in the ’70s and ’80s. There were streets you didn’t want to walk down.
Did you hang at CBGB?
Yeah, I went to a few shows at CB’s when I was in high school. Then, I guess, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was kinda vibrant again and it played as an important club functioning in New York. They had a good booker—Louise. I think she may be involved with this CBGBs Festival. Then they kinda slipped back into just doing like five or six bands a night and whatever—becoming sort of a tourist place.
You also played Maxwell’s often, I remember. I recall seeing an early Luna show at Tramps in 1992 and Wake Ooloo [a Feelies offshoot band] opened.
Oh, right. I do remember that night because somebody told me that John Lydon was there. But they saw him leaving after three songs [laughing] to which Stanley [Demeski], our drummer, replied “Yeah, well, I would walk out of Public Image after three songs, too.” [laughing]
Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500 at [le] Poisson Rouge tonight; Dean and Britta play Mulcahy’s on Saturday with The War on Drugs as part of the Tommy Brull Foundation presents the Shine A Light Music Festival.