Galactic, like the city they hail from (New Orleans), are purveyors of rich, intricate, spirit-stirring, and joyful music. Ever feeling down – put on their record Carnivales Electricos. If you don’t feel the Mardi Gras spirit coursing through your veins, and your entire attitude completely changed for the better — you might not be alive.
For the past 20 years Galactic has been capturing the essence of New Orleans – blending all sorts of styles and sounds into a jambalaya of beautiful music. This outfit, whose line-up has remained nearly unchanged for two decades, is constantly working at their craft. On their latest album, Into the Deep, they changed up their writing and recording styles, and brought in talented guest stars, both famed and unheralded, to create their latest masterwork.
Recently, we caught up with the iconic drummer of Galactic, Stanton Moore. While traveling through New England, Moore spoke to us about the band’s new record Into the Deep, the band’s longevity, the importance of New Orleans to their sound, and their new festival The Landing.
You dropped your latest record, Into the Deep earlier this summer, how do you feel this record stands out from your previous record Carnivales Electricos and the rest of the classic Galactic catalog?
For the last three records we’ve had a concept. Carnivales Electricos was definitely the carnival and Mardi Gras elements of New Orleans. Before that with Ya-Ka-May that was focused being our “New Orleans” record. And before that, From the Corner to the Block was focused on MC’s. All of those records had a unifying concept. With this record we decided not to necessarily to focus so intently on a concept, but allow ourselves to write in a way that was not as restricted by a concept. Also, in the last couple of years we’ve developed a stable of people we are confident and comfortable with when writing. Ryan Montbleau, David Shaw, JJ Grey, Jim Greer — all the people we were able to call upon to write.
I feel that process has gotten a lot more streamlined, a lot better. I think the songs on the record are better. We were able to get people like Mavis Staples and Macy Gray [to perform on the record] this time around, which was great. The songwriting was strong, and I think this is our best record yet. I feel we keep getting stronger and stronger with each record. The process keeps getting more refined. We also wanted to get back to on playing together rather than production. Although, there is a bit of it [production] here, we wanted to get back to the organic approach of playing together where the instruments sound like they should. Whereas before we were playing with vintage instruments, but really experimenting with the tones – putting different filters and effects on them to get them to sound like you wouldn’t expect them to.
You mentioned the guest stars on the record. How does that translate to a live performance? You can’t bring someone like JJ Grey out on tour with you – he’s got his own new record and tour. How do you compensate for that – I can imagine his voice and style is unique – how do you replace that?
We have Erica Falls performing with us now. She’s been singing with us since October. She’s from New Orleans, and we’ve known her for a while because she was singing with our trombone plater Corey Henry. Having her has been amazing because she can sing everything Mavis and Macy have sung but also the songs sung by male vocalists. She’s been killing those as well. This is probably the first record in a while where we’ve been able to do all the material. That’s exciting. When we did From the Corner to the Block we had different MCs on the tour – we’d travel two or three of them. Some of the MC’s we just couldn’t. Actually, I realized there’s one track off the album we don’t play and that’s the one featuring Brushy One String (“Chicken in the Corn”). The vibe of the track is all about him, so that’s the one track we aren’t playing live. We have done it with him when he opened for us. But, it’s been exciting to play all the material, and get positive reaction on the record.
I read that during the creation of this album you all wrote stuff individually and then came to together and collaborated. How does that work? I would feel, given your style and sound, it would be everyone’s interested to be in the room and you all figure it out.
In some ways it streamlines the process. When you have the band altogether and you’re trying to improvise it kind of sounds just like noodling (laughs). Often times we start off with the drums with a beat then Rob [Mercurio] might put down his bass to it or Jeff [Raines] might add a guitar. Then things to start to progress that way. [When everyone’s in the room] we found that tends to get a bit chaotic. It’s easier to start putting things together piece by piece instead of throwing things against the wall and hoping something sticks. We still impressive but one at a time. Maybe Jeff will go in throw in a bunch of guitar ideas over something Rob and I have put down. Then we start building things that way. Then we hand it to a vocalist we think would fit the track. We ask them to write stuff down and we go back and forth with them. It’s a very collaborative process the whole way. It takes a little bit of time, but we’re really honing in the process and we’re becoming better at it.
Getting back to the guest stars who’s someone that doesn’t get enough recognition?
Ryan Montbleau definitely is one of those guys. He’s a great songwriter, singer, soulful guy. I don’t think a lot of people have heard him yet. We had him compose that tune with us and we were trying to find someone to sing it, but we were running out of time. We thought he sounded great on the demos so we wanted to give him the shot to sing it. I definitely think Ryan is one of those cats.
Here’s a bit of a convoluted question. We’re based in New Jersey, and any band that comes from this state often gets the state’s name attached to them. For example, bands like The Gaslight Anthem or The Bouncing Souls always had/have a Jersey reference attached to them like ‘Jersey’s own Gaslight Anthem’ or ‘Jersey punks The Bouncing Souls.’ And of course, Springsteen and New Jersey are bound forever. These bands wear this with pride and it reflects in their music. Is that the same way with bands from New Orleans?
Oh absolutely. We’re very proud to be a band from New Orleans. We definitely draw on that from a continuing basis. We’ve always got an ear on what’s going on and we’re trying to incorporate it like the ‘bounce’ stuff with Big Freedia and Katy Red. We’ll do stuff like that, but also going out and checking out a new brass band. I think we’re all drawing inspiration from New Orleans. We’re not only okay with it, but there is a whole alliance of us. We’ve kind of become, and we’re proud of it, the Tipitina’s house band. We play all the major holiday shows – Halloween, New Year’s Eve, Monday Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras), Jazz Fest. All the big nights of the year we’re at Tips. It’s the flagship for New Orleans music. We’re aware of that.
Speaking of Tiptina’s you’ll be doing the first-ever The Landing Festival which they’re producing. Are you guys curating the fest or are you just headlining?
We’re definitely curating it. Us, our management and Tips as well. We’re not just doing the music but the food, the layout, the site. We’re trying to be very hands on with the process.
A little off topic, but there’s just so many outdoor festivals these days, do you think people are going to tire with this model anytime soon?
Good question. It’s hard to say. There are some festivals that are doing amazingly well, but there’s always new ones popping up every year, and who knows if they’re going to stick. The festival model is something people dig and is not going away.
Jazz Fest will never go away for sure. Are you guys building The Landing to be on an ongoing New Orleans institution or is this a one-time thing?
We definitely want to build it. We’re trying to build it not like anything that is currently going on in New Orleans. Just by some of the music we’re programming from us to Grace Potter to Eagles of Death Metal. We don’t want to make it like Jazz Fest or Voodoo, we want to make it our own presentation. And the food too. We travel all over the world, so we’re trying to pick our favorite dishes from New Orleans.
Changing gears…you guys have been together for the 20 years. What’s the secret sauce that’s kept you guys together?
First and foremost – we all get along or at least try to (laughs). We put a lot of effort into trying to keep the music interesting and growing and evolving. You’ll find that our records, hopefully, are all different. And for some people that’s hard to digest. They want they saw last year or the last record to the ‘old school’ Galactic. I think it’s essential if a project is to have longevity it has to evolve and the people in it have to evolve and you can’t lose the audience along the way.
What do you personally love about Galactic?
It’s fun. The energy level is fun. The music we play together is fun. We’re always having new collaborations to work on. It’s been a very fun project for me for 20 years.