An Interview With Galactic: A Veteran Band’s Thoughts On Sticking Together Through 18 Festival Seasons
With their funky New Orleans sound worked out annually at the city’s Mardis Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations, there has been eighteen years worth of solid festival seasons for Galactic. As we approach the summer, the band will see action at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, High Sierra, Forecastle, All Good, Floyd Fest, Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, moe.down and at least five other festivals, and are currently immersed in a fest-like four night stand at Brooklyn Bowl. The Barn sat down with Galactic’s Robert Mercurio and Jeff Raines at, where else, Illinois’ Summer Camp Festival, to discuss the art of the festival and this season’s schedule, touring in support of their latest album, Carnivale Electricos, and being a “senior member” of the circuit.
For a veteran band like Galactic, today’s festival landscape is a lot different from the early days. Mercurio explains, “It’s different than when we first started touring. We used to be onsite all day, seeing everything. Sadly enough, nowadays we’re flying in the same day and we’re lucky if we get to see one other group.”
But the program at Summer Camp did offer a few interesting opportunities. Mercurio had just come from a performance with the all-star Everyone Orchestra in the air-conditioned Barn and hoped to catch Jane’s Addiction headline the festival that evening before flying out.
As notorious collaborators, Galactic have utilized festivals as a breeding ground for ideas and for identifying new partners-in-crime (they’ve been touring with Living Colour’s Corey Glover and invited Dirty Dozen Brass Band to join the fun at their Summer Camp set). “You make a lot of friends. [Festival season] is a time when you meet new people and also get reacquainted. At Everyone Orchestra, a couple of the guys from moe. were around and we were catching up on old times before the set.”
“We did the Summer Sessions tour [in 1999] with String Cheese Incident, moe. and Gov’t Mule. That probably came together when we were at some festival together and our managers all thought it was a great idea.”
“It’s a bit of a reunion every year,” Raines adds. “You see some of these bands that we’ve known for 15 years now.”
“When we did the hip-hop album, From The Corner To The Block, about half those tracks featured artists that we already collaborated with,” Mercurio said. “That whole album really came out of a bunch of sit-ins and people that we had met along the road.”
Then there’s the ultimate cross-pollinating event, the Jam Cruise (Galactic will once again be on board for the 12th version of the festival-at-sea this January). Mercurio is exuberant in his praise: “It’s like the first day of school when you see everybody. Everybody’s coming and going at a festival, most bands will be here one day or only a few hours. On the boat, you’re all there for five days. It’s a great time to kick back, chat. You know you’ve got all night.”
From Summer Camp, the band will head to Brooklyn, for a mini-residency at one of the borough’s most intriguing venues, Brooklyn Bowl. The band welcomes the change of pace. Mercurio explains: “We usually play one big show in New York per year, but this is like playing a small room — it gives our fans up there a different look.”
“With four nights, you’ve got to go deeper into your catalog obviously so that’s a cool thing for our die-hard fans,” Raines notes, clearly anticipating the run. “If you play a big show and just play from your current album it’s one thing. But New York, it’s such a big area and hopefully people that make a trip and get to see a few more unusual things.”
Speaking of the current album, its hybrid of Mardis Gras and Carnivale traditions was an area where the band treaded carefully. Raines: “I’ve always been a little scared to go that route. We just didn’t want to get into the whole Latin Jazz thing — that was my red flag.”
Mercurio clarifies, “We were all scared of that. This wasn’t supposed to be ‘and now we play Latin‘. We were trying to use the influences sparingly and pepper what we were doing with that.”
What emerged was a pretty successful blend of styles, “We put Brazilian beats on top of ‘Carnival Time’ which is a New Orleans classic. There is only one tune that’s straight up Latin.”
When we caught up with Galactic earlier this spring, they were actually being followed by a reality TV crew; however, the project never really got any traction. “I don’t think we were too captivating,” Raines offers in a self-deprecating manner.
At least the experience offered the opportunity for some self-analysis. “You start thinking about it… are we entertaining?” Mercurio ponders. “The second you strap a mic on us and turn on the cameras, it’s so hard to forget that they’re there. I’m sure it happens naturally eventually but (when we did it), nobody wanted to say anything.”
“We’re also getting older so it’s not that exciting. We’re sitting there eating granola and shit. Get some fiber!” Raines laughs. “I could see a show like that working with a young band, experiencing that rise when you first start having success on the road.”
“A band like Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue pops to mind — a band that’s on that ascent. They’re still young and this is all new and crazy.”
There is a real sense of pride when asked about the band’s longevity. “It’s quite a feat to stay together for just three or four years. We are partaking in a successful marriage, which aren’t very common,” Mercurio says.
“It’s about maintaining the friendship,” Raines picks up on his friend’s thoughts. “There haven’t been any great wars amongst the band mates. I have trouble understanding bands like The Eagles who hate each other’s guts so much that they can’t even be in the same room together. That’s their legacy now!”
Mercurio chimes in, chuckling, “Really?! It’s just playing music. It’s not like it’s so bad!”