In pseudo-story book fashion, Galactic's members descended on the streets of New Orleans in the early '90s in search of music and educations. They found their band-a funk-driven free-for-all that's gaining prominence in the underground jam scene.
Originally without a frontman, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines, keyboardist Rich Vogel, saxophonist Ben Ellman and drummer Rich Vogel dedicated their efforts toward instrumental funk.
It wasn't until 1996, when Galactic signed a record deal with Capricorn Records, that producer Dan Prothero thought it would be a good idea to get some vocals on some of the cuts. They picked up singer Theryl “The Houseman” de Clouet.
New Orleans' musical history is as thick as the humid, murky, smoggy air that hangs over the city's downtown district. Names like the Meters and the Neville Brothers loom almost as large, and the influences naturally seep into nearly every new ensemble.
“A drummer from New Orleans will always sound like a drummer from New Orleans,” Mercurio jokes.
After adding Clouet and recording their debut, Coolin' Off, Galactic racked as many tour dates as other road warriors like Phish, Widespread Panic and Dave Matthews Band.
Like a veggie burrito-hawking Voltron, these bands often joined together for legendary summer concert tours like the H.O.R.D.E. and Mountain High Music festivals. Many of the relationships endured, and as other bands gained huge success, Galactic was often invited to open up the party for Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh and Little Feat. Opening slots like these can do a lot to offset the fact that commercial radio and MTV won't touch a jam band like Galactic.
“A lot of our success has come from touring because the people that go to Panic and Phish shows tend to be a little more open-minded and willing to experiment listening to different music,” Mercurio jokes. “We've never really had any really record label push. It's all due to touring, having people tell their friends, and that's been key through all of our success.”
While the “jam band” label might earn you a fist in the face from Mercurio, he has a tough time disregarding its relevance. Like jam bands, Galactic uses their songs as mere foundations for experimentation.
“It kind of sucks... People ask you, ‘Oh, you're like a Grateful Dead?'” Mercurio explains. “For me, it's a method of performing and trying to create something new on stage. If you just repeat the same song over and over it sucks for the audience and it sucks for the band because the music gets stale.”
In order to keep themselves artistically fresh, Galactic maintains an open relationship. Many of the members have taken time off between the harrying road schedule to pursue side projects. The side projects, in turn, spur new directions for Galactic.
“Sonically, we're getting away from the traditional set-up of the band-you can't always paint in yellow and blue,” Mercurio says, noting that Galactic's been getting into drum 'n' bass lately.
For the moment, the band is without a record label and is riding off the success of their live recording We Love 'Em Tonight, which sampled the band's bluesy Louisiana jazz jams over three nights at their renowned New Orleans court, Tipitina's. Meanwhile, they're working on the studio follow-up to 2000's Late for the Future.
“The new record has a different vibe from the beginning to end,” Mercurio says. “It kind of has a heavier, non-traditional funk vibe that is going to be something uniquely Galactic.”