Luna play the type of dreamy, albeit catchy songs that music snobs pride themselves on having discovered before anyone else did. So it's a wonder that the New York indie-rockers—more than two decades since their formation—are still a band whose name evokes hipster cred. They never quite rode a wave of commercial success, instead landing somewhere in between underground nonconformists and influential innovators. But in a way, that's all part of the charm.
As the band embarks on the last dates of their reunion tour, Luna founder and frontman Dean Wareham says they're more cohesive than they've ever been. Perhaps that's because there is no pressure to promote an album, and also because they've matured as individuals since breaking up in 2004.
"I can't think of any date on tour that wasn't fun," says Wareham, who adds that he anticipates eating some fish tacos when the band stops in San Diego for the first time since 2004. "We just go to places we feel like we're going to do well. In San Diego, we had a lot of people asking when we were going to come."
Luna's reunion was sparked by rumors that circulated throughout Spain late last year, causing a Spanish promoter to make them an offer of a two-week series of concerts. When offers for American dates followed, Luna was officially resurrected. Although Wareham maintains that the reunion is casual, he also says it's something the members may have been planning subconsciously.
"Britta says she started the rumor," Wareham laughs, referring to bassist Britta Phillips, who is also his wife. "But I think maybe it was in the back of our minds. It was the ten-year mark and itís this round number that makes you think."
While the band, which also includes guitarist Sean Eden and drummer Lee Wall, doesn't have any plans for a new album, the U.S. tour has helped reignite Luna's chemistry and enthusiasm.
During their heyday, Luna never quite rose to a level of fame fans think they could or should have. Wareham attributes their lack of commercial success to their musical style, which embraced neither mainstream '90s genres, nor an overt pop sensibility. So while they stayed true to their musical tendencies, Wareham admits it may have come at a cost.
"Sometimes it's a struggle to make a living but looking back, I don't know—the kind of music we were doing, and the lyrics—were these songs really going to get played on the radio, on the commercial radio? I don't think so."
Despite Wareham's deferential outlook on Luna's catalogue, the band's songs did resonate with a lot of people. Listening to them now, one could describe them as being reminiscent of The Velvet Underground stuck in a '90s time warp with Television-inspired guitar textures and hypnotic, half-spoken vocals. Rolling Stone magazine once called them "the best band you've never heard of." Wareham's point though remains apparent: Their freedom and creative control didn't always equate to job security.
"I'm sure it would have been nice for everyone if we had a hit, I don't know anyone who wouldn't want more money in the bank account," Wareham says. "Luckily, we were able to do what we wanted to do most of the time."
Luna plays December 29 at The Casbah
Even before Luna, Wareham had a respectable history of doing what he wanted. Prior to the band's formation in 1991, he played guitar in the now-beloved dream-pop trio Galaxie 500. After the band parted ways, he honed his vocal skills in Luna, leaving behind the louder, high-pitched voice he sometimes used in Galaxie 500, and opted for a contemplative, wry singing style.
Luna released four albums with Elektra Records, and three albums thereafter via Jetset Records. But as the Luna's sound expanded, their dynamic devolved, leading to their 2004 break up. Wareham and Phillips soldiered on as indie-rock duo Dean & Britta, but Wareham says he still remembers the initial sting of Luna coming to an end.
"I don't know, it seems like bands are supposed to break up," he says. "It becomes complicated to organize your whole life around a band. At the time it was like our lives were ending or something, but you realize life goes on."
Wareham says drummer Lee Wall now calls the reunited band a "kinder, gentler Luna" with matured members who have consciously eliminated grudges. As they prepare for their return to The Casbah, Wareham reflects on the past 30 years as a musician, noting that he played with Galaxie 500 at The Casbah circa 1990 and again with Luna in 2004.
As Wareham reflects on these memories of tours past, his mood elicits the lyrics from the Luna song "20 Minutes in Brussels," in which he ponders, "Tell me, do you miss me?" Based on how the tour has gone so far, that would appear to be a resounding yes.
"It's nice to walk out of say, The Fillmore, and there's 1,200 people who are just super excited to see the band and hear the songs," Wareham says. "Especially if they thought they wouldn't get to see you live again."