From Saturday night's dirty dancehall grind to Sunday morning's holy ghost spiritual, music remains pivotal to the Big Easy mentality. Sprouting from the bedrock foundation of bayou sounds ranging from Louis Armstrong to The Funky Meters, swamp funk sextet Galactic pays homage its New Orleans heritage while keeping it rooted in the 21st century.
Existing in its own temporal trinity, past, present, future, the band melds old-school sounds with a taste of DJ culture, electronica and a touch of slick production on its new album, Ruckus.
Galactic employed the services of fellow future-man and producer par excellence Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (Gorillaz, Lovage), who brought a fresh perspective to the group's songwriting and recording process.
"His whole thing was, I'm probably going to make your songs even simpler than they normally are, concise, strong tunes with strong, recognizable melodies," Galactic keyboardist Rich Vogel said of Nakamura's contribution. "We definitely were focusing more on making things concise and relatively to the point. There are no really long solos, there are hardly any solos at all. It's all about beats and melodies."
Looking for flexibility that renting studio time just doesn't allow, Galactic recently built its own studio, which allowed them to leisurely develop melodies and hone in on the beats that matched Ruckus the best.
"Just having your own place is a completely different scenario," said Vogel. "We weren't on the clock, thinking about how much money [we were] wasting. You can take some time and try different things. It's invaluable to have your own place."
Having their own studio should increase the band's output. Since 1996, Vogel, along with bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines, drummer Stanton Moore, sax player Ben Ellman and vocalist Theryl "Houseman" Clouet, have built a solid following through constant touring. Despite a grueling road itinerary that averages 150 to 170 shows a year, Galactic took time this year to develop new sounds, and that makes all the difference on the road.
"You will see more recorded output in the future," said Vogel. "For us to continue to have the energy or interest or excitement to go out and play a lot of shows for people, you've got to have new ideas bubbling up and new ideas to present."
Galactic's 2001 release, We Love "Em Tonight: Live From Tipitina's, captured the raw energy of the band's live shows, featuring Clouet's gritty, soulful vocals and Vogel's bubbly Hammond B-3 organ. With Ruckus, the sound has evolved.
Part of the band's development comes from its diversions. Moore, whose recent solo album Flyin' the Koop featured San Diego's Karl Denson on sax, has probably been the most active. He also made a stop in San Diego last month as part of Garage a Trois, the free-jazz tour de force that partners him with Skerik, percussionist Matt Dillon and eight-string guitar phenom Charlie Hunter. Vogel, meanwhile, has been jamming with Moore and Meters bassist George Porter Jr. The exploration helps keep Galactic's musical dialogue fresh.
"It's invaluable," Vogel said. "If you only talked to the same person everyday, you run out of things to say pretty quick. You obviously have got to go check out different things. ThatÕs the stuff that makes you come back and gets you excited."
With the new direction on Ruckus, the band certainly has a lot of new material to play with, but the electronic nature of the album has proven a challenge to reproduce on stage. Vogel explained that the live rendering is always a work in progress.
"That's the overarching question as of late," he said, chilling in New Orleans after a summer tour with B.B. King. "We've kind of tackled it. We started working some of the material on the B.B. King tour. We had a lot of free time during the days to work up some of the tunes. Since we've been home, we've been able to work on some of the more program-y songs. It's actually the first time in the history of this band that we had to get together and learn our record before we go out and perform it."
Vogel hopes that Galactic's fans, like himself, will find something to dig in the new direction: "We've always been interested in moving the game forward."
Galactic performs with Melo-D at 4th and B, 8 p.m. on Oct. 16. $20. 619-231-4343.