Galactic Goes Ghetto

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By: Brian Bavosa

Galactic by Ryan Mastro
Several key things characterize New Orleans: the food, the culture, the French Quarter and, maybe most of all, the music. Specifically, the jazz and funk roots that run deeper than a Northern California redwood. Since the early ’90s, no other band has clung to these lifelines like Galactic. We were lucky enough to catch up with drummer Stanton Moore and collaborator Boots Riley (The Coup) to discuss Galactic’s upcoming release, From the Corner to the Block, which draws upon New Orleans but also stretches across the country all the way to California.

In addition to Moore on the skins, Galactic is saxophonist Ben Ellman, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Richard Vogel. As co-producer, Ellman tackles double duty on From the Corner to the Block. “We knew that it was going to be a few years since the last record, and we wanted to do something that we felt was going to have some impact and really be interesting,” says Moore. “So, we came up with the idea of trying to have a whole bunch of MCs on the record.” With this album, out August 21 on the band’s new label ANTI- Records, Galactic returns to the streets with a cast of characters that Moore calls, “a dream lineup.”

The record features a slew of today’s most innovative hip-hop linguists, including Lyrics Born, Jurassic 5‘s Chali 2Na, Boots Riley, Digable PlanetsLadybug Mecca, Mr. Lif and Gift of Gab from Blackalicious. The new album will also feature unique collaborations with New Orleans artists Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Juvenile, Soul Rebels Brass Band and Trombone Shorty. Other guest appearances include DJ Z-Trip, Vursatyl (Lifesavas), Ohmega Watts and Nino Moschella.

Moore points out a notable difference working with ANTI-. “This is the first time that we’ve really had a label that was willing to give a budget to do these sorts of things. The marketing budget is much more substantial, and their plan is much more in depth. They seem to just know a little more about what’s going on than any label we’ve dealt with before,” says Moore. “They seem to be genuinely interested in marketing the record and selling it, as opposed to just having people hear it and getting it on the shelves. Just in the initial stages, it seems that we are doing way more than we ever have before for a record. It’s nice. It feels like we’re taking a step forward.” Along with added marketing prowess, Galactic and ANTI- are working on some videos, including one with Lyrics Born, for From the Corner to the Block, another first for the band.

Ladybug Mecca
Originally intended to follow a screenplay by Henry Griffin, Moore and company eventually realized that wasn’t logistically possible. Instead, they gave the MCs instructions with childlike simplicity – rhyme about a corner. It could be a corner of their past, a physical street corner or, in Ladybug’s case, a mathematical corner that busted many of our heads with splintering headaches in our Sophomore geometry class. Lyrics Born, on the album’s first track, “I Got It (What You Need?),” explores an imaginary persona in a hot, slamming start to the record.

“We approached these guys, and Lady, and we said either write about specific corners, experiences that you knew there, stuff that happened or you can even play a character,” Moore explains. “That’s what Lyrics Born did. He decided to play this character. Each person came up with an original approach. There’s underlying continuity but there’s also individual choice. I think it worked out that way.”

Boots Riley from the Oakland based hip-hip legends The Coup is quick to point out that the seemingly genre-smashing effort is nothing more than a common ground for artists to get their message out there, whether it be instrumental booty shaking grooves, deliriously infectious hooks or a flat out brain busting message. “Oakland has a deep history of funk, too, but black music in the United States can be traced to New Orleans. So, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Same with the music,” comments Riley.

 
Oakland has a deep history of funk, too, but black music in the United States can be traced to New Orleans. So, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Same with the music.

-Boots Riley

 

What most don’t know is a natural disaster almost kept this album from happening. “We did start it before Katrina, in our [New Orleans] studio,” explains Moore. “Then after [the hurricane], we sent somebody to get out hard drives because we were worried about it being looted. We sent somebody in before the city was even really open [to] sneak in there and get the hard drives and then ship them out to us.”

Galactic by Jay Blakesberg
Nearly three years after the project began, Galactic debuted the material in grand style as part of a special performance at this year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival in mid-June.

“I went on way too late. It was three in the morning! You know, they’ve got the marathon dance thing going on, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” Riley says. “I was like, ‘Are you sure people are gonna be awake when I go on?’ But people were jumping up and down and going crazy! I did not expect that.” Moore adds, “It was definitely one of the most responsive crowds. It was definitely one of the most intense shows that we’ve done.”

If you’re worried this was a one-time deal don’t fret. A full tour with revolving door guest MCs is expected. “Once we tour, we’re going to have at least two [MCs] with us at all times, sometimes three or four,” Moore explains. “Now, going out and doing this, their contribution has added an element that people can relate to on a little bit of a broader scale.”

Stanton Moore by Jay Blakesberg
When asked what it’s like to have vocals at the forefront for the first time since 2004’s departure of vocalist Theryl DeClouet (aka Houseman), he replies, “It’s nice to add vocals to the band, and then playing some instrumentals in between. I think it gives a nice, broad spectrum of what we’re capable of doing in the band.”

With such a daring effort comes the possibility of compromising a band’s traditional sound or losing their identity all together. Galactic resolves this potential snafu by adding a few instrumental tracks to the album [“Sidewalk Stepper” and “Fanfare”] in keeping with their stylistic focus since Houseman’s departure.

While Moore contends Galactic will always hold true to their roots, they are looking forward to branching out into other opportunities, many of which this new record presents.

“Mr. Lif has now asked us to write and to produce his next record. So, we’re establishing ourselves as a band who can do that. Hopefully, we would like to get a lot more involved like that, you know, collaborate with these boys. There’s a long history of bands doing that [like] The Meters and Booker T. and the MG.s, predominantly. What it is is like a core ensemble of musicians, who can back up different artists, and that’s what we would like to do. We have our own studio, and we like doing that, so hopefully we will have more of that happening,” offers Moore.

Galactic by Ryan Mastro
After this record Galactic will almost certainly reshape listener’s opinions of them as a strictly funk band from New Orleans. Riley sums up From the Corner to the Block, saying, “What I always try to do with all of my stuff is make a good song. As I’ve always said, people have to be able to feel it first before they’re even willing to listen to what you are saying. And Galactic came through with the music side of it.”

Another example from the album is Charlie 2Na’s “Think Back,” where Galactic finds a copasetic blend where the MC is anything but overpowering and his signature baritone compliments the drum beats and haunting harmonica.

“Hopefully we are going to get to Australia, and develop a much stronger presence in Europe,” explains Moore about future prospects. “We’re going to Japan in December, and we’re really excited to be going places that we haven’t been [before] and for people to start hearing the record. We’ve been living with it for two and a half years now and we’re ready to start getting some feedback on it. We’re excited about making the videos and just doing things we haven’t done before. There are elements of it which we’re getting to do which will hopefully push the project forward and be fun at the same time.”

Ultimately, Galactic’s latest effort reminds listeners that no matter what corner or block they frequent – whether it’s Oakland, New Orleans or anywhere else – we all stand together in the end.

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