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Monday, July 9th, 2007

Finding voices

Galactic gets a little help from their friends

By: Skylar Browning

There’s an extensive backstory to Galactic’s highly anticipated new album, due out in August, and it’s full of the New Orleans-based funksters’ creative collaborations, post-Katrina struggles and wrestling with their identity sans a frontman. But, really, the impetus for the new album can be boiled down to one thing: the band’s remaining five musicians suck as singers.

“We realized and are very accepting of the fact that none of us are really a great vocalist,” drummer Stanton Moore said in a recent interview. “And if none of us have the ambition to be a great singer, then we should leave the singing up to somebody else.”

For From the Corner to the Block, the band’s first album in three years and the first since lead singer Theryl DeClouet split from the group in late 2004, that “somebody else” turned out to be some of the biggest MCs in the business. Lyrics Born, The Coup’s Boots Riley, Cajun rapper Juvenile, Mr. Lif, Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca and Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, among others, all contributed to the new album. The result is Galactic’s signature funk-laden instrumentals fronted by a diverse array of vocal stylings; no MC appears more than once, and all 14 tracks feature at least one guest artist.

“It was a long process, but it was worth it,” says Moore. “There was always an underlying concern that maybe this wouldn’t work very well. But it turned out as good as we could have expected, or maybe better.”

The process started three years ago, shortly after DeClouet left the band. Galactic—Moore, saxophonist Ben Ellman, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Richard Vogel—entered the studio expecting to make their first instrumental album, an extension of what their live shows have become. Then, as Moore puts it, “with the storm and everything, releasing a new record got prolonged. We wanted to make an impact since it was going to be so long since the last time we had released a record.” That’s when they put together a wish list of MCs and musicians to appear as guests on the album.

“It’s not like we just woke up one day and were like, ‘Hmmm, we need to do something different. What should we do? Metal? No. Jazz? No. Oh, let’s do some hip-hop,’” explains Moore. “It was a very natural progression. We had already done a lot, where different MCs and acts had opened up for us and then come out and sat in with us, or we’d learn a few of their songs. It was gradually po inting in that direction. Then we got the call to help back up Juvenile on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, so we learned some more of his tunes. It all happened very naturally.”

Katrina hit early in the process, rendering Galactic’s New Orleans studio structurally unsafe. The band accepted free studio time at a facility in the Pocono Mountains of New York and completed much of the album there. Final tracks were laid down at another studio in Dallas, Texas, with some MCs traveling to record re-written lyrics and Moore re-recording all of the drums. In all, the album took two and a half years to complete.

“Through this process we’ve developed [as a band],” says Moore. “It’s helped us learn how to work more creatively [with other artists] and it’s helped us get to a point of understanding what we can do. If anything, I’m happy with the way this record came out, but I’m also super-excited about what we’re able to accomplish now in the future.”

Now set up in a new New Orleans studio, Moore says Galactic’s future plans are simple: record an instrumental album (he says more than enough material is already there), or they’ll continue to seek out singers and MCs for more collaborations. Either way, making From the Corner to the Block reinvigorated the band.

“The bottom line is, whatever we do next, we have several options, which is nice,” he says.

In the meantime, the band is focused on generating excitement for the new album with a pre-release summer tour, and then following up with a fall tour that will include at least two MCs at every concert. When Galactic hits Missoula and Whitefish next week, Moore says the sets will be purely instrumental, much like the band’s appearances last summer, but he and Ellman have found ways to play a couple of the new tracks live.

“We’ll give a little taste,” says Moore. “There is one song on there with Monk Boudreaux [the famous Big Chief of the Mardi Gras tribe, the Golden Eagles] that Ben and I have figured out how to do live with some loops—Ben’s triggering some and I’m triggering some, and it’s hard to explain but it sounds like music when you hear it.”

Moore adds the band should be coming back through Missoula in the fall.

“We love it out there, and we wanted to get there in the summer,” he says, noting that Ellman and others make it a priority to fly-fish during their stay. “But I imagine we’ll swing back after the release. And when we come back it will be even greater.”

Just as long as the band members aren’t the ones singing.

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