Dean Wareham still revels in 20-year-old songs
Back in August I found myself standing outside of The Blank Club in San Jose one evening, speaking with a musician friend who was passing through town on tour. Per usual, our conversation eventually turned to old shoegaze bands, with one of us making the crack that, though the reunited Swervedriver had played the Fillmore in San Francisco earlier in the year, pre-breakup there was no way it could have ever played a venue that size.
Really, we could just as easily have been talking about Galaxie 500, America’s best answer to the almost-forgotten shoegaze scene happening in England in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Though the band lasted only four years, leading man Dean Wareham—coming to Don Quixote’s on Friday, Nov. 12 with his own band to reinterpret Galaxie 500 material—seems remarkably comfortable being shadowed by the legacy of a group that ended nearly 20 years ago.
“We’ve done some Galaxie 500 songs before; the band sounds really good and it was fun,” says Wareham. “The plan was to reissue all those records 20 years after the initial release, then they came out and got a lot of attention. I don’t know, it seemed like a good time to [tour on Galaxie 500 songs]. If not now, then when? Frankly it made me wonder why I haven’t been playing a lot of these songs all along.”
Well, one reason might be that Galaxie 500’s split was noted for its bad blood. Though Wareham doesn’t appear to harbor any lasting ill will, and is in fact still in email contact with his old bandmates, he doesn’t mince words that he doesn’t particularly care for the married duo who have since created music under the name Damon & Naomi.
Nonetheless, given its brief history, it says a lot that Galaxie 500 has continued to endure, especially considering that shoegaze never took off in America the way it did in England. Then again, while Wareham admits to shoegaze influences, he distinguishes Galaxie 500 from the “wall of sound” groups like Lush and Chapterhouse.
“I feel like the records sound fresh because they don’t sound like everything else from the time,” explains Wareham. “That time was kind of like the early days of grunge. Well, on the one hand you had the shoegaze bands in England, and then it was kind of a crossover to the early days of grunge. We just sort of did our own thing, and I don’t think we really sounded like anybody at all, and I think that really helps.”
Though Wareham and his wife, Britta, have been touring together—first as Luna and then as Dean & Britta—ever since the dissolution of Galaxie 500, touring on such old material and being forced to relearn songs has presented distinct challenges.
“The first album, trying to relearn some of those lead parts, I’m going, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” says Wareham. “Because whatever I was doing was probably technically wrong. I’m playing solos in A-major on top of a D-minor chord, and I kind of got lost. It’s harder than I thought it would be.”
Still, one of the interesting things about Wareham is that, where most musicians tend to be enamored only with their most recent material, Wareham still clearly takes a lot of pleasure from his old band’s work. Likewise, whereas many band reunions or album anniversary shows feel like a forced cash grab, Wareham seems to genuinely revel in the adulation Galaxie 500 continues to receive.
“It’s nice, surprising,” explains Wareham. “I think the cool thing about rock ’n’ roll is if you can make something really good, people will notice it. But it doesn’t mean that you become a rock star, or can retire off it.”
Dean Wareham performs at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. $16/advance, $20/door. For more info, go to folkyeah.com.