New Orleans Funk Band Galactic At Belly Up
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The five-piece New Orleans funk bank Galactic has a new CD called "Ya-ka-may" that captures the music of New Orleans. They collaborated with legendary Crescent City musicians like Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, as well as new ones, like Bounce artists Big Freedia and Cheeky Black. We'll talk about the new album with members of the band Galactic.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. It's always been hard to define the music of the group Galactic. The five member band out of New Orleans started exploring that city's unique funk sound in the early ‘90s. Since then Galactic has added elements of hip hop, electronica, fusion, and jazz to that funky music and become famous for working with a wide range of New Orleans musicians. Galactic keeps up that tradition on their latest album "Ya-ka-may." On it, the band teams up with established New Orleans legends like Allen Toussaint and cutting edge Bounce rappers like Cheeky Black. I’d like to welcome my guests, two members of the band Galactic, keyboardist Rich Vogel, and, Rich, welcome to These Days.
RICH VOGEL (Keyboardist, Galactic): Thank you. Good to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And guitarist Jeff Raines. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFF RAINES (Guitarist, Galactic): Hello there, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Jeff, the last time the rest of the nation heard from New Orleans, it was the Super Bowl party that never ended. I’m wondering, has New Orleans calmed down now? Or are they still celebrating?
RAINES: Well, you know, the Super Bowl happened at the same time as Mardi Gras like…
RAINES: …it fit almost perfectly. It was almost like the ramp-up week into Mardi Gras, that Sunday was the Super Bowl. So it was quite a explosive party. The – It’s funny, too, the coach ended up appearing all over the city with the trophy. Like I have photographs of my friends like holding the Super Bowl trophy in bars and stuff, okay.
CAVANAUGH: You guys were in New Orleans for the game.
RAINES: No, we actually got snowed in in Washington, sadly, so we ended up watching the game in Brooklyn. But it was unfortunate. We had tickets actually to go home to be in New Orleans for the game but it didn’t work out.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Rich, the new album of Galactic is called “Ya-ka-may.” So what…
CAVANAUGH: …does that mean and how does that become the best way to describe this album?
VOGEL: “Ya-ka-may” is a bit of a play on words. It kind of refers to yakamein, which is sort of an indigenous noodle dish in New Orleans. It’s sold at a lot of corner stores and they serve often out at the second line parades and stuff. So we were thinking about yakamein but we liked the sound of “Ya-ka-may” better, and we realized that people pronounce yakamein many different ways so we figured it was fair game to kind of use our favorite pronunciation and when we hyphenated it and made it feel a little bit more like ‘look-ka py py’ or some of these Mardi Gras Indian terms that you, you know, are always kind of around in New Orleans and "Look-Ka Py Py"of course was a great Meters album. So we kind of just liked the sound of it.
CAVANAUGH: So the idea of, Rich, these noodles sort of getting together.
CAVANAUGH: Is that – you know, there are a lot of collaborations and crossing of genres in the New Orleans music scene. So does that resemble that? That kind of dish?
VOGEL: Yeah, perhaps it does in a way. You know, it’s funny, the gumbo metaphor has been – is so used in New Orleans culture that we tiptoed around it very gingerly. But people can’t help but use it, obviously, when you – when you’re doing something that seems to be pulling a lot of disparate ingredients together, so to speak. So I don’t want to make too much of it because mostly we were just kind of inspired by the sound of the name.
CAVANAUGH: I’m talking with guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel, and they are members of the band Galactic. They’re going to be here tomorrow night, playing the Belly Up Tavern. And their latest album, just released really, is called “Ya-ka-may.” One of the groups you collaborated with, Rich, on this album is called the Rebirth Brass Band. And tell us about this band, if you would.
VOGEL: Well, the Rebirth Brass Band is one of the absolute best brass bands in New Orleans of the modern era that, really, just about everybody knows who knows New Orleans music at all at this point. They have been around now for quite a long time. They sort of represented the new generation but that really was, you know, maybe 20 years ago and so they’re really one of the veteran bands now and they tour quite a bit around the country as well and, of course, play jazz clubs every year so they’re pretty well known. But they still hold down their local gigs around town in the clubs and play Maple Leaf every Tuesday when they’re in town and other things like that so also very accessible and we’ve gotten to know them over the years and one of their members, Corey Henry, a fantastic trombone player, he’s an outstanding musician, is – has been a guest with us a lot over the last year playing with us on the road. And he’s on the road with us now and he kind of helps us perform some of those tracks on the record that have this strong brass element, so we don’t have a full brass band with us but between Ben on sax and Corey on trombone and Jeff and I covering some of the parts on guitar and keyboards, we can still represent that side of the record.
VOGEL: The kind of brass-heavy side of the record.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear it, let’s hear your collaboration with Rebirth Brass Band. This is a song “Boe Money” and it’s from the album “Ya-ka-may.”
(audio clip of “Boe Money” from Galactic’s album “Ya-ka-may”)
CAVANAUGH: That really is a brass band. That’s the Rebirth Brass Band playing with the group Galactic on the song “Boe Money” from the album, Galactic’s album, “Ya-ka-may.” Yeah, you wanted to say something?
VOGEL: No, I just was reacting. It really is a brass band.
CAVANAUGH: It really is.
VOGEL: There’s no mistaking the Rebirth. They have a signature sound and that’s it. So we’re happy, just thrilled to have it on part of our record.
CAVANAUGH: Rich, if you would, describe the New Orleans neighborhood known as Treme for us.
VOGEL: Well, Treme is a neighborhood just north of the French Quarter and it’s a very historic neighborhood that has ties to a lot of music in New Orleans and represents the musical history. And it’s just, you know, it was a early neighborhood of Creole, African-American neighborhood where actually a lot of free people of color lived even during slavery, along with the French Quarter and other, you know, surrounding neighborhoods. Of course, the city kind of grew out from the original settlement there where the French Quarter is and Treme was one of those early neighborhoods.
CAVANAUGH: Well, the reason I mentioned Treme is because, as you guys know, there’s a new HBO show called “Treme,” centered in the New Orleans…
CAVANAUGH: …music scene that’s going to start in April. David…
CAVANAUGH: …Simon, the same guy who created “The Wire,” is behind this show. And let me start with you, Jeff, has Galactic been involved in this new show “Treme?”
RAINES: Actually, we have. So far, we have filmed one scene of the band playing in one of the bars on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny section of New Orleans. And so a couple of the guys in the band now have repeating roles, like they needed a saxophone player so they got Ben to sort of – he sort of plays saxophone in the band of one of the characters. Basically, I think the show takes place right after Katrina hit the city and it kind of picks up right there. And so we were one of the bands that was playing a lot, you know, in the months after it. You know, we tried to kind of get back and start playing gigs again as soon as we could in the city. And so, yeah, it looks like we will actually be returning and, you know, have a repeated sort of small role as a band on the show. We’re really excited about it.
CAVANAUGH: Now are you going to play yourselves?
RAINES: Ben plays himself. Stanton has a small role playing himself, our drummer. Yeah, basically, a lot of, you know, they’re really getting a lot of the musicians that are there just to go and play themselves. So it’s going to be a really interesting show. I can’t wait to see it.
CAVANAUGH: I don’t think we can wait to see it either. Let me ask you both. Let me ask you, Rich, one of the most remarkable things, I think, about “Ya-ka-may,” your new album, is that you collaborated with some bounce artists for this album.
CAVANAUGH: First of all, I don’t think everybody’s familiar with it. Explain to us what bounce music is.
VOGEL: Well, bounce music is – it’s, you know, it’s a form of hip-hop that really comes out of New Orleans, and elements of it you can definitely hear in some rap that came out of New Orleans that was rather successful and commercial. You know, the Cash Money Records and Juvenile, you know, representing that Gulf Coast scene of hip-hop that really did have mainstream success. But in New Orleans, there’s a lot of bounce music that hasn’t enjoyed that kind of mainstream success outside of our region but it’s a very vibrant, thriving scene going on around New Orleans in a lot of little clubs and neighborhood bars just like, you know, all New Orleans music does. And, you know, it’s quite a fascinating little music scene and, you know, it’s just something that we felt like, you know, it’s all part of the larger picture of New Orleans music and really represents something that’s going on right now in the city that we thought was cool and vibrant and should be included in this record, you know. And even though we wanted, obviously, to have people like Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas and, you know, legends of New Orleans music, we really wanted to integrate some things that were going on right now that we thought that maybe people outside New Orleans weren’t too aware of.
CAVANAUGH: You know, one of the fascinating things about the bounce music scene that I read about was that some of its trailblazers are openly gay, transsexual performers, and that’s kind of new on the hip-hop scene. I don’t recall any of that happening. Is that part of the New Orleans bounce scene?
VOGEL: Yeah, it is, absolutely. And it’s interesting, you know, I think it’s part of the larger, though, New Orleans sort of laissez faire, live and let live and live and let party kind of spirit towards music and culture. And, you know, it – and so it is. There’s definitely that element to it and represented by a couple of the artists on our record and – But, you know, it’s really all the same thing. It’s just kind of a funky good time and these people make their living doing what we’ve all done at some point in our careers, which is just, you know, rocking the clubs in New Orleans and having to keep the party going and keeping the vibe up and the energy up until the wee hours of the morning. So they certainly do that and so, again, we were just kind of thrilled to kind of get – capture some of that and integrate that into what we were trying to do on “Ya-ka-may.”
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear it, a least a sample of that. You worked with a bounce artist named Big Freedia on this album. The song is called “Double It.” Let’s hear it.
(audio clip from “Double It” from the album “Ya-ka-may”)
CAVANAUGH: That is Big Freedia with “Double It,” with the band Galactic off Galactic’s new album “Ya-ka-may.” Jeff, how much fun is it working with an artist like that? I mean, that sounds like it must’ve been really fun to record.
RAINES: Oh, absolutely. You know, the thing about the bounce rappers, recording with them, what’s really – you know, it wasn’t about them, you know, being gay, it was more like they’re kind of the rappers that have risen to the top of the bounce scene, you know, just because they’re sort of, you know, the best rappers out there. And that was definitely true with Big Freedia. We performed once with her live and she just brought the house down, you know. I mean, it was something to behold. Completely had the audience in the palm of her hand, you know.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it sounds like the kind of performer that she is.
RAINES: Yeah, and it really worked. Like, you know, we kind of didn’t know what to expect in how our crowd would respond to it but it was like, you know, it was sort of a magical moment.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk to you guys about a video that is on your website, which goes along with the collaborations that you’re doing with these bounce artists. It’s a music video for the song “Do It Again,” and you collaborated with bounce artist Cheeky Black. You know, Jeff, I’m going to leave it up to you to describe this video because I can’t do it.
RAINES: Well, you know, originally, like the style of dancing associated with bounce music, you know, at all bounce shows they’re ‘backing that ass up,’ as one would say in New Orleans.
RAINES: And so I think the video kind of came out of that scene, you know, and we’ve kind of wanted to do something, you know – You know, trying to make a music video now is sort of like, you know, we decided that comedy was the best way to go really and so we wanted something that kind of reflected that scene at a bounce show but was also very tongue-in-cheek and sort of unstable.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, cheek indeed. Rich, can you describe in a way…
VOGEL: The key word being cheek, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: …for our listeners so that they know what we’re talking about?
VOGEL: Yeah, I think you just did. Tongue in cheek but with the key word being cheek. I think you summed it up best.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we do have a lot of dressed up behinds in this video. And I just…
VOGEL: Yeah, we just…
CAVANAUGH: How in the world does this idea come about, Rich?
VOGEL: Well, I claim absolutely no responsibility, first of all. I just want to say that. It’s on the record. But, again, it’s kind of what Jeff was alluding to, sort of the spirit of bounce music a little bit but obviously with, as we said, kind of just a funny idea. But actually I can’t remember whose it was originally, these sort of disguised behinds that you referred to so…
CAVANAUGH: Now we’re not seeing your guys’ posteriors in this, are we?
RAINES: We’re not at liberty to say one way or another.
VOGEL: Yeah, I – I’d be flattered to think that it was but I don’t – I’m afraid it’s not, no.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, it’s just indescribable. It’s the video to the song “Do It Again” by Galactic’s album “Ya-ka-may.” I want to talk about the collaboration that you did with a man named Glen David Andrews and, Jeff, if you could tell us a little bit about him.
RAINES: Well, Glen David Andrews comes from one of the really famous musical families in the city. His younger brother, Trombone Shorty, is out kind of making a name for himself currently. But Glen David is kind of the guy if you’re having a jazz funeral down there that you can go get to sort of lead the procession, and he’s an incredible vocalist as well as trombone player. So he was one of – you know, we went looking for vocalists, his name was pretty high on the list just because he is such an interesting character in the city and such a powerful vocalist.
CAVANAUGH: You know, and I’m going to ask you again, Jeff, when you’re reading about the New Orleans artists on this album and just in general, you know, just talking about Glen David Andrews, I read that he actually lived in Houston for a while after Hurricane Katrina in a FEMA trailer. I mean, Katrina is marked so heavily in the history now of what we’re hearing from New Orleans. Does the experience of that hurricane still show up in the work of musicians in the city?
RAINES: Well, I think it does. I think, you know, just, you know, it’s impossible to escape the hurricane, you know, and, you know, living and playing music there it’s inevitably – it inevitably shows up in various ways in, I think, the music and culture.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear a track, another one, off Galactic’s new album, “Ya-ka-may.” It features Glen David Andrews and it’s called “You Don’t Know.”
(audio clip from “You Don’t Know” performed by Glen David Andrews)
CAVANAUGH: That’s “You Don’t Know” off Galactic’s new album “Ya-ka-may,” and it features Glen David Andrews. Rich, I want to ask you about – it seems to me that you and the band Galactic really feel like you’re ambassadors to the rest of the nation for New Orleans music. Do you feel that way and why?
VOGEL: Well, it’s – true confession, yeah, I think this – we’ve been out here so long now traveling the country and the world, playing, you know, our brand of New Orleans music and drawing from the New Orleans tradition and culture but, of course, trying to do our own thing with it. And I think just being a band from New Orleans that’s had a presence now for the amount of time we have, that maybe there’s a little bit of that that just sort of naturally develops. It’s certainly not something we ever – a role we, you know, claimed or something we thought that – certainly not really that’s been a contrived thing. It’s just that after having been out here this long and really, you know, spent this much time on the road and really in, you know, lapping the country many times playing New Orleans music and sort of trying to bring New Orleans party, I guess maybe we’ve sort of naturally fallen into that role over the years. And then, of course, you make relationships with people and we – we’re a known entity in New Orleans now and have gotten to know so many of these great artists over the years that I think it was just kind of a natural thing for us to want to try and draw other – as many of the artists just that we’ve admired over the years and try to do something with them that – in one cohesive statement. And so I guess “Ya-ka-may” kind of represents that.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us. I’ve been speaking with Rich Vogel. Thank you so much.
VOGEL: Yes, thank you for having us.
CAVANAUGH: And Jeff Raines – Jeff Raines, thank you for talking with us today. They’re bringing the Galactic New Orleans party, as Rich was just describing it, to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach tomorrow night. And we’re going to go out on a song from their new album, “Ya-ka-may.” It’s called “Liquor Pang.” You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
(audio clip from “Liquor Pang” performed by Galactic)