Interview: Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500

Dean Wareham needs little by way of fanfare or introduction. The frontman of lauded band Galaxie 500 spoke to Liam Demamiel about performing the past on his Dean Wareham Plays Galaxie 500 tour.

One Thirty BPM (Liam Demamiel): Galaxie 500 split in 1991. Why now for revisiting the material?

Dean Wareham: It’s 20 years since those records first came out. It seems like a good round number (laughs). I first did it about a year ago at a Spanish festival. The promoter wanted me to come over and do a set of Galaxie 500 songs. I did it and the band sounded really good. I had a good time. I had done all the work and re-learnt all of the songs, and I thought that if I don’t do it now I probably never would. I want to do it while I can still hit the high notes (laughs).

How does it feel playing the songs again?

At first it was strange, but as times gone on I have gotten used to it. Yeah. It is both strange and emotional. When you pick up a song again that you haven’t played in years it’s … it can be difficult. It’s interesting having to go back and sing in a completely different style. I think over the years my vocal style has become much more lower and quieter. When doing the Galaxie 500 songs I have to sing very loud…

And very high!

Yes, and very high (laughs).

The songs were obviously the product of a certain period in your life. Have their meanings changed for you?

Some of the songs were specifically about someone else – a girlfriend at the time and other people back then. Your relationships with the songs naturally change but I think that they have held up fairly well over time. You just don’t find that with some bands, you know like the Sex Pistols in 1977. I think their music is kind of odd and jarring now. The Galaxie 500 songs are more about experiences and emotions and sadness, I don’t think that gets old.

What has the crowd response been like?

The crowds have been great, and it has varied from country to country. We went to Brazil and played the songs in Sao Paolo. There were 900 people singing along to every single song… that was just weird. It’s just bizarre to think that you’re able to come back with the songs and hear that when you are on stage all these years later.

Do you find that the performance dynamics are different? Are you more like a bandleader than a band member?

Yeah that’s true I suppose. In the band as it is currently constituted I am in a couple with my wife Britta and our drummer is the ‘lone man’ in the band. I think it must be hard for him sometimes, he must suffer when we are out touring (laughs). Musically, I feel like we have worked really hard to make the songs sound good and to make them work live – analysing them to figure out what works and what doesn’t. They feel pretty close to the way Galaxie 500 used to play them.

Is there any one album in particular that you prefer playing?

I stay away from certain songs just because they don’t work live. But I don’t think you can know those songs immediately after you have finished a record. What we have been performing is split fairly evenly across the three records.

How do Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang (Galaxie 500’s drummer and bassist) feel about the tour?

(Laughs) I am sure they don’t particularly like it. We communicate on a business level, but I don’t feel like I have to run things by them for their approval or anything. That’s why I left the band, so I wouldn’t have to do that. I am sure that they would have their own views… but such is life.

So we shouldn’t hold our hopes for a reunion?

No, this is the closest we are going to get. I have tried to explain it to people by asking them to imagine going and getting back together with their high school girlfriend of seventeen or something. Think about it, it could be interesting… but do you really need to?

As time has gone on the albums have come to be held in high critical esteem. How do you feel about this?

I think the records have aged well. When they first came out we didn’t really think of ourselves as a great band or anything (laughs). I look back on everything else that came out in 1988 and 89 and think that those were amongst the best records that were being made.

Do you place much stock in critical opinion?

Pitchfork gave On Fire 10 out of 10 and well, that’s nice to hear! You can look at the critic and see what else they like, but after all it is just someone’s opinion. I have my own tastes, it is not going to make me cry if a critic doesn’t like it.

You were one of the first of your musical ‘generation’ to publish an autobiography. How did this come about?

I got an email from a senior editor at Penguin, asking if I had thought about writing a book. I had thought about writing something, and had a few chapters. But if I hadn’t have got that offer who knows if I would have ever finished it. That call was really the impetus for it happening. It was right after I had finished with Luna, my second band. It came at a time when I actually had time to sit down and write a book.

What was it like looking back through the past?

I had diaries that I had kept throughout the Galaxie 500 years, but there were some spells where I didn’t have much to go on. You tend to sit down and write when you are upset or when things are getting you down. But I had some tour diaries on our website and I found an online listing of every show the band had ever done. Looking at the club names and cities was really helpful, it brought a lot of memories back.

How did you find the writing process?

It was good. It was a lot more difficult than writing a song. You know as a writer that it is scary to put yourself out there and express an opinion. From the moment you write something there are going to be people who just get angry at you for what you have written, you know ‘who does he think he is’ or ‘what a bunch of shit’ (laughs). It is really different from writing a poem or a song. It is trying to express your thoughts clearly about something that happened a long time ago. It’s not easy.

What’s next? Are you still going to be touring the 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests show?

As long as they keep booking shows we will play them! We did the show all around Australia and have just come back from doing it in Portland, and soon we are doing it at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. It has been three years doing that show and I think it will start to slow down.

Have you been working on new Dean and Britta material?

No, not really (laughs). We have been touring so much but I think it is at a stage in our schedule when it is time to make a new record.