That New Orleans sound
The Economist Q&A: Galactic, a funk band
WHEN performing live, Galactic makes playing funk music look easy. It isn't. Delivering precise, tight funk is hard work, but this five-piece New Orleans band seems to power through their shows as if they could keep it all going endlessly. Their most recent album, "The Other Side of Midnight: Live in New Orleans", captures that energy and plenty of the flavour of the Big Easy. It was recorded during a sold-out show at Tipitinas, a legendary local club, and features some well-known local musicians such as Cyril Neville and Trombone Shorty.
Galactic has a unique sound built from eclectic influences—jazz, rap, electronica, jam-band music and bounce (a local take on hip hop)—honed over years of performing live. They have shared the stage with B.B. King and The Roots, among others, and they have recorded with a variety of other artists. "From the Corner to the Block" (2007) featured a slew of rappers and MCs including Boots Riley of The Coup and Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.
But the band remains devoted to the New Orleans music scene and often collaborates with local talent. "Ya-Ka-May" (2010), the last album, was a love letter to the city (named after a traditional New Orleans soup). “The Other Side of Midnight” is a fine follow-up, but still no match for seeing these guys in person.
Now on a world tour, the band's guitarist, Jeff Raines, answered a few questions from the road via e-mail about the new album, the music of New Orleans and learning from other musicians.
Why did you decide to make a live album from New Orleans?
We recorded our new album for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost is that we live here and wanted to record in the most comfortable environment possible. We also wanted to have options in terms of inviting our musician friends from around town to come play. Our own studio is close by. We did our first live album at Tips exactly ten years ago so we felt like it made sense on that level as well.
From a musical or cultural standpoint, what's changed in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina?
From a musical standpoint I don’t think all that much has changed since the storm. Certainly in the first few years there were less people playing music and going out to the clubs. These days the club scene seems pretty vibrant. There are new brass bands popping up and the bounce rap scene has been getting some national attention.
How does your new album reflect New Orleans music and culture as it is today?
I think this record reflects what Galactic has been doing recently. We have been touring with a fantastic trombone player so we are bringing a more full-bodied horn section feel. Having Cyril Neville on the show singing at that venue also strikes me as being something special to New Orleans.
How have collaborations changed your sound or approach to songwriting?
When we go into our demo-writing process the material that might lend itself to having some kind of vocal element becomes obvious. We sometimes will send the artist we are working with a few ideas and go from there.
What sets funk apart from other music genres? What makes funk "funk"?
I guess funk represents a certain feel in music that usually makes you want to get up.
What is Galactic's version of funk? How is your music unique?
We’ve been able to develop a sound over many albums and years of touring. I think a lot of that comes about through a shared history of playing shows together.
You've sometimes been called a "jazz jam" band. Do you embrace that or shrug it off?
We don’t pay much attention to names the media invent to try and classify what we are doing.
What's the most recognisable way New Orleans has shaped the sound of your band?
Through the songs we’ve learned and then done our own versions of. We’ve always covered songs by local brass bands or our local musical heroes. I think learning all this music has affected us as a band.
Galactic is now on tour. The band is at work on their next studio album, to be released next spring.