Dean Wareham released his first album when he was about 25 years old. That band, formed with his two best friends, was called Galaxie 500, a banal reference to a parked car. We met when he and his wife, Britta Phillips, were living in the East Village, a block from my studio at the time. I had read his book Black Postcards and was a huge fan of all the music and suggested we do a story for L’Uomo Vogue, where I was a contributor at the time.
Though the story never ran, I continued to photograph and film both Dean and Britta, during rehearsals, backstage and once even onstage! They are my favorite video projects, probably because I get to listen to the music over and over again during the editing process. These are some of the unpublished photographs from that East Village period and I posed a few questions to Dean in the meantime, hoping to capture his kind of cool.
Debra Scherer: You have had several bands (Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean and Britta) and so many albums, so many songs; and no matter which incarnation or which year it was, with a big band, just the two of you, trio, whatever, its still “always Dean” as I kept saying. The aesthetic, the sound, the vibe, the language, its always yours, that always comes through. How do you always manage to rise above nostalgia and keep the shows from being like reunion tour shows?
Dean Wareham: Well to date I have not done a reunion tour, though I did a tour where I played only Galaxie 500 songs, songs that I hadn’t played in 20 years. I did have to tap into a younger voice, a higher voice. But Galaxie 500 never had hits, we are not the sound of 1988, we sounded like a band out of time even back then, so maybe that helps. Some bands (e.g. the Sex Pistols, Duran Duran, Nirvana) are so identified with a time and place and a cultural movement, that when they come back it feels like a circus. Other bands (Television, for example) can play their iconic Marquee Moon album and it still works.
Anyway right now I have two new records (an LP and mini-LP) of material to play, and I get to mix new songs with others I’ve made over the years, I can put together a set that is fun to play, and I get the sense that people want to hear new songs, not just old ones.
DS: What keeps you interested in continually making new music?
DW: Listening to good new music hopefully keeps you interested in making new music. Or listening to good old music. Honestly, some days, some weeks, some months, I don’t feel like making music at all. I would rather read a book or wash the car or sweep the floor — all of these are much easier than making music. So I don’t always feel like doing it, but I surround myself with musical instruments, I think that’s important.
DS: Is the process the same, or does that depend on with whom you are collaborating?
DW: By and large I have worked the same way for years, which is that I collect little ideas (these days by recording them in the iPhone memo recorder) and then I assemble some musicians (or sometimes just Britta) and we try to breathe life into those little ideas during rehearsals. And then the lonely, sometimes painful part — writing lyrics. But then you get into the studio and everything changes anyway, this is where the real fun happens. Both of these records I made in 2013, Emancipated Hearts with Jason Quever producing, and Dean Wareham, with Jim James producing, there was great input from both of those guys, they put their stamp on the records too.
DS: Its funny we still use the word records, even though there are fewer and fewer people who even remember what they are! Should we be listening on vinyl?
DW: Maybe we should be listening on drugs… I enjoy putting records on the turntable; I like that you play 20-odd minutes of music and then turn it over or change the record. So vinyl is great if you have the space and the inclination, but there is no point being dogmatic about it, telling people they are listening wrong. Things certainly sound better on a hi-fi system, that is undeniable. I remember the first time I made any money in my life, I was 14 years old and earned $342 doing a voice for an animated documentary (the voice of a young Roosevelt), well I took that money and invested in a turntable, speakers and an Onkyo receiver. And it served me well. But the world has changed, people probably care more about convenience than sound quality and who can blame them? Sound quality (in how we listen to music, in our phone conversations) has gone backwards into the future.