“I’m speeding up,” Galactic drummer Stanton Moore said with a laugh at the end of our interview last week when I asked him if he was starting to slow down at all. For anyone who has ever experienced a Galactic live show, you’ll know that the energy level they bring is extremely high. Featuring at times such vocalists as Maggie Koerner and Living Colour’s Corey Glover, Galactic is a hybrid of Jazz, funk, blues, R&B, rock and a horn section to die for, and the band is a perfect representation of what New Orleans can do for a musical soul. Born and raised in the ‘Nawlins area, Moore first heard his calling at Mardi Gras parades. That rhythmic spark stuck and the drums have called to him all his life. From the monstrous sounds of John Bonham and Bill Ward to the snap/crackle of Buddy Rich and Max Roach, Moore has taken each influence and melded them into his own unique sound.
Moore is quieter than you would imagine from a drummer who propels off his drum kit when the vivacity of the music heats up. But like when the music starts percolating, when he talks about creating those sounds, his voice rises and his love for what he does simply glows. Spending most of this month playing shows in the north, Galactic are preparing the release of their new album, one that Moore feels takes the band back to some of their earliest roots. Fresh off his 2014 Jazz-focused record, Conversations, and non-stop touring, either with Galactic or his Stanton Moore Trio, the Louisiana drummer is constantly inspired to keep going with no plans to sit in his rocker watching the rest of the music world walk by his front porch.
I hear you have some good things going on in your musical world.
Yeah, I recently released my piano trio record, and that was in the year that passed and I’ve been touring on that with the piano trio, with David Torkanowsky and Jim Singleton; and Galactic is working on a new record and that will probably be out after Jazz Fest. We have some special guests that we can’t make public yet but that we’re really excited about. Galactic just did a session with Joe Jackson, who had the hits “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and “Steppin’ Out.” He came to New Orleans to record with Robert Mercurio, our bass player, and Jeff Raines, our guitar player. Galactic got asked to do the soundtrack for a movie called Car Dogs, which is coming out soon. Galactic played on it and Robert Mercurio kind of produced it. So we’ve got a lot of things going on.
And you’re touring
Touring all the time (laughs)
Working with Joe Jackson, was that for an upcoming album he’s doing?
Yes, I don’t know when it’s coming out but he’s doing four different sessions, four different sets of four songs, each recorded in a different city with different musicians. So it’s Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and New Orleans.
What can you tell us about the upcoming Galactic album, without giving away any secrets?
(laughs) Well, as per what we have been doing for the last several years we have several special guests. Some of them we can tell you about, like David Shaw [lead singer of the Revivalists] and Maggie Koerner, and then we have some vocalists that we are really excited about that we can’t quite make public yet. You know, we just collaborate with a lot of different people, play a lot of different songs with a lot of different people, so that is kind of par for the course on this record; but it’s also focusing a little bit more on us playing together and not quite as remix-oriented as our last couple of records. We would record and it’s almost like the record is a remix record made by us, really kind of getting into the production side of things, which makes it very interesting production-wise. But this is more kind of straight-forward in production and focusing more on how we sound playing our instruments. So that’s exciting and I’m actually pretty happy with how the record sounds. It turned out pretty interesting and I think a lot of our longtime fans are going to be excited about it cause it’s a little bit return to form in some ways. But I like a lot of the songs. The songs are really good and sounds a little bit more like the band sounds playing together as opposed to focusing on the remix side of things.
Is it difficult to bring that energy you get in your live shows into a studio and onto a straight studio album?
Yeah, it is. It’s difficult to capture that same energy that you have when you’re playing live so we don’t even really try to do that anymore. We approach the studio as one medium and live is just a different thing with us. We see them as two different ways of presenting the band, as two different approaches, and we’re fine with that. We don’t expect our studio records to sound like what the band sounds like live and vice versa. Live, we try to represent what is on the record but without getting too particular about it. There’s certain things we might have created in the studio that need to be there and we’ll sample those and reproduce them live and that’s fine but we don’t try to make it sound exactly like the record.
You released a couple of songs last year, “Dolla Diva” and “Higher & Higher.” Are those going to be on this record or were they separate entities?
Those are going to be on the record. We released them to kind of test the water, try something a little different. So those will be a part of this record that is coming out.
Maggie Koerner is no longer with Galactic and you have a new singer, Erica Falls. What does she add to the sound of Galactic?
Erica has been playing for a long time. She has a lot of experience, a very powerful presence, is soulful. We’re just very excited to be working with her. It’s great to play with somebody who has been doing this for a while and has experience working with different acts other than us and has been all over the world and takes all of this in stride and I think she’s enjoying working with us (laughs). And our audiences have been very much enjoying her as well. So it’s cool, it’s fun and we’re enjoying it. She’s incredibly talented and has got a great voice. Always comes prepared and does her homework when she has to learn some of our tunes, takes it all very seriously and has a very professional approach to everything. We just keep lucking out finding all these great people to work with us (laughs).
How did the songs come together for the new album?
It usually starts with, like, I’ll go into the studio to record drums. I just lay down ideas that I’ve been working on, just kind of improvise playing some ideas, and then we record that in our studio and those guys will pick what they like and then they’ll start writing to it. Then we usually come up with these, what we call embryos or cells of tunes, which are just basic starting points to writing. So it might be drums, bass line, guitar, maybe a little organ, maybe we’ll add a little more to it, then we kind of start there with that and we might give that to a singer that we think would fit with that tune, or a writer. So sometimes we’ll write the stuff and sometimes we have somebody help us write some of the lyrical stuff. Sometimes it’s just a combination of all of that but the songs develop slowly over time, very gradually and very incrementally.
We rarely have a situation where somebody comes in and says, “Hey, I got this song,” and it’s completely realized. When I work with like Anders Osborne, his songs are usually very flushed out. He has a definite idea of how he wants things to go. That was very much the case working with Joe Jackson. He was particular about what he wanted. He just knew what he was looking for and that’s great, that’s fine, I love working like that. But with Galactic it’s just a different approach, very much more collaborative and gradual. I get the benefit of working all those different ways with all these different people. If you work one way for a while then it’s nice to get a break and do something a little different, you know.
You’re playing Jazz Fest again. It’s like tradition, you have to be there. But I see that Macy Gray will be joining you this year. How did that come together?
Yeah, it’s going to be very cool. We got new management about two years ago roughly and they have lots of great ideas and they propose ideas to us and if we green light them then they start making them work out. So the Macy Gray thing was a suggestion from our management and we thought it would be a good idea and they started talking to Macy’s management and over time we were able to work things out. So she’s going to be with us on a few festivals coming up and that’s exciting. She’s not going to be with us full time, just on some of the bigger festivals and things that make sense.
Do you have an ultimate, top of your wish list singer who you’d like to sing with Galactic?
Sure, one of Ben Ellman’s favorite artists is D’Angelo and we’d love to get D’Angelo come sing with us.
But what about your personal dream singer choice?
There’s lots of people. D’Angelo would be great. I’ll just leave it there (laughs).
You’re just being coy.
(laughs) I know, right. Let’s say Aretha Franklin. Dream big (laughs)
I picked out Robert Plant
Well, of course. He’s one of my favorites of all-time. So yeah, THAT’s who (laughs). Good suggestion, I like it.
When was the first time you played Jazz Fest?
The first time with Galactic was 1996, but I started playing it before then when I was in Loyola, playing with the Loyola Big Band, and even before that with different honor bands. I think the first one I probably played Jazz Fest with was they had a McDonald’s Honor Band, an honor Jazz Band, in high school and I was part of that. I think that might have been the first time I played Jazz Fest and that might have been in 1989 or something like that cause I graduated high school in 1990. It was called the McDonald’s Allstar Band, or something like that, and it was funded by McDonald’s and you got to be in this band and you rehearsed and did performances around town and one of these performances would be Jazz Fest. So yeah, the very first time I did Jazz Fest was probably that while I was still in high school in probably 1989 or 1990.
With Jazz Fest coming up in a few months, what are your top three suggestions of things to do or eat or experience at Jazz Fest?
That’s a good question. Of course they would have to come see Galactic (laughs). Now what is my favorite thing to eat? It’s that combo plate. Oh man, I’m going to space on what that combo is. I get it every year, though. Oh yeah, it’s the Crawfish Sack, Oyster Patties and Crawfish Beignets [Patton’s Caterers, Chalmette, LA]. That combo, yeah, that’s awesome. So I would say that, the Crawfish Strudel and definitely they should figure out when the walking parades happen with the Mardi Gras Indians. They should definitely follow some Mardi Gras Indians around.
You’re involved in a number of projects. What is your favorite aspect of playing in all these different ventures?
The variety, really. I love all different types of music so for me the challenge of trying to adapt to the different situations I find myself in, and some of the adapting is very natural. Playing in Garage A Trois or playing with Anders Osborne, that’s all very natural because I’ve been playing groove-based, heavy-hitting music for so long. And recently leaning towards the Jazz side of things and focusing on the finesse side of my playing and playing with brushes and just playing more in that vein, that’s a little bit more of a challenging transition. So I’ve been enjoying all of those challenges of adapting to different varieties of situations I find myself into. It keeps you growing musically and keeps you developing and improving as a musician. So I enjoy all of that.
Did you choose the drums or did the drums choose you?
I think the drums chose me. My mom started bringing me as a child, an eight month old, to my first Mardi Gras parades. By the time I was three, four, five, I started recognizing and noticing the power of the drums and the energy of the drums, so that to me, you know, this was something I had to do. It was as simple as that.
You’ve talked about Buddy Rich and Max Roach in the past. What was so special about them to you?
Both of those guys individually made their own contributions. What a lot of people don’t realize about Buddy so much is that he was an incredibly musical drummer as well. He got asked to play on a lot sessions before his whole 1970’s big band thing. He did a lot of sessions with Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. He had all these records where he was just playing brushes on a lot of this stuff. There’s this record called Oscar Peterson Plays Count Basie and Buddy Rich is on that just playing brushes the whole time and it’s just incredible, just amazing. So of course he was a technical wizard and a lot of people focus on that aspect but his brush playing was just phenomenal as well. By the 1970’s, that was what people wanted to see when they came and saw him, these fireworks. That’s impressive but what moves me about him musically is how amazingly musical he could be when the music called for that. That record in particular is one of the best examples of brush playing that I have ever heard. It’s so incredibly clear and articulated and swinging. That aspect of his playing is impressive to me.
And Max Roach is just one of the guys that really started the whole movement of playing drums more melodically and motivically, which is something I like to do, something that Johnny Vidacovich definitely pointed me in that direction, and Max Roach was one of the guys who started that. They all have different things about their playing that you can gravitate towards. Some people gravitate towards the technical side of Buddy Rich where I like the brush side and the more swinging side of his playing. So even guys that are great there are different aspects in their drumming that appeal to different people for different reasons.
You played on a Corrosion Of Conformity album. Whose idea was that?
That was Pepper Keenan, who as you know is the main songwriter and the main singer in Corrosion Of Conformity. He’s from here, although his band is based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, so he knew me from when we were growing up. So it was kind of his idea. He knew what I was capable of, he knew that I would be able to do a good job on that record so he reached out to me and said, “Man, I know that you’d be able to kill this.” He and I got together and started recording and it was working out so he called the band and told the rest of the band to come down and it worked out really well. It’s something that a lot of people don’t realize, that growing up I was practicing to and listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records before I even really started to check out the Meters or any of the Jazz stuff. My earliest records that I started playing to were Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin so I’ve known that music for a long time.
Why did it take you so long to do your Jazz album Conversations?
Well, it’s something that if I was ever going to do it, I wanted to make sure that I put my best foot forward and represented that to the best of what I wanted to do. So I needed the time to focus on that and put together a trio and play for a while. You know, we played for maybe a year and a half before we recorded. I was just working on that aspect of my playing, studying transcriptions, trying to work on the finesse side of my playing. So all of that, it just takes a while to get that together so I wanted to make sure I was doing it to the best of my ability. I had certain things I wanted to do first, like writing the books, Take It To The Street and Groove Alchemy, and those things take a lot of research and a lot of transcribing, a lot of practice. I got those things accomplished and then I wanted to focus on the Jazz side of my playing.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
For me, meeting James Brown was pretty incredible. That was pretty epic (laughs). That was when Galactic opened up for James Brown at Avery Fisher Hall in New York and we got to meet him and getting to shake James Brown’s hand was pretty exciting for me.
Did you get to talk to him?
Yeah, just for a second but it was great. He was one of my biggest influences and it was a highlight for us getting to open for him and getting to see him at such close range from the side of the stage and all that kind of stuff. Some of the musicians that I’ve played with got to play with him for a very long time. Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, I’ve played with Maceo a couple of times, but I’ve done a couple of projects with Fred Wesley where I get to play with him a good bit and he’s got tons of stories about James Brown. It’s not a big deal to him cause he spent so much time with James Brown. But for me, I got to meet him the one time before he was gone and that was pretty cool.
What was the craziest thing you have ever seen Corey Glover do onstage during a Galactic show?
Climb up in the top of the rafters at some of the festivals that we do. He’d climb like way up into the rafters and the stages that hold the PA and the lights and all that, and he’s holding the mic in one hand and he’s climbing up, and it’s like, oh my God, please don’t fall (laughs)
What was your most nerve-wracking experience onstage?
I’d say Corey Glover climbing up into the rafters (laughs)
Did you ever just stop playing when he was doing that?
No, I mean, you got to keep going but luckily he’s experienced doing that kind of stuff but yeah, it can be nerve-wracking.
A lot of the stuff I’ve checked out by Elvin Jones. I mean, one of the most impactful things I’ve ever heard as I was developing was Elvin Live At Birdland with Coltrane. That still, to me, is very moving.
New Orleans is such a wonderful city. I talk to musicians all the time and when they find out I’m here, they just go crazy. So for you, who actually lives here, what is happening right now in the city, music-wise, that you are just so in love with?
Music-wise, I mean, always the Mardi Gras Indians stuff. It’s just incredibly moving and I always draw influence from that and take elements that I hear in there and incorporate to my playing. So always the Mardi Gras Indians for me. And it’s a tradition that has been around for so long but is still incredibly moving to me.
What still excites you about playing music after all these years?
Oh I just love it. It’s fun and I love new challenges and developing and getting to play with new people. That’s exciting. Luckily, I get to do it all the time.
Live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough
Galactic will be hitting the Best Buy Theatre in New York City on March 27th, check here for more info.