Galactic – Going Ya-Ka-May

Having such a foundation as New Orleans has given Galactic access to so many great musical resources over the years.  The band, set to release its 6th studio album titled, Ya-Ka-May, brought in a wide range of fantastic artists to collaborate with and has built a record that depicts a new sound coming from “The Big Easy.”  

Glide’s Nicholas Gunther had a chance to catch up with Jeff Raines, guitarist for Galactic, to talk funk and Ya-Ka-May that is set for  release on February 9th.  Hitting the road supporting Ya-Ka-May into the spring, Galactic got the tour started at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on February 3rd.  

So, Galacti has is releasing a new record, Ya-Ka-May.  Jeff, what can you tell us about the new album and what to expect?

Well on this record, we thought about some ideas of what to do and kind of settled on making our sort of our montage to New Orleans music.  But we realized immediately that we didn’t want to do what people would think that meant.  And by that I mean, doing some of the classic tunes like “Bacon Street Blues” or covering a bunch of those types.  We wanted to do something new and original that was more indicative of the New Orleans we live in now.  So we started looking around for artists to collaborate with.  

We definitely wanted to get a few big names and we did accomplish that by getting Allen Toussaint on a track.  He’s like a marquee name to work with and a real pleasure to work with.  A real genius.  The songs he turned in were just incredible.  So the record doesn’t really have any classic New Orleans tracks on it.  It’s more like new music, and we collaborated with a couple artists that are playing around here today that maybe aren’t that famous outside of the city to a huge degree.  So it’s more of a reflection to what the music scene is like here now.  

We decided that that side of New Orleans hadn’t been portrayed.  Of course, the hip-hop coming out of New Orleans has done remarkably well, with Lil’ Wayne being the ultimate rapper to ever come from here.  We also wanted to connect the dots between the hip-hop scene and the brass bands with some of the R&B to express the fact that it’s all of the same city and of the same musical history.  So that was really what our goal was when we started the project.

You guys feature of number of great artists on the new record.  How much does that allow you to broaden your playing style and influence you personally?

A lot of times, it’s like a dream come true.  Having a record that has a track with Allen Toussaint on it is something I never thought I would accomplish.  So it is pretty awesome to get some of your musical heroes to come in and work on the record.  That was definitely the wonderful part of doing it.  There’s a guitar player on the album named Walter “Wolfman” Washington, who’s a blues guy from down here and has sort of played with some of the legends of the era.  He’s one of the last guys from here that’s still playing at a very high level from that generation.  So we got to play with him too and that was, of course, a dream come true because he’s another guitar hero of mine.  So, for all of us being fans of many of these musicians, playing with them is really amazing.  Fortunately, it’s helping everyone’s careers.

Yeah, I saw that you featured Trombone Shorty on the album.  He’s really taking off.  

Yeah, he’s really making waves down here.  Such an incredible horn player.  The kid can really take it to the house and he has a really great band too, so were always excited to work with him.  

When you bring in outside vocals on a track, does that artist generally write the lyrics or have an idea of the direction of where the track is headed?

Well, from artist to artist it’s different in every situation.  Generally, we would start with a track that we have made and give them the option to a few tracks or just say, “Come up with something on this.”  There are a number of scenarios.  Sometimes we have had the lyrics and brought vocals in to sing.  Things would change and evolve from there.  And once they were more comfortable with the song it would take on more of their character.  Once we got the artist on the track, we would really go in and finish it after that.  Then put in all the production and really fine tune.  

Almost like a missing piece to the puzzle.  

Exactly, once you get the artist, you can finish the track and fill it out.  You have to have that element and character that is going to be portrayed.  

Galactic has done some work with Boots Riley (The Coup, Street Sweeper Social Club).  What did you learn from performing with him?

Boots is an awesome source of nature on stage.  He and Chali 2na, of Jurassic 5, are the two rappers that we gelled best with on our last project.  We toured the world with Boots and he’s just a real character and a great guy to hang out with.  And he just brings it on stage every night, such a great performer.  

Would you say that Galactic’s sound represents a new generation of New Orleans, or more of a fusion-funk progression?

Our music is definitely tied up in New Orleans and a lot of the great funk bands from here.  So hopefully those influences are in our music and just the way we play.  So we are a New Orleans funk band, and with that there comes a lot of baggage and history which is really cool.  So if there’s something unique about Galactic, there is a deep knowledge of 60s and 70s funk that is coming out of New Orleans.  Guys like Eddie Bo, Smokey Johnson and so many others.  

Right now, what’s the music atmosphere like in New Orleans?

It’s a really interesting scene down here.  The scene that I enjoy the most as a concert-goer, just the weekly shows at least, is the rap-band shows.  Which is super vibrant right now with so many rap bands.  And they do very well playing the local clubs around here.  It’s cool because we all listened to hip hop growing up.  But seeing organic brass bands play a Dr. Dre bass line is a real fascinating synthesis.  Blending urban hip hop and ancient brass band tradition makes for a great combo.  

Galactic is playing a few shows with Tea Leaf Green in New York and Philadelphia.   How is it playing withthem on stage?

Well, they’re a great band and are doing really well.  We’re definitely excited to collaborate with them for sure.   We hate to have bands that are very similar to us doing these types of shows.  So when their name came up it was like, “yeah, that would be a cool kind of music I would enjoy going to see.”

With such a wide range of funk and blues, is it a challenge to develop new sounds and effect combos to fit each kind of style that is being played?

Well, we’ve played so much for so long.  Almost 15 years now.  So we look at any new music that we can play with people outside of the band and see the challenge of it.  That idea keeps the band young in a way and interested in the music.  You can’t play this many shows and not change it up and have different colors in the palette musically.  So we always look at playing shows with other artists as a challenge and a way to re-enthuse everyone in the band.  

Lastly, the album title, Ya-Ka-May, gave me a real cultural feel to the name.  What’s the meaning behind the title of the record?

There’s this strange sort of Asian dish down here when you go out and these ladies sell what they call Ya-Ka-Mays off the back of trucks.  It’s like spaghetti and soy sauce with a hard-boiled egg.  And it’s this dish that we all come to love just going around town and eating.  So really it’s like a tribute to a wonderful dish.  It’s hard to name a record like that, but food seemed like a good place to start.  It has this certain New Orleans sound to it too.

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