Galactic: 20 years and still jamming

by Jared Curtis 

Longevity is usually not the norm in the music business. Being in a band for five years is a major accomplishment, but being in band for 20 years is a milestone. Galactic is one of these groups, as the jam/funk band from New Orleans has been getting down since 1994. 

“I was just talking to my wife the other day about how it’s been 20 years,” bassist and founding member Robert Mercurio said. “In some ways I hoped that we would have this long, storied career, but I never thought we’d be together 20 years either. Most bands only last an album or two, so it truly is a blessing that we have stayed together this long.” 

Mercurio believes the band’s friendship has been a strong foundation for them to grow. 

“We were all friends before we even started the band. Jeff (Raines, guitarist) and I have been friends since the third grade,” he said. “So we’ve had a long relationship prior to starting the group.”

Another key to keeping things fresh is how they use a rotating cast of vocalists during their live performances. 

“Weirdly enough, changing singers every couple of years actually rejuvenates the band in a weird way,” Mercurio laughed. “It brings in some fresh blood to the group and changes the vibe. It’s always exciting to add a new vocalist because I never know how it will affect the band. Some vocalists stay longer than others depending on what projects they are working on, but there is never bad blood when they move on and we usually bring them back to share the stage with us any chance we get.” 

One of the more higher profile vocalists the band has toured with is Corey Glover, singer of Living Colour, which is an odd choice as Glover is more rooted in the rock scene, whereas Galactic simmers in the jazz/funk sound.

“We had met Corey probably 10 years prior to him joining the band when he joined us on stage one night for a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and we tore it up. We stayed in touch, but never had a chance to work with him,” Mercurio said. “Years later, he was on hiatus with Living Colour and ended up touring with us for about two years. He just joined us on stage again last summer in New York and any chance we get to join forces with him we do. Or past vocalists never permanently leave the band, they become part of the Galactic family and we share the stage whenever and wherever we can.” 

The group has worked with a variety of vocalists ranging from singer-songwriters to hip hop artists and recently announced that Macy Gray will join the group for a special performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But don’t expect Gray to be fronting the band when they stop at the Wild Buffalo on Thursday, Feb. 26, as Mercurio believes they have someone who will blow the roof off the place, vocalist Erica Falls. 

“Erica is a relatively unknown singer from New Orleans, but she is a powerhouse,” Mercurio said. “We have become fond of her over the years and when it was time to start looking for another singer, she was at the top of the list. It’s cool to tour with someone the fans are not too familiar with because they don’t come to the shows with preconceived notions. It’s going to be cool to introduce her to our fans and I guarantee people will leave the show amazed by her talent.” 

The sound and vibe of Galactic can change from show to show depending on the vocalist.

“A male vocalist is going to sing differently than a female vocalist, so the sound does change a bit, but Erica is just as aggressive as any male vocalist we’ve toured with, so it’s going to be fun to hear her interpretations. Truthfully, the only difference is that using a female vocalist softens the band’s testosterone levels,” Mercurio laughed. 

The band is currently finishing up their new album, with hopes of it being released in April or May. Although Mercurio couldn’t confirm the names, he said the album would feature some “amazing guest performers” and a return to the band’s original retro-soul sound. 

“It’s definitely reminiscent to our earlier records as we wanted to go back to our original sound. The last few records have featured more electronics and looping tools, so we wanted to do this one differently,” Mercurio said. 

Fans can expect to hear some new songs as well as plenty of classic cuts from the band when they takeover the Wild Buffalo for “An Evening with Galactic.” 

“It’s been a while since we have been back to Bellingham, but we love the town’s cool vibe and the great food, so we’re looking forward to getting back up there and putting on a great show,” Mercurio said. 

LIVE SHOW: See Galactic at the Wild Buffalo on Thursday, Feb. 26. For more about the band see galacticfunk.com/band.

Published in the February 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine