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Published: 1999/09/15
by Dean Budnick

Aspiring To the Limitless: Galactic’s Rob Mercurio

One of the more compelling tour packages of the past few months originated within the jam band scene. Summer Sessions featured Galactic, Gov’t Mule, moe., Phil and Friends and String Cheese Incident. Towards the beginning of that tour, Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio called in to discuss these shows and answer some other questions about his group. Galactic will resume touring on October 13th for six weeks of shows which includes two nights (and Halloween) at New York’s Irving Plaza. For more info visit the group’s website, www.galacticfunk.com.

DB: Let’s start off with Summer Sessions. It is still relatively early in the tour but have there been any standout nights?

RM: Atlanta came together really well because I think it was one of these cities where all of the bands are really popular. There was this one night when String Cheese closed and they played “Hey Pocky Way“and we all got up there. Rich was dueling keyboards with Kyle. Houseman was singing and there was a nice vibe up there. Ben was playing sax and three of us were hitting tambourines and cowbells and stuff like that. I really dig everyone getting together. Warren Haynes has been all over the place sitting in with everybody. Going into this thing I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but the way that everybody’s been working together has been really nice.

DB: How well did you know the other three bands before the tour started?

RM: I had never met any of the people in moe. before. String Cheese we had met pretty extensively and they had come to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. We also had done some dates with Gov’t Mule on last summer’s Widespread tour. So we knew two of the bands and were real comfortable with them. The members of moe. have turned out to be super cool guys too.

DB: Have you seen any of their sets yet?

RM: Oh yeah, I’ve been checking out all the music. There’s really not that much else to do. You can get real sick of hanging out on the tour bus so I’ve been checking out a lot of music.

DB: What’s the scene been like backstage?

RM: One of the coolest backstage scenes was in Memphis. Stanton has this mini drum kit that he sets up everyday backstage and our guitar player has this little amp, and the bass player in String Cheese has this little amp, and everybody set up and we had this freeform jam session- not on stage but just hanging out backstage. Then when we came off stage after our set we just started playing: us, some of the guys from String Cheese and some of the guys from moe. It was just a little campfire scene. It’s funny, we’re all pretty much playing the same clubs so we’re backstage talking about touring and the experiences we’ve had. Gov’t Mule, they’re a little older than everybody so they’ve got the greatest stories of all. Everybody’s hanging out on everybody’s tour buses and there’s no ego thing at all, which is great because this is how the tour was set up, with nobody in particular as a headliner, just rotating every night. In fact we’ve tried to keep the order of bands something of a secret so that people will come out early. In Atlanta the tickets were printed with the bands in alphabetical order so it looked like we were headlining but we actually played second. So we were out there doing our CD signing and a lot of our fans came up and said “when are you guys going on?“And we had to say “uuhh, we just went on.”

DB: In terms of inviting other musicians to come on stage with you, how has that come about?

RM: It’s been pretty informal because everyone’s just been around and into it. For instance last night fifteen minutes before we were about to go on I saw Rob from moe. backstage and I asked him if he wanted to come out with us, and he said “sure, cool.”

DB: To what extent did he know your music?

RM: I don’t think they’d heard us much either.

DB: So is it difficult in that situation?

RM: We picked a relatively easy one so he could follow and I taught him the bass line ahead of time a little bit. But he definitely changed it up and it was really cool, it went to different places than it would have if I was playing.

DB: I know that many of the musicians out there are really psyched to be playing with Phil Lesh. But when you were growing up you weren’t into the Dead, you were more into Fugazi, Minor Threat and that whole DC hardcore scene, right?

RM: Yeah. It’s funny. Really nobody in our band is all that familiar with the music of the Grateful Dead. To us, maybe our equivalent might be getting ready to perform with James Brown. But to these others bands Phil Lesh is a major idol, and they are all learning the tunes and they’re all excited.

DB: So have you ever played on the same bill as James Brown?

RM: About a month ago we opened up for him at Lincoln Center in New York. That was really cool. It was a part of the JVC Jazz Festival. We flew up for the weekend, hung out in New York and met James Brown. We checked out his soundcheck, he checked out ours and he was there for our set. It was really cool.

DB: Jumping back to Fugazi, do you see any continuum between their music and your own?

RM: It’s funny because Stanton our drummer used to listen to a lot of punk rock when he was growing up. We definitely have aggressive moments like that. Maybe not in the studio recordings but more in the live concerts where we just go back into our seventh and eighth grade garage band modes. When we first met Stanton he was playing in this hard rock group called Oxenthrust, and he was just a basher. He’d just be slamming on the drums. It’s funny because now he uses so much finesse, and he’s really into jazz, and getting more out of the instrument then just slamming it. But there are still moments and influences and all that stuff.

DB: Did you meet Stanton when you were down in college?

RM: I actually met him at a jam session. It was just me and a guitar player friend of mine. He said “I’ve got this drummer coming over today, do you wanna get together?“So I came over and we played a bunch of Hendrix tunes, and just kind of jammed. At the end of the rehearsal he said “Man, that was fun.“And I said “Well I have this guitar player and keyboard player that I’ve been playing with if you want to come over some day.“He said “Sure,“so we got together and we played all these Meters songs and it was just great. Stanton loved it because he was playing in this Oxenthrust band at the time and he said “Ohh man, this is what I really love but I can never find anyone who wants to do this.”

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