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Published: 2000/04/15
by Bob Makin

Galactic: The Houseman Cometh

Galactic singer Theryl “Houseman” deClouet wrote and sang as many songs on the band’s new “Late for the Future” disc as he did on the combined one-two punch of its predecessors: the 1996 debut, “Coolin’ Off,” and the 1998 follow-up, “Crazyhorse Mongoose.” A much more integral part of the New Orleans-based jazz-groove outfit, Houseman and his R&B band, the Rewards, will release an album in the fall on Rounder called “The Houseman Cometh.” The singer hopes Galactic’s success also spills over for his Motown-like vocal group Hollygrove, who sang back up on “Late for the Future.”

Like deClouet, many New Orleans music veterans appreciate the overnight success of Galactic, a band that consists mainly of musicians not originally from the Crescent City. The group formed in 1994 after Washington, D.C.-raised childhood friends Robert Mercurio (bass) and Jeff Raines (guitar) fled to New Orleans to respectively attend Tulane and Loyala universities. But the real reason they went down there was to soak and partake in the diverse city’s fertile music scene. One of the places they frequented and eventually played was Benny’s, where the deClouet gigged with the Rewards every Sunday.

With New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore and fellow Crescent City enthusiast Richard Vogel on keyboards, Mercurio and Raines absorbed The Meters’ repertoire and played a series of shows in 1994 as the Ivanhoes, naming themselves after the first place the legendary Crescent City band played. Upon regrouping as Galactic with The Houseman and saxophonist Ben Ellman, the funky fold recorded its self-propelled, Dan Prothero-produced debut. By 1998, the band was signed to Atlanta-based Capricorn Records, which reissued the debut and released the follow-up, also produced by Prothero.

By tapping into the jam scene at the invitation of such New Orleans-loving acts as Medeski, Martin and Wood, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident and to a lesser degree, Phish, Galactic has shone a national spotlight on the city’s insular funk scene for the first time since the 1970s heyday of The Meters. Like deClouet, many New Orleans musicians have been performing in the city since before most of Galactic was born. Some feel overlooked, deClouet says. Almost all are thankful that Galactic’s success looks like it’s going to be contagious, the singer says.

With “Late for the Future,” the jazz-groove outfit’s leanest, most lyrical album to date, the spotlight should grow stronger and more influential. In the meantime, Galactic will headline a tour that will bring them to the Northeast and Midwest until late April and early May, when the band will play highly anticipated hometown gigs at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, House of Blues and Tipitina’s. Fellow jam bands that will play the festival include String Cheese Incident, Medeski Martin & Wood, Deep Banana Blackout and many more. Galactic also will share the stage with New Orleans legend Dr. John on June 6 at New York’s Central Park Summerstage.

Right before “Late for the Future” was released on April 4, I spoke with deClouet about his enlarged role in the group that has given his long career a big boost. We also discussed the musical trim “Late for the Future” producer Nick Sansano (Sonic Youth, Manic Street Preachers) gave to the band, the way in which the jam scene has helped the group’s audience grow swiftly, the improvisational nature of deClouet’s lyrics and vocals and the funky fun his hometown has provided for him and others.

Where does the nickname ‘Houseman’ come from?

Ivan Neville gave me that name. He just blurted it out when he was in my house and I made him get out. I told him I was the Houseman so he just called me that from then on.

You were described as Galactic’s permanent special guest. What did that mean and how did that role change with ‘Late for the Future’?

The people are demanding me to do more than just a couple of songs.

How do you feel about that?

I feel all right, but I wish I had my own career. Galactic’s just one dimension. They’re funky and we all love ‘em, but I’ve got this other shit in me too that I’ve got to get out. Galactic is funky. I’m R&B/blues. I’m learning how to do funk. I’d like to get a little R&B.

With Galactic or your own thing?

Well, Galactic too, but my own thing had to come out sooner or later. Rounder is going to put it out some time in the fall. Galactic’s on two songs. It’s called ‘The Houseman Cometh.’ We come to jam. It’s my band, the Rewards. Everybody but (co-founder) Michael (Ward). He died so he can’t be there, but he’s there in spirit. We’re doing the record for him. He was a conga player.

That’s where Galactic saw me, with the Rewards at Benny’s. It’s the same songs, we just updated the arrangements and the beats.

Once that record comes out, will you continue to perform with Galactic?

Yeah, I’m not going nowhere. I’m just exercising another part of me that’s been there all the while. It was always in the plan for me to do me. That was the deal with Galactic. ‘Hey, help us, and you can do as much of you as you want.’ So this is just the beginning.

Do you think you would have been able to put that record out anyway or did working with Galactic make it happen?

Working with Galactic. I probably would have eventually been able to do something, but Galactic escalated everything. What we did with Galactic in the few short years that we have been a band, I’m sure that prompted Rounder and just made everybody love the Houseman a lot more. Galactic hasn’t done anything but help me period. And they’re very aware of wanting me to be wider exposed so much love goes out to them.

I’ve been recording and Robert and everybody else has been there every night. It’s kind of like a family thing. They would say, ‘Come on over, Houseman. We want you to do some singing on our CD.’ But shit, there was a lot of singing done before the CD, a whole lot of gigging. That’s where that special guest comes in because I was always planning to do my shit. They knew they couldn’t keep me from that. Galactic is my thing, but it’s more like my new baby. The Rewards is my grown child.

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