Stanton Moore: From the Corner to the Block and Beyond
Galactic is back with a tour and a new album, From the Corner to the Block, which features numerous MCs on a consistently modern jazz/funk/jam gem, including The Coup’s Boots Riley, Blackalicious’s Gift of Gab, Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Juvenile with the Soul Rebels Brass Band. Their current direction was foreshadowed at a mammoth, crowd-pleasing late night set at Bonnaroo in June and continues at such high profile dates as the Voodoo Music Festival in late October and Jam Cruise 6 in January.
Jambands.com caught up with drummer Stanton Moore for the latest Galactic news plus a look at the musician’s full solo and side project plate. We also discussed the New Orleans native’s post-Katrina state of affairs, the lingering effects of such a widespread tragedy and his involvement in the Tipitina Foundationa group that dispenses time, money, instruments and instruction to those who no longer have access to the very music that the storm attempted to wash away but yet continues to endure.
RR: How’s the tour going? What has been the reaction towards Galactic’s new album, From to the Corner to the Block?
SM: Well, it’s going very good, actually. The overwhelming response has been very positive. A lot of people have been digging it. Without a doubt, we are going to have a few people who want the old Galactic. There’s still some of that in there. We’re still the same band; it’s just that we’re trying new things. There’s still a lot of instrumental stuff in there and we’re just trying to grow as a band. We’re trying to keep from staying stagnant and, you know, of course, if you just kept doing the same thing, then must of the people would actually say, “Oh, they just keep doing the same thing over and over,” and you end up losing more people than you would gain. The band really has to continue to grow; otherwise, you are just going to trail off into oblivion.
RR: It seems that Galactic has always evolved and moved forward, incorporating those changes into an overall larger template. On the latest record, how did the process evolve to include all of the MCs?
SM: It was a very gradual, slow process, actually. (laughs) We started this record two and a half years ago with the thought that it would be an instrumental record. We then started thinking that well, maybe we should try to get a bunch of MCs on here. The first guy we got was Gift of Gab [from Blackalicious] and he’s great and that was exciting. We got [Mr.] Lif right after that and then it seemed to take a while to get everything else going. We also had the storm [Hurricane Katrina] in the middle of everything and we lost the actual buildingit didn’t flood but it got deemed structurally unsoundbut luckily, all of our gear was still O.K. We had to move into a rental storage unit until we could figure out what we were going to do. Everything was postponed for a long while.
Once we got three or four MCs, everything sort of felt like it was moving in the right direction. Once we got Lyric Born’s tune [“What You Need”], Chali 2na’s tune [“Think Back”], Boots’s tune [Riley on “Hustle Up”] and once it all started adding up into a record, it really started to seem reassuring. One of the last MC things that we got together was the Juvenile tune, which winded up being the title to the record. It was just a very long process that required a lot of patience and a lot of perseverance especially (laughs) on the side of Ben Ellmen [sax/harmonica/co-producer] who was there for every step of the way. He really made an effort with a lot of patience and perseverance. I think in the long run, it all paid off. We are very excited about this record but it also shows us what we are capable of for the future. Also, a lot of these MCs want us to contribute tracks to their records so it has really opened up a whole other avenue of possibilities for us.
RR: You had a great preview for this album at your late night gig at Bonnaroo.
SM: Right. Yeah, I think so. I think that was great. That was really putting ourselves in the hot seat. We had never really played that music live before. We tried to get all of that music together with seven different MCs. We did their tune off the record with each MC and two or three of their own tunes and (laughs) made it into a big three and a half hour show. We really set a high bar for ourselves but we thought we were capable of doing it. We put in a lot of practice, a lot of rehearsals and everybody came with their A game. I think that it really came off well. (laughs) We really set up a challenge for ourselves but I think we all rose to the challenge and we were all very happy with the results.
RR: In general, on the new record, were the tracks arranged first and then, the MCs came aboard with their lyrics? Let’s take for example Boots Riley on “Hustle Up.”
SM: In general, we had an a’ section, a b’ section and a couple of other little things that could be used, maybe, as an intro or a breakdown but it was up for reinterpretation and reorganization. Once, Boots laid down his thing then we started structuring the song around what he had done a little bit more and really tailoring it into a song.
With the Juvenile track, we thought we really didn’t have anything representing what we would want him to do. We figured if we were getting him, and him being from New Orleans, we should do more of a Zydeco-type of thing so Ben had me lay down some drums. I was in the middle of a session with another side project with Pepper Keenan, Skerik and Robert Walter, which is really coolit’s like riff-oriented stuff; it’s really hip. We were in the middle of that and Ben came in and said, “Alrightjust give me ten minutes.” I played, Ben cut it up, put some bass to it and gave it to Juvenile and Juvenile put his thing down. He only put down 16 bars so we said, “Oh, manhow are we going to flesh this out into a tune?” We got the Soul Rebels [Brass Band] and they came up with a bunch of melodies and actually came up with the chorus, as well. They really contributed a lot to that track, as well.
Different tracks were in different states of completion, I guess. Some of them were almost complete and just needed vocals laid down on top of it but some of them were just raw, bare skeletons of a tune. They would lay their thing down and we would really flesh it into a tune afterwards. So, you know, Boots’s tune was pretty far along but Juvenile’s tune was not. (laughs) We really had to bash it into a tune after he laid his thing down.
RR: You had a recent pre-tour in store appearance, which was filmed for a video featuring Boots Riley with Galactic on “Hustle Up.” This shoot took place at my old stomping grounds, Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco.
SM: We like playing in lots of different situations. We were all really, really anxious to get on the road with this so anytime we got to play it before we got on the roadnow that we are on the road, it’s just totally killer, kick ass fun every night. Everybody’s getting along very well and Boots and Chali are starting to get up on tunes together and it is really quite cool.
RR: You also got to play on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Lyrics Born in September.
SM: Right. That was great and I felt like we did a good job on that. Lyrics Born will be doing a few shows with us, as well. We have Boots, Chali 2na and Chali’s little brother, Semaj on this and down in New Orleans, we will add Mr. Lif and he continues to the East Coast. Lyrics Born is just down in New Orleans. For the majority of the East Coast, we’ve got Mr. Lif and Boots, plus the Lifesavas and at the end of it, the last weekBoston, New York and all thatChali 2na comes back so we’ll have all of them cats.
RR: Would you like to talk about “Tuff Love?” It’s the longest track on the record, has various sections and a lot of strong elements, especially your drumming.
SM: Sure. That was one that probably started off with me playing drums and those guys laid stuff on top of it so it became a tune. I went back in and recut the drums to be more interactive with the tune.
RR: Including various effects, samples and things over the top of the track?
SM: Yeah, a little bit. A lot of that is added by count. Sometimes I would sit there with them and tell them what I was looking for. In this case, a lot of the little added drum stuff while if it was played, it was played by me. For example, on “What You Need,” there are four or five different layers. We don’t really loop too much; it’s just me playing. “What You Need” is about four layers and it is me playing on top of me. Some of the stuff that sounds like effects or whateverthere are a couple of little effects that are added.
RR: I saw Galactic last year in Arizona when you played the Mardi Gras tour with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Let’s talk about the track you recorded with him on the new record, “Second & Dryades.”
SM: Yeah, that track is all drums and Monk. Any of the melodies and all that are added by synthesization. I laid down a bunch of stuff and Ben started messing with it with effects and remixing it so he really whipped that into what it is. Anything that sounds like a melody is all effected drums.
RR: Let’s go back to our discussion about the record being a new direction but also the continuing evolution of Galactic. Some musicians and fans see music as a linear process and others get stuck in a moment of time and will not accept change. And then there are others who see music as this big pool of timeless space. A track like “Squarebiz” could come from any era, it just so happened to be released this year. Do you view time differently as a concept when you play music?
SM: We like to draw from all types of different things at different times. I don’t like to see it so much as a lineagesometimes, I do, for sure but sometimes things are just there for grabs, you know? It depends on where you’re coming from but I think what the most important thing is to not set strict rules on yourself, reallyto be open and try to pull inspiration from different sources.
You can look at the James Brown catalog linearlylearn that stuff note for note. I’ve done that and I’m in the process of re-doing that and that’s great. You also look at it very impressionistically to where you listen to the thing and you assimilate on say different sounding drums or different tones. You’re not trying to take it and learn it note for note and incorporate it into what you are doing that way but you are trying to an impression of it, almost. There are different ways of being influenced by the same stuff.
RR: Good points. In the past, the atmosphere of a room a la John Bonham’s recordings on the Led Zeppelin albums, played a part in the overall soundmicrophone placement and Jimmy Page’s producer philosophy of “distance equals depth.” Is that way of thinkingroom atmosphereless important these days?
SM: Yeah, that’s still part of it and then sometimes we’ll go and record in a more dead room and add different types of things to it, later.
RR: What is your definition of a dead roomjust a sterile environment?
SM: Like a room that is very padded and doesn’t have a lot of ambience. You record the drums and then you are free to go and add different types of ambience. If you have really cool vintage spring reverbs or plate reverbs or stuff that isn’t digital and not cheesy then you can add stuff to it that makes you kind of hip.
RR: A place that will always have a unique ambience is New Orleans. Would you like to talk about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on you?
SM: Sure. Yeah, for me personally, it’s been a gargantuan pain in the butt. It is hard to complain too much because a lot of people lost their lives, lost their entire homes. It’s been difficult. I lost the back wall of my house. I had a rental property that flooded. My fiancsquo;s rental property flooded so it’s a lot of financial strain and stress trying to get these places rebuilt. It’s hard because it is hard enough to find competent people to help you out and do work. Try to do it after Katrinamy fiancent through a couple of different contractors because people stole from her. There are all kinds of stuff and it’s just a mess but I am not stating that to complain; you asked what is going on with me personally. We’re just trying to do the best that we can. I’m still there. We’re actually looking for another house. We’re going to try to take our property and just buy one house that we live in and that’s it. (laughs)
RR: What about your involvement with Tipitina’s Foundation?
SM: They have been very good in trying to help out individual musicians, help out the people that really need instruments. I’ve tried to donate actual stuff to them but really the most important thing that we’ve done after the storm is start the Tipitina’s Workshop, which is every Sunday from 12:30-3:30. This is coming from the same one that when I was in high school, they had the Young People’s Jazz Workshop or the Young People’s Jazz Forum. That was on stage from 1-4 and it was more of a jazz thing and Johnny Vidacovich was there every week and that’s where I met Johnny. That was funded by a grant and then the grant money ran out.
The Tip’s Foundation has a constant influx of money coming in which is great so they can actually fund this thing every week so we’ve got these kids coming. We do different bands every week hosting it. One week, it might be Galactic; one week, it might be my trio; we’ve done it with all types of different bands. We’ve even done it with a heavy metal bandDown did it. It’s all types of different music, exposing the kids to all types of different stuffeverything from jazz to heavy metal, really. (laughs) We’ve had bluegrass in there; we’ve had Bonerama in therejust all types of stuff.
[The Sunday workshops] have been great, watching the kids grow and we did a thing the other day for the Katrina anniversary. We had a big benefit at Tip’s and the kids got up for about 45 minutes and it was maybe the first time where they had a decent crowd with some people dancing. We usually do the classes on Sunday so we actually had people dancing, cheering them and asking for an encore. It was really cool.
Deborah VidacovichJohnny’s wifehelps coordinate, organize and get the musicians. Deborah, Johnny and I started that up; it is also funded by the Tip’s Foundation and that happens every Sunday. That has been one of the things that we are happy about it. It’s been cool because there is really not a lot of arts in the neighborhood schools, especially some of the hard-hit areas. Even if the school can get back up, it’s hard to get their music programs running again so a lot of these kids don’t have access to music programs. The Foundation has been offering these kids a place to come, sit in and learn and it also gets these kids instruments so it has been a good thing.
RR: You also offer drum clinics while you are on the roadrecently, a workshop took place in San Mateo, CA at Drum World, right?
SM: Yes, I just did that. I also did about two weeks of master classes in the UK, as well. The clinics are open for the public; the master classes have sign ups online. Mike Dolbear has a big web site over there and each year he brings one drummer to the UK and this year, he brought me over there. It’s cool. I have these DVDs and this book and everything so I cover some of that material.
RR: Take It to the Street?
SM: Right. Exactlymy approach to the New Orleans style. I’m working on another book and DVD project that will be more my approach to the funk stuff.
RR: Fantastic. When is that due out?
SM: We’re going to try to get it out maybe a year from now.
RR: You have two big dates coming up in New Orleansa spot at the Voodoo Music Festival on October 26 and Tipitina’s Uptown the night after. Are you planning anything special for those two dates?
SM: Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of the MCs. We’ve only done that once at a very tiny show at the Maple Leaf so that’s going to be new. We’re going to be doing new music off of their music plus a bunch of their stuff, too so it is going to be quite different.
RR: Probably wasn’t too difficult to line up MCs for your upcoming Jam Cruise.
SM: (laughter) Yeah. Yeah. We’ve got other guys that we haven’t booked before that are already volunteering, wanting to go. We’ve got Australia and Japan coming up, Europe coming up a couple of times so (laughs) all of the guys are going, “Hey, mandon’t forget me for this.” We’ve got Conan O’Brien coming up [November 19]. Of course, we’ve got all the guys wanting to do all of that so it’s really good.
RR: How did the Houseman Benefit go in late July at the Independent in San Franciscoa benefit for Thery “Houseman” DeClouet.
SM: It went great. It was fun to see House, again and play those tunes, again. It went great and we raised as much money as we were hoping to raise and we helped him out with his mounting medical bills. It was musically fun and everybody had a great time. We saw a lot of people that we hadn’t seen in a while; it was great experience and it was profitable for Houseman so it was good.
RR: What are your plans for your various side projects?
SM: I’m about to do another solo trio record in late November. Garage A Trois is doing some more stuff in December [Moore, Charlie Hunter, Skerik and Mike Dillon and].
Now that we have Marco Benevento in the band, we want to do a record with that. There’s also my work with Pepper Keenan who is the singer and guitar player in Corrosion Of Conformity and he also plays guitar in Down so it is very riff-heavy stuff with me, Pepper, Skerik and Robert Walter. There’s Midnight Disturbers, which is a brass band that Kevin O’Day and I started up. We’ve got that kicking so we’ll probably going to do a record with that eventually, too.
RR: Are you still doing writing for drum magazines, as well?
SM: Oh, yeah. I just had an article come out in Modern Drummer. All the stuff I do comes out with them. I’m also still working on that next book and DVD and hopefully that’ll be coming out in a year.
RR: So we could never call you lazy?
SM: (laughter) Hopefully, not. Not yet.
_- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com