"Everything’s Appropriate:" Robert Mercurio and Galactic Host the Icicle Ball (Ten Years On)
We look back to January 2001 to present this archival interview with Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio
Photo by Kim Panzitta
It’s been more than a year since I last spoke with Galactic bass player Robert Mercurio for the site (September 1999 to be precise). During the intervening time period, in addition to ongoing sonic explorations, his group has released another critically-heralded studio disc, recorded live performances for a forthcoming release, visited Japan twice, performed at the Cannabis Cup, toured with Counting Crows and Live, backed a French Moroccan singer on his album, and the list goes on…
At present Galactic is preparing to head out on the road with the SnoCore Icicle Ball. The group will headline a truly inspired line-up that includes Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, Lake Trout and Drums and Tuba (although the latter two groups will each play half of the dates). The tour begins on January 17 at the Joint in Las Vegas, and continues through February. The Ball promises abundant musical cross-pollination, merriment and mayhem. The complete tour itinerary and all breaking Galactic news can be found at www.galacticfunk.com.
DB- It’s been a while since our last interview. How do you feel the band’s sound has evolved over that time?
RM- For starters, the last record was a lot different from the other two. Definitely you hear more guitar presence. We’ve been listening to more north Mississippi blues type of stuff like Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough. It’s been a new batch of influences. Every couple of months somebody gets a new disc by somebody and it just blows us all away. It’s funny, we also get a lot of influences from the bands we tour with. Lately, we did some touring with Lake Trout and they brought a lot of drum and bass records that they lent us. Seeing them live also definitely influenced us, in playing tunes that have no solos but are totally about textures, grooves and dynamics. So I think we’ve moved in a number of directions during that time span.
There certainly has been a heavier guitar presence. A lot of people have said we’ve gotten a lot heavier. I personally went and saw Rage Against the Machine and they were awesome. That was last December, it was powerful. So I played their new record in the van and it’s amazing what kind of impact that can have on a band’s sound. It’s funny too seeing let’s say a bunch of hippies going crazy to heavy music every once in a while.
We also toured with Skerik right before our last record and he definitely brings out that experimental element, with pedals and fluctuating volume, the freedom to play whatever you want. I think he brought out a lot of that in everybody and it showed up on the record. It’s still coming out. I think we’re getting quirkier in a way. I read something on our discussion group where someone said, “I miss the old smooth funk grooves.” I hear that but you’ve got to change and keep on growing. You can’t keep on playing the same style or groove for the rest of your life. I’m glad that things have been changing.
Another thing that happened was there’s this huge funk band movement and we didn’t want to sound like any other funk band. So we kind of dug in to what was really inside of each of us. Me and Jeff [Raines] and Stanton [Moore] all grew up as punk rock kids so that’s kind of coming out. The more you’re out there, the more you want to show what’s inside you. When we first came together we did so on the premise that we really dig the Meters, so let’s do something Metersesque. But now after spending that much time with each other we’re starting to learn wheat everybody is about and incorporate all that into the music. It’s a really neat thing.
DB- So when you started the band you had no expectation that you would eventually move beyond that traditional New Orleans funk sound?
RM- It’s funny because we went from funk and then got a little into soul jazz like Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Smith, John Patton, all that organ stuff. I don’t have any idea where we’re going to do next. Stanton’s actually in the studio right now. He’s doing a solo record and he’s experimenting big time with loops and samples and different sounds. He’s now got his regular bass drum and he’s bringing out this 26 inch bass drum that he’s been using for certain fills to get this big, boomy sound. Maybe 4-5 years ago we might say “Oh that’s not appropriate” but basically now we’re saying. “Everything’s appropriate nowadays, do what you want.”
DB- You’ve certainly been more aggressive in terms of soloing. What inspired that?
RM- One day on the bus, Jeff our guitar player said you have to take one solo a set (laughs). He said it was the only way I would get better at soloing. It’s the truth, it’s like trial under fire. The bass is not a solo instrument, so I never really focused on that. As I’ve been doing it though, I’ve found it to be very liberating. It’s amazing what you come up with you have somewhat of a spotlight on you and you’re forced to invent new material on the spot. I’m glad that people have noticed, I’ve been working on it. I have this new little toy bass that has these big rubber strings that has a great little sound. So I guess I’m getting a little shtick together (laughs).