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Published: 2012/12/05
by Randy Ray

Dragon Smoke & Galactic Travels with Robert Mercurio

RR: How about playing at the reopened Capitol Theatre in October in New York?

RM: Oh, yeah. That was cool. That night was just so special because Allen Toussaint opened up the show, played solo piano, and then, he performed a couple of songs with us. He did a duet with Corey Glover on one of Allen Toussaint’s songs called “What Is Success?” and it was definitely a musical highlight for me, and, also, the rehearsal before the performance. We had a two-hour rehearsal before the performance running over these songs with Allen Toussaint, and to see him in his musical director mode, and him kind of producing or directing the band in a way is his forte. He’s been doing that for years, and he’s the master of doing that, and to have him doing that with Galactic was so cool and inspiring—just to see somebody at his level and how and why he’s reached his level because he’s truly a master at organizing and arranging music.

The rehearsal alone, I would have been happy with that. The performance, when he sat in and he and Corey started riffing off each other and improvising vocally, was a musical highlight of my whole career. The theatre, alone, is so beautiful, and it’s so exciting to see something like that. It’s rare that you see clubs and theatres moving in that direction. Usually, it’s the opposite—either they are closing, or they are rundown. It’s great to see promoters still try to revive old settings like that.

RR: Absolutely. The variety of collaborations also touches a note with me. I saw Allen Toussaint play with Elvis Costello a few years back, and you’d think that may not work, but it certainly did. I think they elevated both of their musical contributions by what they brought to the experience. That was very inspiring, too.

RM: Yeah, they did that album together right after Katrina. There is a reason that [Toussaint] has done it, and has been so successful over the years. He’s been working with a lot of different artists. He did his thing with Robert Palmer, and he did his stuff with so many R&B legends, and then you have somebody like Elvis Costello. He knows where to slip in and how to direct.

RR: Galactic collaborated with various musicians from various backgrounds and cultures on the latest studio album, too, Carnivale Electricos .

RM: Yeah. With any album, afterwards, you always feel like there’s something like “I would have done this differently,” or “if we had had more time.” There’s always something I might have done differently here and there, but I was happy with it. I was the main producer on the album, so it was exciting for me to accomplish that—to make the album and have it done. To tell you the truth, we’re just moving on, and working on the new album now. Stanton and I have been in the studio every minute that we’re home to try and produce the next album.

RR: When can we expect the new Galactic studio album?

RM: We’re trying to finish it by mid-next year, so, sadly enough, probably the beginning of 2014.

RR: After the Japan tour, Galactic plays at Tipitina’s on New Year’s Eve.

RM: It’s funny. We used to go to San Francisco on New Year’s Eve. We started to play New Orleans for New Year’s Eve right before Katrina, but, then, the New Year’s we played right after Katrina, the storm had just hit in August, and it was just kind of getting back together in November, and New Year’s Eve was Tipitina’s first show, and that night, in particular, was just amazingly special that had this feeling that “we can do this; we all can come together to make this happen; the city can come back.” I remember before that New Year’s, in October and November, I was wondering if it was really going to even happen. Were people even going to be in town? And the show went off and it had such a special feeling. It’s such an important night at the beginning of a new year that it’s become really important for the band to be here, and to be with our families. It’s just so nice to spend it in your hometown.

RR: And then you leave town to head out onto the open seas on Jam Cruise.

RM: (laughs) Yeah. Such crazy stuff going on. I love Jam Cruise. A lot of our trips are working vacations, but Jam Cruise, in particular, is, as the schedule is really easy, and it’s such a great time of year to get back together. It’s like camp, in a way. They tend to hire a lot of the same bands year to year, and a lot of them are people that I’m friends with, and even ones that I am not friends with, I tend to get to know over the five or six days. I’ve created a lot of great musical and friendship bonds from my experiences on Jam Cruise.

Usually, at a festival, you’re there for a few hours, and then you have to go wherever—back to the hotel, or head out and grab a flight somewhere, some place. On Jam Cruise, you’re at a festival for five days; there’s nowhere you can go. And that’s a good thing. It forces you to go see that band that you’ve been meaning to see, or go sit in with this band that you’ve been meaning to sit in with, so it’s a great experience just on the musician level. For the fan, they get to see all of that stuff happening—the sit-ins and collaborations. I’ve actually made a lot of friendships with fans over the years, too, because there really isn’t any sort of backstage. Everybody is around the boat and very approachable, so I’ve made a lot of lasting relationships on the boat. I’m happy and amazed and we’re the one and only band that’s been on the cruise every year.

RR: That feeds into my final thoughts, which are getting around the feeling of being burnt out, whether it is playing with other musicians on Jam Cruise, or with the occasional gigs with Dragon Smoke, or playing with Galactic in various settings—on stage, the studio, or otherwise. One never really knows when burn out will appear.

RM: Yeah. I never think that it is so hard. It might just be like…I think the key might just be variety, changing it up a little bit. Not too much—I don’t want to be in a new band every week. Pushing forward—with the Galactic album and the Galactic music, I personally love working in the studio. I love the feeling of accomplishing new music. That is so inspiring to me. Some days, in the studio, like you are saying, there is a kind of burned-out feeling like “Oh my God, how are we going to do this?” And, then, you have other days where you have huge breakthroughs. You are just searching for those breakthroughs, and, hopefully, they come sooner rather than later. I think collaborating with new people all the time is a key thing that has kept Galactic going. We’ve been a band for around 17, 18 years, but we’re always searching for new influences and new inspirations and new collaborators that bring in new juice to the project. I think that has all been a really healthy thing that has broadened the band and everyone’s musicality.

I think that just translates into life, too. I think there’s a phrase that variety is the spice of life, and I think that translates the same way in music.

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