Nov. 3 2010 10:35 AM

Dean Wareham resurrects Galaxie 500 tunes two decades after their break-up

Dean Wareham, crica 1989
Among longtime fans of independent music, to have seen Galaxie 500 perform live is something of a badge of honor. The band that helped define a genre known as “dream pop” toured the U.S. only once and split up in 1991, after three years and three albums. In interviews since then, its members—Dean Wareham, Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski, who met in high school in New York and went on to attend Harvard together—have said a reunion is out of the question.

More popular overseas than here—Galaxie 500 did two sessions for John Peel’s legendary BBC Radio 1 show—the band’s records are a study in simplicity and innovation. The songs are straightforward, Velvet Underground-inspired, two- and three-chord ballads marked by driving, meandering jams and Wareham’s imperfect falsetto. What sets them apart is producer Mark Kramer’s liberal use of reverb. Kramer had the band record in a large, open room and then doused the songs with reverb during the mixing process. The result is beautifully melancholic—the musical embodiment of nostalgia.

“When we went into the studio with Kramer in 1988, we had not been playing long,” Wareham says in an e- mail. “And I’m not sure what we expected, but I know that we came out of there two days later feeling like we had recorded at least a couple of very special songs that didn’t sound like anyone else at all.”

Wareham credits Kramer for their singular sound. “So many engineers have this rule,” he says, “that if you can hear the effect, then you are using too much of it. In essence that you should only use effects in a subtle way. This is nonsense.”

After Galaxie 500 broke up, Krukowski and Yang went on to perform as Damon & Naomi and Magic Hour. Wareham formed Luna and then, later—with his wife, Britta Phillips—Dean & Britta. The couple’s work in the last few years is quintessentially cool: They’ve done film scores—like Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale—worked with Pete Kember (Sonic Boom, Spacemen 3), started a record label and, in 2009, were commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to write songs to accompany Warhol’s short-film “portraits” of Factory regulars like Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper. Since its release, Wareham and Phillips have toured 13 Most Beautiful... Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests throughout the U.S. and Europe, including a stop last November at The Loft at UCSD.

Last year, Wareham says, a promoter in Spain saw him and Phillips perform a few Galaxie 500 songs and asked them to return to play a festival—one night of Dean & Britta songs and a second night of Galaxie 500 songs.

“So we learned some songs and singing them gave me an emotional charge,” Wareham says, “and the band sounded really good—Jason Lawrence playing drums and Matt Sumrow on extra guitar—and when I got home I thought, ‘Well maybe we should do some more of these.’” And, in March of this year, the label Domino U.K. re-released Galaxie 500’s three albums (Today, On Fire and This is Our Music). Stateside, Krukowski and Yang’s 20/20/20 label did its own series of re-issues.

“For all these reasons, it seemed like now was a good time,” Wareham says. Billed as “Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500” (Wareham will be backed by Phillips, Lawrence and Sumrow), the stop in San Diego comes midway through an 11-date tour of North America.

While Wareham’s modest about Galaxie 500’s impact two decades later (“I don’t know that we were important to the evolution of indie music,” he says), he agrees that the songs have held up well.

“They don’t sound dated, and people love them— those who don’t hate them anyway,” he says. “Ultimately you have to judge bands not by whether they are influential, but just by asking ‘Is this beautiful?’ or ‘Is this unique?’”

Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500 songs on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at Anthology.