Galaxie 500 - Biography
Their career lasted only four years and three albums, the most recent one being from 1990, but nearly twenty years later, it almost feels as if Galaxie 500 are still a band. Any success that can be associated with the music of this powerfully quiet trio came long after their demise, when reissues of their albums started coming out on Rykodisc. It is a legacy that demands to be discovered, as owning just one Galaxie 500 album is a near-impossibility. The duo that once comprised the group's rhythm section have since reunited as their own project, while their former singer/guitarist has started other bands. But none of them would deny the magic that they once achieved as a three-piece. With the genre of alternative rock struggling to find its identity these days, this short-lived group demonstrated that an alternative band needed no identity. Their music didn't fall into the classifications of shoegazer, or noise-pop, or slow-core. It was, simply, their music.
Before there was any talk of one day making records together, the trio that became Galaxie 500 began as good friends in a New York high school. Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski, natives of the state, met and embraced Dean Wareham, who came to New York from New Zealand. Wareham started playing guitar and Krukowski took up drums, learning to play them from the school's percussion teacher. Wareham and Krukowski graduated in 1981 and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they would attend Harvard. They soon formed a band called Speedy and the Castanets which soon broke up, following their bass player's religious awakening. They attempted to find a new bassist, even placing an ad in Village Voice, but no bassist was found. Considering the band to be over, Wareham traveled Europe after graduating from Harvard. Yang, who had come to Harvard one year after the duo and done some graphics work for their band, became their new bass player when Wareham returned, even though she had no experience on bass whatsoever.
They took their name from a friend's car, the Galaxy 500, and began gigging around New York as well as Boston. They soon recorded a demo of three songs and sent it to Kramer, the head of independent record labels Shimmy Disc and Noise Studio in New York. Kramer agreed to produce the band's music, and two cuts, “Tugboat” and “Oblivious,” were issued as singles. “Oblivious” was featured in a companion disc in an issue of Chemical Imbalance magazine. The group then recorded their debut, Today (1988 Rykodisc) and it was marked by the originality that all three members brought to their instruments. Though Yang may have had limited knowledge of the bass at the time, it is not apparent on the album, as her warm, ethereal tones sound like the work of a noted professional. Krukowski proves a charming drummer, boasting a capability for making impressive dynamic shifts. Wareham, not a master of the guitar but certainly a master of his own sound, solos in all the right places and hits all the right notes, his unique and often double-tracked voice adding a level of mystery to the recordings. And, throughout the entire album, Kramer leaves his mark, creating a warm and fuzzy wall of reverb which would become a staple of all three of the group's albums.
The band signed to Rough Trade following the critical praise of Today. There, they released their follow-up, On Fire (re-released on Rykodisc) in 1989. Many consider this album to be their crowning achievement, and it definitely showed the band making a giant leap in terms of song-craft and musicianship. Again produced by Kramer, it showcased the same reverb as their debut, but had more substance, both sonically and lyrically. The addition of acoustic guitars helped to flesh out the arrangements. The album contained a cover of George Harrison's “Isn't it a Pity?” as well as the singles “When Will You Come Home,” and “Blue Thunder,” the most well-known song present here.
On Fire was succeeded by a limited-edition 7” release that contained live covers of Jonathan Richman's “Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste,” the studio version of which appears on Today, and the Beatles' “Rain.” With their fanbase expanding and more possibilities opening up, Krukowski and Yang decided to quit going to Harvard grad school to focus on the band full-time, which included a tour of Europe, where they were more successful. Wareham moved back to New York while Krukowski and Yang remained in Boston.
Returning to the studio, the band recorded a third album with producer Kramer. This Is Our Music (Rykodisc) came out in 1990, and was lauded nearly as much as On Fire. Beginning with the almost bouncy single “Fourth of July,” it was an accomplished effort from start to finish. The mere choice of covering Yoko Ono's “Listen, the Snow is Falling” was interesting in itself, and the band's execution of it, with Yang on vocals, was hypnotically mesmerizing. Wareham's confidence in his own brand of soloing led to some truly stunning guitar work throughout the album, and it is as good of a last album as any band could hope to record. Obviously, none of them knew it would be their last time recording together, except for possibly Wareham. In 1991, following a lengthy tour in support of the album, Wareham called his bandmates on the phone and informed each of them of his decision to quit.
A few months later, Wareham had formed his new band, Luna, and Rough Trade went bankrupt. In a 1991 auction of Rough Trade's assets, Krukowski purchased the master tapes of the group's music. In 1996, Rykodisc released a boxed set of the band's entire recorded catalog, and the live album, Copenhagen followed in 1997, also on Rykodisc. The rarities album from the boxed set was released on its own in 2004 as Uncollected (Rykodisc) and 2005 saw the release of the group's Peel Sessions (20/20/20).
Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang reunited as a duo called Pierre Etoile, later simply calling themselves Damon and Naomi. Wareham's band, Luna, enjoyed a successful career lasting from 1992 to 2004. Wareham now releases albums with his ex-Luna bassist, and now-wife, Britta Phillips.