Luna - Biography



By Scott Feemster

Although started by Dean Wareham after the demise of his previous band, the legendary Galaxie 500, Luna quickly crawled out from the imposing shadow of his former band to assert their own identity, and became an influential and much-loved band in their own right.

 

            At the top of their career after touring as the opening act for the Cocteau Twins in 1991, vocalist/guitarist Dean Wareham stunned his bandmates Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski by announcing that he was leaving the band. Soon after his departure, Wareham signed a deal with Elektra Records and set about to record a demo. Wareham enlisted the help of Mercury Rev drummer Jimmy Chambers, and the pair recorded some of Wareham's songs, including “Anesthesia”, “I Can't Wait” and “Slash Your Tires”. “Anesthesia” was later released as a single on the Number 6 label under the name Dean Wareham. Executives at Elektra were impressed with what they heard, and so Wareham began the process of putting together a new, permanent band. Wareham contacted his friend bassist Justin Harwood, a New Zealander who had previously been in the acclaimed Kiwi indie pop band The Chills, and convinced him to move to New York City and be the bassist in his new band. Once Harwood was settled in, the two started auditioning drummers, and eventually settled on a drummer named Byron Guthrie. The trio rehearsed in the basement under Wareham's apartment, and recorded another set of demos, produced by Dave Fridmann. The trio also played a few shows together, augmented by guitarist Grasshopper from Mercury Rev. Soon Guthrie was dropped from the line-up, and was replaced by former Feelies drummer Stanley Demeski, thus making the new band a kind of indie super-group. The new band was christened Luna, but soon found out that there was a musician who was already using the name, so they were called Luna 2 for a time before an agreement was worked out where they could drop the 2, and simply be known as Luna. The new trio of Demeski, Wareham and Harwood enlisted the help of producer and Voidoids/Lou Reed drummer Fred Maher, and released the album Lunapark (Elektra) in late 1992. Though the new band had elements of Galaxie 500's style, it was clear this was a new band, and the album steered the way towards a different and more confident sounding style of rock. Though the new band still featured Wareham's trademark laconic vocals and almost slow-motion sounding guitar, it also featured Harwood's ultra-melodic bass playing and Demeski's hyper-active drumming. Maher, Grasshopper, and former Galaxie 500 producer Kramer all made guest appearances on the record, further fleshing out the sound of the trio.

 

            Soon after the release of the album, the trio decided they needed another guitarist to expand the sound of the band, and placed an ad in the Village Voice. After a series of auditions, former drama student Sean Eden was drafted into the group. The new quartet soon returned to the studio and recorded the Slide EP (Elektra)(1993), an EP of mostly covers and a couple of Wareham originals. The EP featured Luna covering songs by Beat Happening, the Velvet Underground, and The Dream Syndicate, and the band made the cover songs sound like they had composed them themselves, turning in versions that actually improved on the originals. After the release of Slide, the band toured the U.S., opening for such bands as The Screaming Trees and the Sundays, and soon after landed the plum opening slot on the reformed Velvet Underground tour of Europe. After returning back to New York, the group recorded their next album, Bewitched (Elektra), released in 1994. The album further consolidated the group's sound, with Eden bouncing off of Wareham's distinctive guitar parts. Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison also guested on two songs on the album. After another round of touring to support Bewitched, the band returned to the studio again and recorded their next album Penthouse (Elektra), released in 1995 and produced by the band with Pat McCarthy and Mario Salvati. Now tighter and more assured as a unit, the group turned in what many consider to be their best release. Rolling Stone magazine later included Penthouse on its list of essential albums of the 90's. The album featured guest appearances from former Television guitarist Tom Verlaine, cellist Jane Scarpantoni and a guest vocal turn from Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier on the duet with Wareham of the Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot classic “Bonnie and Clyde”. The band also issued another EP, simply called EP, in 1986 on No. 6 Records, that included several original Wareham songs mixed with covers of the Talking Heads and Tom Rush. After heavy touring to support Penthouse, Demeski decided to leave the band, and was replaced by drummer Lee Wall, who had been working at the studio where Luna recorded Penthouse.

 

            After a brief tour of Spain, the new line-up settled in and recorded their new album Pup Tent (Elektra), released in July of 1997. The recording of the album took an arduous 14 weeks and took place at 7 different studios, including a three week stretch at a studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota during the dead of winter. The result was an album that kept some of the best melodic aspects of the band, but sounded rightly belabored in it's production. Pup Tent wasn't as commercially successful as Penthouse, though the band had never sold records in huge numbers right from the start. Because Luna stayed a sort of middle level band on a major label, they were a victim of down-sizing and consolidations that occurred in the major labels at the end of the 90's, and were dropped from the Elektra roster in 1998. Before they were dropped, they recorded their fifth album, The Days Of Our Nights, with producer Paul Kimble, and the album eventually came out on the Jericho label in 1999. In an ironic twist of fate, Jericho was a subsidiary of Sire, which was part of the Warner Bros. family of labels. So too was Elektra, so in essence, the band was dropped by one part of the company, and picked up by another. The Days Of Our Nights, continuing on with the polished pop sound of Pup Tent, faired better than its predecessor, and was even #1 on the college radio charts for a time. After touring commitments were completed, bassist Harwood returned to his native New Zealand to spend more time with his family, and was replaced by bassist Britta Phillips, a former bassist for Ultrababyfat and Ben Lee. Phillips toured with the band in 2000, and a live album culled from that tour and the last tour with Harwood, titled simply Luna Live, was released on the Arena Rock Recording label in 2001. After touring to support Days Of Our Nights, Luna left the Jericho label and signed with the independent Jetset Records label. Luna spent the later part of 2001 recording what would be their sixth album, Romantica (Jetset), released in the spring of 2002. The addition of Phillips to the band gave the group a needed shot in the arm, and Wareham delivered a set of songs that were equal parts sunny and sarcastically bitter. The addition of Phillip's both duet and background vocals also set the band apart from their previous incarnations. During this time, Wareham and Phillips became involved with each other romantically, and eventually married each other in 2007. At around the same time Luna was recording Romantica, Wareham and Phillips were also working on a duet album, titled Avventura (Jetset), which was released later in 2002. Avventura was a collaboration with famed producer Tony Visconti, who gave the album a late 60's pop sheen not unlike Serge Gainsbourg albums from that period. It was also a good chance for Wareham and Phillips to step out of the constraints of the sound that Luna had developed to try something new and have some fun. Luna put out another EP in 2002, titled Close Cover Before Striking (Jetset), that included a few Wareham originals mixed in with their usual eclectic mix of cover songs, this time interpreting songs by Kraftwerk and the Rolling Stones. The chance for Wareham and Phillips to do work outside of a permanent band set up proved to be alluring, and after recording was completed for Luna's next album, Rendezvous (Jetset)(2004), it was announced that the band would be breaking up following a final tour. Rendezvous was another fine effort by Luna, and had a warmer, more immediate sound made possible because the band had recorded most of it live in the studio. It also marked the debut of Sean Eden on lead vocals, singing the songs “Broken Chair” and “Still At Home”. The band ended their time together by playing one last tour, and had their last stand of shows at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in March of 2005. A retrospective collection of the band, The Best Of Luna, was released on the Rhino label in 2006, followed by the digital-only collection of covers, Lunafied (Rhino)(2006), and the tour documentary of the band's final tour together, Tell Me Do You Miss Me (Rhino Home Video)(2006).

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