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Galaxie 500: Our 1989 Interview

This article originally appeared in the December 1989 issue of SPIN. In honor of the 30th anniversary of Galaxie 500’s sophomore album On Fire, we’re republishing it here.

Galaxie 500 is a wintry opiate. A hypnotic open loop of gentle drums, a bass that becalms like mother’s finger to her lips, and a guitar that drifts purposefully from languid to leveling. A voice singing high and strange. Sounds like love (lost) in a cold snap.

Singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski formed Galaxie 500 about two years ago. But they’ve known each other since high school. Damon laughs when I describe them as “wintry,” probably because their new album, On Fire, was recorded in the summer. And in conversation, they’re neither cold nor cool—though Dean seems guarded, a little suspicious.

* * *

What are you afraid of?

DEAN: “Bees. Bees and wasps.”

Are you allergic to them?

DEAN: “No, they’re just….” He shrugs in revulsion.

Naomi isn’t sure what scares her.

DEAN: “I know what you’re afraid of. Maggots!”

NAOMI (laughing): “Yeah, but that’s not a phobia, because they’re maggots!”

DEAN: “You threw your garbage can out because it had maggots in it.”

A few bug stories later, Dean admits he used a wah-wah pedal for On Fire just because they found one at Noise NY, where they make records with producer/noise guru Kramer. Guitar effects aside, Galaxie 500’s raw and dreamy groove itself betrays their respect for music older than the latest R.E.M. album.

DAMON: “I do have old drums, from the 50s, early 60s. We listen to a lot of old music, more than we would run out and find out what Mudhoney sounds like.”

NAOMI: “I have an old Gibson bass. It’s semi-hollow. Usually basses are blocks of wood. This is a very early bass, so it gives a really warm sound, a very natural sound. The whole body is resonating.”

Sterling Morrison on The Velvet Underground ’69 is Dean’s favorite rhythm guitar on record; Naomi’s hands-down favorite bass player is New Order‘s Peter Hook. And Jonathan Richman, they add, is the most underrated guitar player ever—even if he does sing about ice cream cones.

“He makes people uncomfortable, they can’t handle it,” says Dean, like a protective, bitter older brother. Galaxie 500 “covered” a Richman “song” on their first album, Today, and their sympathy for the Modern Lovers makes sense, if only because Dean’s scary falsetto sounds almost adolescent.

What do you like about Boston?

DAMON: “We love the dark and the cold. The cemeteries. No—we’re there for school.”

It’s cleaner than New York, isn’t it?

DEAN: “It’s not clean. The harbor is filthy, the air is filthy.”

Do you like playing in New York more than Boston?

DAMON: “If you get a big crowd in Boston, it tends to be a college crowd. If you go see the Pixies now, there’s kind of a drunk, college pick-up scene.”

DEAN: “Yeah, they’re just not into the groove. They’re not into the love groove like they are here at CBGB. They’re like a roomful of maggots!”

Naomi collapses in sobs and laughter.

Galaxie 500’s love groove is peculiar. Their song “Strange” swells up like a lush, isolated journal entry from the other side. The songs sound like AM radio pop at 3 in the morning: lost, beautiful, a very loud quiet. Maybe that’s what Dean means when he says their music is “spacy.”