What makes funk, funk? New Orleans band Galactic has an answer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Robert Mercurio, the lean, mean, gritty-bass-line-makin’ machine remembers the turning point — where it all started.
“I was more into punk rock growing up as a teenager in Washington D.C.,” Mercurio said. “There was this one turning moment, though, we were trying to get into a punk rock show, but it was sold out.”
When the punk rock door shut for the childhood friends – Jeff Raines, guitarist of Galactic, and Mercurio – another opened.
“Next door, there was this R&B soul club called the Vegas Lounge, and they were like, “Come on in,” welcoming us in,” Mercurio said. “The music was so great, the vibe was so joyous, it just turned me.”
It was a funk that stunk so good — it stuck.
Not only that, it was the genesis of Galactice, the New Orleans, five-piece funk troubadours who will kick off the 2018 Free Summer Concert Series season in Steamboat Springs on Saturday.
The show starts at 6 p.m. at the Howelsen Hill Ampitheater with opener Bill Smith and then Galactic takes the stage at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
After moving to the melding pot of funk, R&B, jazz and brass band music in 1994, Galactic still can’t seem to put down their instruments nor do they show any signs of stopping 22 years later.
The group performs nationally and internationally and has shared the stage with B.B. King and The Roots, The Neville Brothers, Brian Seeger and George Porter Jr. of The Meters, among others.
In the recording studio, they collaborated with musicians from JJ Grey and Maggie Koerner for “Into the Deep” to legendary R&B soul singer Mavis Staples for tracks like “Does It Really Make A Difference,” as well as a slew of rappers and MCs including Boots Riley of The Coup and Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.
The group includes Ben Ellman, Mercurio, Stanton Moore, Jeff Raines and Rich Vogel, and earlier this week, Explore Steamboat caught up with Mercurio to talk about the band.
Explore Steamboat: Being in the music business for 22 years, I bet you’ve seen a lot of changes happen – what is it that’s kept you guys going?
Robert Mercurio: The main change is that we were in an odd position where we don’t have a permanent lead singer. We always try to have the singer perform our original material, but where that material goes with said singer can change. But it’s fun for us. We’ve been a band for 25 years, so it’s fun to give it a little shift every once in awhile. It’s a bit of an adjustment with each new singer, but there’s excitement in that as well.
ES: What is it that makes funk, “funk?”
RM: I think it goes with the drums and the syncopation of the drums – the way all the rhythms line up. It’s not everyone playing the same rhythm all at once. It’s more so an interlocking of parts and pieces. And usually, it’s created to make you dance or to make you feel good.
Funk to me is feel good music. I think that we do what we do. I don’t think we set out and say, “It has to be this or that.” I think it kind of just comes out. Hopefully, we fall into that world of feel-good music.
ES: From your first album, “Coolin’ Off” (1996) to the most recent big hits like albums “Ya-Ka-May” (2010), “Carnivale Electricos” (2012) and “Into the Deep” (2015) – what’s changed?
RM: Our first album came out in 1996, so production was totally different it was a lot more instrumental music on there. And it was more of a retro funk album at that time, which is funny to say because it’s already 22 years old itself. It was more of a live-in-the-studio vibe, and it was repertoire we had performed on tour already. Compared to our more recent records, those were a little more crafted with the songwriting – definitely some more modern production techniques.
ES: What can the crowd in Steamboat expect this weekend?
RM: We always try to perform songs, old and new, with the whole spectrum of albums. It’s been awhile since we’ve performed in Steamboat – 13 years at least. We’re exited to be back and we love an outdoor show in Colorado in the summertime, expect us to be on top of our game.
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