If you’re a fan of Galactic’s early albums, sax player Ben Ellman thinks you’re going to like what you hear from the group’s new album, “into The Deep.”
“It’s a little more, I think for us, a little more of a throwback, I guess, or a little more sort of taking it back a little bit,” Ellman said in a recent phone interview. “There’s a lot less sort of, I wouldn’t say production, but it’s definitely got a little more of an old school vibe. So it’s fun for us. I think there are just some good things on it. I’m excited about it.”
“Into The Deep,” which was released in July, follows three albums that saw Galactic crafting music that fit distinct themes.
The 2007 album “From the Corner to the Block” brought a hip-hop flavor into Galactic’s funky R&B-rooted sound, as the band brought in several rappers to do vocals and worked extensively for the first time with programmed rhythms and loops.
The 2010 album “Ya-Ka-May” revolved around the concept of New Orleans—the group’s home town. Then 2012’s “Carnivale Electricos” used Mardi Gras as its theme, and the album found the band exploring how the music of Brazil intersected with the music of New Orleans and Louisiana.
Creating music that fit those concepts just naturally caused the band to expand its stylistic range, and in the process, Galactic has started to be known for having a progressive attitude about its music.
Ironically, that’s not at all what Galactic intended to do when the original eight-man lineup formed in 1994. In fact, there was a purposeful retro element in the approach the band took to its R&B/funk sound.
Not at all happy with the glossy production of many 1980s albums, the band consciously sought to evoke the more classic R&B/funk sounds of the 1960s and ‘70s on early albums like “Coolin’ Off” (1996), “Crazyhorse Mongoose” (1998) and “Ruckus” (2003).
Interestingly, Hurricane Katrina played a role in causing Galactic—which includes Ellman, drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel—to shift toward a more studio crafted and progressive sound on “From the Corner to the Block.”
“‘From the Corner to the Block,’ that started that whole studio thing because it was post-Katrina, and we were sort of, we couldn’t be in New Orleans,” Ellman said. “We went into this studio in the Poconos and we weren’t with Stanton. We had all this time. We had a donated studio. We weren’t with Stanton. So our writing changed. The way we wrote music changed because we were using drum loops and we were making little like percussion things or whatever. We were without Stanton sort of writing this music. Then Stanton, of course, would come back and re-play some of the stuff we did or add whatever his whole thing (was) to it. But my point is the writing changed. The way
we wrote music changed. It was no longer like let’s all get in a room and all write this song. It was a little bit of a Frankenstein thing we would do. Then we would sort of re-play the Frankenstein piece as a band.”
The group went on to build its own studio in New Orleans, and with no bills for outside studio time to worry about, this further encouraged Galactic to experiment and use studio technology on Ya-Ka-May” and “Carnivale Electricos.”
After that latter album, though, Galactic started to rethink how it wanted to release music. Ellman said originally the band though it would release a series of singles, rather than a full album. And in fact, two songs are now available, “Higher and Higher” (with JJ Grey on vocals) and “Dolla Diva” (with David Shaw of the Revivalists and
Maggie Koerner trading vocals).
But the singles plan changed.
“We put out a couple of singles, and then we had a bunch more that we were kind of going to release slowly,” Ellman said. “Then we started talking about an EP. Then it was like, you know, man, let’s just hold up, man. We’ve got a killer record here. That’s kind of what happened.”
Because Galactic was making singles, not an album, the idea of writing around a concept went out the window. And that just naturally led the band back closer to its original approach of jamming out song ideas in a practice space and recording them live as a band in the studio.
“We did do a lot more playing in the studio and just kind of seeing what came up instead of sort of crafting these things in the studio, perfecting it, looking at it and trying sonically to enhance it,” Ellman said.
The shift away on “into The Deep” from the studio-centric approaches of the previous three albums sat fine with Ellman, who along with Mercurio, produces Galactic’s albums.
“I love making studio records and I love production,” he said. “But I also love the idea of dudes in a room playing, capturing that. I think (next album) sort of crosses on that other line a little more than our last three records. It’s the sound of the band playing together versus sort of this other kind of picture, which is more sonic ear candy stuff. I mean, there’s definitely some of that on this record, but overall, I would say it’s way more sort of organic, dudes playing kind of thing, moments happening in the studio and less of a crafted picture.”
Playing together as a band, of course, is nothing new to Galactic. For all of the talk of studio-crafted albums, Galactic has always toured extensively and is known for lively shows that feature some jamming along the way.
And the group is back on the road for some November and then mid-December
For these dates, the band is joined by New Orleans-based singer Erica Falls. Since the group’s original singer, Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet, was forced off of the road because of health issues in 2004, Galactic has brought several different singers—both male and female—on its tours. Falls comes with strong credentials.
“Before he passed (in September 2014), she was touring the world with (jazz legend) Joe Sample,” Ellman added. “So she does R&B, funk, gospel and jazz. She covers the spectrum. She’s like super solid and strong in all of these different styles. It’s really amazing.”
Although the idea of a touring with different singers happened because of unfortunate circumstances—DeClouet’s health issues—the approach has worked out. For one thing, having different singers (Shaw, Koerner, Macy Gray and Living Colour’s Corey Glover have all toured with the group) means Galactic gets to change up is set list
when a new vocalist joins to fit the strengths of that singer.
This gives fans a chance to see Galactic in a new light with each singer, and also keeps the shows fresh for the band. “We’re so fortunate because, seriously, we’ve been working with these like most incredible vocalists,” Ellman said. “I’m always kind of
blown away and it always keeps it really exciting for us musically. We’ve been touring for 20 plus years now. It just makes it feel super fresh.”

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