Interview with Galactic: Leading The Way With Ya-Ka-May

A key component energizing New Orleans revitalized mod funk scene, Galactic gained a modicum of success in 1998 with Crazyhorse Mongoose, their promising second album (and first for Southern rock staple, Capricorn Records). Though fronted by veteran Crescent City vocalist, Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet, the upwardly mobile troupe was actually originated by Washington D.C. natives Jeff Raines (guitar) and Robert Mercurio (bass). Going to rival Louisiana universities, the childhood pals began recruiting likeminded artists to help concoct a funky musical gumbo out of rudimentary Rhythm & Blues, improvised jazz fusion, and, perhaps most tellingly, the go-go bands dancing up the local charts in their old hometown.

But unlike the African-American go-go artists representing the vibrant ‘70s D.C. club scene (Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers, Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, E.U.), Galactic’s white-bred twosome were also motivated by regional hardcore punk (Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Government Issue). Patterned after Booker T & The MG’s and James Brown’s brassy R & B ensembles, they moved beyond the soulless meandering twiddle burdening associative jam bands.

Galactic proved to be a driving force, especially in concert, where they “tear the roof off the sucker,” to quote peerless inspirational funk pioneers, Parliament-Funkadelic.

2000’s resourceful Late For The Future confirmed the initial hype, reaching compelling musical heights reaffirmed by ‘03’s transitional Ruckus, which bravely adapted several hip-hop ideas from eccentric San Francisco producer, Dan The Automator.

Then, Hurricane Katrina put 80 percent of the City By The Bay underwater and stifled Galactic’s progress for the time being. Luckily, they serendipitously prospered in unexpected ways, despite Houseman’s decision to stop touring (due to diabetes), the loss of many possessions claimed by massive flooding, and the ensuing record sessions that got redirected to the Poconos because of the deluge affecting their adopted Mississippi River-bound hometown.

Though Houseman’s health problem forced Galactic to move on without him, these emblazoned instrumental sharpshooters thrived exponentially, surprisingly bringing onboard a few respected underground hip-hop MC’s for lyrical wisdom on ‘07’s hip-hop-flavored From The Corner To The Block. Instead of being a specious one-off sidestep, this transformational album pointed a way towards the future and delivered a powerful street corner narrative incorporating heavy houserockin’ beats, bombastic boogie breakdowns, and a steeper syncopated rhythm.

For bustled rollick, “Hustle Up,” The Coup’s Boots Riley provided critical beatdown to Raines’ six-string wah-wah squawk and Mercurio’s fuzzy bass boom. Renowned Cali-based rhymer, Lyrics Born, lent husky-voiced wordplay to drummer Stanton Moore’s fiery go-go beat on roughrider rampage, “I Got It (What You Need).” And politically charged East Coast MC, Mr. Lif, deflected dangerous inner city anxiety by spitting righteous dramatics above an obvious James Brown groove.

Yet whereas the only homegrown rapper on Block was Juvenile, whose twangy southbound rallying cry regaled the horn-smitten title track (enlivened by indigenous Mardi Gras favorites, Soul Rebels Brass Band), Galactic’s next endeavor would encompass a wider range of diverse local talent.

An ambitious collection of established Crescent City progenitors and “bounce-defined hip-hop acolytes traveled concurrent paths for ‘10’s equally rewarding Ya-Ka-May. Meeting at the crossroads merging prevalent hip-hop rage with old-styled R & B sage, the rapturous gathering connects the dots from the Meters, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Wild Magnolias soulful struts to a host of aspiring neoteric upstarts.

Flatulent mariachi horns lead charging R & B workout, “Boe Money,” a sax-blurted instrumental of great intensity and sonic impulse that serves notice. Famed soul stylist, Irma Thomas, offers chivalric steely-eyed brevity to harp-blazed clap-tracked bongo-backed rumble, “Heart Of Steel.” Wild Magnolias’ Big Chief Bo Dollis brings yowling Delta Blues spirit to “Wild Man” and accomplished pianist-composer Allen Toussaint drops motivational guidance on bump-and-grind neophytes during “Bacchus.”

But it’s the bounce acts that add a spicy twist to Ya-Ka-May’s scrumptious stew. These audaciously clever transgender-promoting “sissy” rappers cook up a witchy brew on a few terse tracks. Big Freedia’s roaring baritone infuses “Double It” while Katey Red & Sissy Nobby anchor a buzzy synth-addled battle rap and Cheeky Blakk casually utters “hey motherfucker” throughout repetitive scurry, “Do It Again.”

A frothy family affair made to quell the broken dreams victimizing post-Katrina New Orleans, Ya-Ka-May stands firm as a timely aural soundtrack that became inevitable. Its clarity of purpose shall not be denied.

I spoke to Jeff Raines via the phone, February ’10.

How did the D.C. go-go scene influence you as a teenager?

I grew up there back in the day when Chuck Brown had regional hits and one seminal ’78 chart topper, ‘Bustin’ Loose.’ (A decade later) E.U. scored with ‘Da Butt.’ It was impossible to be there and not be into go-go. We were also absorbed in D.C. punk. But go-go was the perfect slippery slope into Funkadelic and James Brown. When we moved South, we started going out to see bands at small bars where we could afford to see them. The Meters had created quite a scene when we were in college. There were also guys around town like guitarist Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington, who’s on ‘Speaks His Mind.’ Eddie Boe and Snooks Eaglin… and the Meters offshoot bands.

How would you describe Galactic’s musical growth from the first album forward?

If anything, I think we’re a band that did things in a grassroots way. We were never part of the big machine. It was about getting up and playing in front of people all over the country. We realized early on, we needed to tour if we were going to survive. We did it the old fashioned way driving around in a van.

The last two albums utilized several talented rap artists. How do they compare against each other?

This record is all artists from New Orleans. There’s a few rappers, but it’s not essentially a rap record. This is about our New Orleans—not Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. We have some stranger unknown artists we enjoy.

How has the New Orleans scene changed since Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the land?

After the hurricane many people didn’t come back. This record has those who returned. We set out to connect the dots for New Orleans music. The rappers all grew up listening to rap and there’s now an interconnectivity amongst the scene. Bounce music is a strange regional hip-hop offshoot that was interesting. We tried to unite these seemingly different styles.

Then there’s seasoned Mardi Gras Creole stylist, Bo Dollis, whose voice guides ‘Wild Man.’

We loved his work with Wild Magnolias self-titled record. Being around New Orleans for 15 years, we believe he has an interestingly unique voice. He’s a powerful performer and he was on our short list of people we wanted to record with. He had health problems, a recent stroke, so when he came to the studio, he couldn’t speak well but his singing was superb. We were able to get him on a track, which was a small miracle.

How’d you get world class composer-producer Allen Toussaint, whose ’09 record, The Bright Mississippi, received recent acclaim, to come aboard for ‘Bacchus?’

It was interesting. The title of the song, ‘Bacchus,’ he thought was about the Greek God of Wine, but it was just random. We culled it from 40 songs we readied. The track we gave him to work on came back to us with amazing results. He’s one of the most inspiring artists in a genius songwriter category.

Rebirth Brass Band come along for the ride on hard charging R & B workout, ‘Boe Money.’

We wanted to include a brass band. They were the obvious choice. Down here on Tuesday nights, they play the Maple Leaf. It’s a local bar. If you’ve never seen their show, it’s something special down here. There’s this planned funky looseness. They’re not playing stuff precisely. There’s an intentional sloppiness. They’re a super bad ass funk band. We immediately called them and asked to do a track. They blew through that track easily. They’re also on ‘You Don’t Know’ (featuring big-voiced soul shouter, Glen David Andrews).

Ya-Ka-May is available now. For more,