FOR nearly three decades, New Orleans funk outfit Galactic has had the same core members, a true feat in the music business.
Bands ebb and flow, picking up and dropping off members as they go, but Galactic has stuck together and committed to the band—and each other. They also now own Tipitina's, a legendary New Orleans club.
Drummer Stanton Moore has been there since the beginning, when guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio asked him to be in their band, then called Galactic Prophylactic, a nod to an SNL sketch with Eddie Murphy. (For obvious reasons, the name has since changed.)
Moore, a Gretsch Drums artist and Grammy Award-winning performer, takes two turns at this year's Savannah Music Festival: first with the Stanton Moore Trio on April 1 and then with Galactic on April 2.
We talked with Moore last week about the origins of the band, what it's like to own a bar together, how his two groups are similar and different, and the age-old debate: is New Orleans really Savannah's dirtier sister?
When I mentioned to [artistic director] Ryan McMaken that I was interviewing you, he said, “Oh, yeah, he used to be in a band called Galactic Prophylactic, and you should ask him about that.”
That was the original name of the band! So Robert, our bass player, and Jeff, our guitar player, they moved to New Orleans from the DC area to come to New Orleans for school, but mostly because they really thought the music scene of New Orleans when they visited, he really wanted to come get involved in all of that. So they already had this band, Galactic Prophylactic, from when they were kids. They started playing a gigs, put together some guys to play under that name.
I did a jam session with Robert at Tipitina’s and he introduced me to his buddy Jeff. This is 1992. And he said, “You know, you’re probably busy, but we’re looking for a drummer to play with us, and we play in all kinds of funk and stuff.” I played a jam session with Robert, so I knew he was into The Meters and P-Funk and all kinds of stuff. I said, “Well, I want to play funk, because yeah, I’m busy, but I’ll make time to play it, all right.” So I got together with them, I believe it was in Thanksgiving break of ’92, and then once everybody came back we started playing house parties, Mardi Gras parties and stuff in February of ’93.
What was the reason for the name change? Were you just like, “We’re a little too big for this now?”
Well, what really happened was, I believe in ’94, Dan Prothro came to town, and we recorded one song with him in the house we were all living in. And then that song got picked up to be on a compilation by Ubiquity Records, and the song was Blacked Eyed Pea… I’m just realizing we haven’t played that song in a while, maybe we should bring it back. We redid it too, so there’s multiple versions.
We recorded that song and we got wind it was going to get included on this Ubiquity compilation called Is That Jazz? They were like, “But we can’t put the name Galactic Prophylactic on the record.” So we hemmed and hawed and just couldn’t think of another name, so it’s time to go to press and they’re like, “Okay, we’re just gonna call you Galactic.” And then the record came out, and we’re like, “I guess our name is Galactic now.” What else are we gonna do?”
25 years is such an amazing tenure for a band. Do you have thoughts about making it this far together?
Yeah, a lot of thoughts! We were doing our 25th anniversary tour, and we did the East Coast run and we were about to leave for the West Coast run when we had to shut everything down, March 14 [of 2020]. When we tried to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we were going to play two nights at Tipitina’s and [Hurricane] Katrina came. So it seems like anytime we try to celebrate an anniversary, something catastrophic happens. So maybe we should not try to celebrate anniversaries, maybe we should not make a big deal about it.
So, it’s great. It feels like a huge accomplishment to be with the same guys this whole time. We’re proud of that. I think through that consistency, we all made an agreement to commit to this when we were all still in college, really. Once everybody graduates from college, we’re gonna release the record and go on the road. So we did, and things just kept getting better, the band kept growing, and before you know it, it’s 25 years.
It’s because of everybody committing and then eventually we got to the point where we could headline Tipitina’s. We were playing most of the major holidays—twice during Mardi Gras, twice during Jazz Fest, Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and maybe a couple of other things—every year for 20 years before the 25th anniversary. And then when the owner of Tipitina’s started thinking about selling, we were one of the only bands he could think of that had played in the club that much. It seemed to make sense to him to sell Tipitina’s to us, and that’s a whole other story [laughs]. Through our consistency, continuing to do it and averaging around 100 dates a year for 20, 25 years… The longevity of the band is one thing, but then because of that we really have something to show for it. And that is that now we all own Tipitina’s together.
It’s one thing to have, what, ten or 11 records together, thousands of shows, that’s great. But because of that, we also have Tipitina’s, which I’m more proud of that and having accomplished that and the work we’re doing there than the fact we’ve been around for 25 years.
By owning Tipitina’s, you’re ensuring that legacy for other musicians too, because they now have a place to play. Where does Tipitina’s fit into New Orleans’ music scene?
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that in the music scene in New Orleans, when you’re coming up, everybody that I know, one of their goals is to eventually play Tipitina’s. It’s like, “Oh, man, when I play Tipitina’s, I’ll have really made it.” It’s an 800-person club, so it’s definitely one of the bigger clubs. Now you’ve got House of Blues, Joy Theater, Civic Theater, but those came way later. Tipitina’s has been around since 1977. So for a long time, it was by far the biggest place.
Tip’s has been a real beacon in the New Orleans music scene and inspired a lot of people to work hard to get to that point, with us being one of the ones that really impacted us. When we were going and seeing music in the early 90s, we were going to see the Funky Meters and Neville Brothers and Dr. John at Tipitina’s, and we were like, “Wow, one day we’ll get to play here.” And we got to do a few opening slots there, and then we eventually got to headline there.
By keeping the personnel the same, when people would come hear us and have a great time and tell all their friends and then come back again, we sounded the same—or hopefully better! It wasn’t a different band every time. It wasn’t, “Oh, they really had a lot more chemistry last time, now there’s a new guitar player, a new bass player…”
A good friend of ours, Joe Cabral, who’s the saxophone player in a band called the Iguanas who are older than us, they were playing venues that we wanted to play. He pulled us aside and said, “If y’all are going to start touring, the one piece of advice for y’all is to just be a band. Don’t go swapping out, don’t have different horn players. Every time you go somewhere, be the same band and it’ll grow.” And the reason I say that is because we gave that advice to Trombone Shorty and for a long time he had the same band for years. He’s changed things up a little now, but for many years he’s has the same band. There’s a lot to be said for that. When you find something that’s working, if everybody commits to it, then there’s so much you can accomplish together. You’re stronger together than you are trying to piecemeal things together every time you go out on a tour.
Yeah, it seems like a lot of trust you’d need to put into musicians you don’t know when you bring someone new on tour, whereas with your regular bandmates, you can build that trust.
Yeah, I agree. And that’s what we’ve been able to benefit from, and because of that whole ethos we just talked about, we were able to get from my parents’ 1978 Ford Econoline van and playing in front of ten to 25 people in those first tours, to get from that to being in a bus and headlining the Warfield for 2,500 people in four years. I say that because getting to that level within four years, we were all able to support ourselves through this band and keep it prioritized. So by staying really hyperfocused in those early years, that got us to where it was sustainable, and there was no real need for anybody to not do it and go get a job or something. Now everybody has other things they do too, but we prioritize this first.
Tell me about Tipitina’s. What’s your role with it?
The way that we envision ourselves, the five members of Galactic and our manager Alex Brahl, he really helps us a lot with it. So he manages the band but he also helps us oversee Tip’s, too. The five of us plus Alex are the board of directors. We were smart enough and love Tipitina’s enough to not try to make it anything other than what it is. We’ve been playing it for years, so we already knew the staff, so we kept the staff in place. We have a full-time staff of four people: Tank is our general manager, Mary is our house manager, and Nick and Tanner are brothers; Nick is our booking agent and talent buyer, and Tanner helps with some of the marketing and now the Tip’s Record Club that we started, which is doing really well now.
We’re trying to also coach up where we can and have people take on other responsibilities as we do the Tip’s Record Club and Tip’s TV. Everybody’s all hands on deck. All four of them have been there for awhile now. We have a lot of great bar and door staff and production staff. We oversee things and we have staff meetings and conference calls and emails that we’re all a part of, so we’re aware of what’s going on and we help with the decision making processes, but as far as the day-to-day stuff, we leave that to the professionals. We’re smart enough to know that we don’t know how to run a bar [laughs].
What’s so great about Tipitina’s is when you walk in, it feels comfortable, like, “Oh wow, I feel at home here. I feel like I belong here.” And we don’t want to do things that are going to disrupt that. If you completely change everything, that’s not gonna be Tipitina’s! People love Tipitina’s because it is Tipitina’s!
What I like to say is, we’re trying to keep it just as funky but make it a little bit more functional and a little less gross. [laughs]
What means the world to us is people come in and they go, “Oh my god, we love what y’all are doing. It feels great in here, it’s the cleanest it’s ever been.” I’ll be honest, the bathroom still needs a little work, but we also don’t want to overspend or bite off more than we can chew all at once. I put in a new PA, and we’ve put in new lights because national acts have a certain level of production that they want, so we’re trying to rise to that, but also trying to stay in the black.
It’s like, if it comes down to bathrooms or lighting for a touring band, I think I’m gonna go with the lighting.
Right, the bathrooms have been the same for 20 years, but touring bands won’t come if we don’t have the production. You won’t even get it past their booking. “Let’s see your rider for your production. Oh, you don’t have that, sorry.” We have to do things like taking the extra steps to make sure the shore power works for the bus. Other people, even close friends of ours who have advised us a little, they’re like, “Why do you need to do that?” They don’t understand that when a band pulls up to Tipitina’s, it’s now an extension of their home. It’s like the bus is their home, and Tipitina’s is where everybody needs to get off the bus and do their daily business.
They’ve been filling up and we’re super appreciative, because all during COVID we did what we could as we could. We started doing sidewalk shows before anybody, and it started off with like 30 people outside and it grew to 300 in a couple months. Then we started doing indoor seated shows with 75 people, because that’s the most we could do that the city would allow. We did a lot of streaming, and people really appreciated that. So as we could open the doors and let people in for real, people have been super supportive.
How does Galactic choose the sets they play each night, especially with so much material to choose from?
We do really put a lot of time, effort, thought and care into the set. Our bass player Robert Mercurio really leads the charge on that, and we all have input as well. But we like to play songs that we know our audience wants to hear, but we also like to play newer songs. Sometimes we even play songs that weren’t released yet, just to give the audience something new. We don’t want to be replaying the same old stuff.
We rehearse a good bit, so we’ll work up different arrangements of songs that we’ve been playing for a long time, just to make things a little different.
We just did five nights at the Blue Note in January, and so we did a bunch of rehearsals—I think like three days of rehearsals so we could have different material every night and not just be playing the same stuff every night. We brought a lot of dirty dozen brass band tunes that we hadn’t played in a while, stuff that we would have fun playing, and it worked out great. But when we change up the setlist, we also have to schedule rehearsals because we want to make sure we know the stuff really well.
The new album Tchompitoulas came out in January, do you want to talk about that?
That’s our new EP; we’ve been working on a new full-length record, but in the meantime we wanted to give our fans something, so this is a collection of songs we’ve been working on for a while. We decided, “Let’s release this now and we can continue to focus on what will be the LP, which we hope to release later this year.”
Let’s talk about the Stanton Moore Trio too. What’s the sound like for that one?
That is David Torkanowsky on piano and James Singleton on bass. Those guys are some of the baddest musicians that I grew up seeing play. After I’d been touring with Galactic for a while, it’s like, I don’t want to just slam backbeats, which I love, but I don’t want to just play funk for my entire life. So I’d grown up playing jazz, playing with brushes. I wanted to put together a trio, and I wanted it with these guys because they’re some of my favorite musicians, especially since I’ve grown up watching them and wanted to challenge myself and play with them.
In this piano trio, it’s much more jazz-oriented. We’re swinging out; it’s a lot different than Galactic. We play some traditional piano stuff, but also some more second line stuff, groove-based stuff. We play a lot of music by New Orleans composers, so stuff by Ellis Marsalis or James Black, who wrote music in 1963 that is still challenging us today. Our bass player writes a lot, so we play his music too.
So the unifying theme of the trio is we play music by New Orleans composers. Sometimes they’re legendary composers, and sometimes they’re members of the band.
People always compare New Orleans to Savannah, like New Orleans is the dirtier sister of Savannah. Do you feel that way? Do you find that accurate?
I really do feel that way, and I love Savannah. I’m a Gretsch drums endorser, and their factory is in Ridgeland, S.C., and Fred and Dinah Gretsch live in Savannah. I’ve come to visit several times, and they just refurbished my first endorser kit, which I got 20 years ago. I sent it back to them and they stripped it down to the wood and refinished it, gave it some TLC, so I was like, “I want to come while you’re finishing it up.” And I did, and it was great.
I’m really good friends with the gentleman who runs the factory, Paul Cooper, and in the drumming industry he’s known as a really knowledgeable guy who builds incredible drums from scratch. He comes up with incredible ideas for how they can introduce new kits and new lines of drums. He’s the biggest Gretsch aficionado you’ll ever meet.
Paul had a gig at the Bayou Cafe, which is not there anymore. I went and hung out in Paul’s gig, and it was tons of fun. I’ve spent enough time there to say it’s very reminiscent of New Orleans. It’s definitely the cleaner version.