Dean Wareham

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY Cam LindsayPublished Feb 23, 2007

What are you up to?
The Dean & Britta project. Well that’s one. The other thing I’m doing is writing a book, actually. It’s a self-serving memoir about what it’s like to be in a band. It’s coming along, it’s been very difficult for someone who usually writes lyrics. That is something you can hide behind, but when writing something like this, people want to know how you feel. It has to be more expansive. You can’t hide.

What are your current fixations?
Since I’ve started writing a book, I’ve started reading again. Writing forces me to use a part of my brain that I thought was dead. I’m reading more, I’m reading a lot of history books — about the French Revolution, for example. I’m also watching Rome; that’s an addictive soap opera.

Why do you live where you do?
I could blame my parents but they didn’t make me stay here. They brought me here when I was 14. I was born in New Zealand and grew up in New York. One thing that keeps me from even thinking of moving is my seven-year-old son. I’m divorced, so he lives a few blocks away. So I can’t leave. Well, I could — people do leave I suppose, but I don’t want to. But, you know, I love New York City. It’s a struggle here though. Manhattan isn’t artist friendly. It’s expensive.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
I recently read this book by Eric Hobsbawm, he’s a British Marxist historian, and the book is called Age of Extremes and it was mind-altering. It’s the best history of the 20th century. A lot of historians want to tell you about dates and kings and queens, but he explains why things are happening. It’s not just about an evil dictator.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Recently at Radio City Music Hall there was this travelling show called Elvis: The Concert. It was his band from the ’70s, the TCB band, and all of the back-up singers, and they play along to these tapes with Elvis staged up on the big screen, from the recordings in Hawaii and Madison Square Garden. It sounds like it would be incredibly cheesy and terrible, but it was amazing! I can actually remember being nine years old and watching Elvis Live in Hawaii, and this concert took me back to that. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but Elvis’s band in the ’70s was one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in the world — at least as good as David Bowie’s band, or Led Zeppelin or the Stones, anyone that was playing at the time. Even though they were probably laughed at.

What have been your career highs and lows?
Lows would be shitty days on tour, like playing in Liège in Belgium when it’s freezing cold, a horrible storm and nobody comes to the show, and I’m thinking, "What the fuck am I doing here in Belgium?” We couldn’t a gig in Brussels so we were in Liège! Jesus Christ. Brussels is depressing enough… And it’s a high sometimes just walking on the stage and getting energy from an audience. Playing at the Bowery Ballroom with Luna was always fun.

What’s the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
There was one guy in Long Beach that kept screaming at me to "kick out the jams motherfucker!” It doesn’t sound mean, but he stood there all night, drunk, giving me the finger saying, "kick out the jams motherfucker!” We were opening for the Screaming Trees back in the early ’90s, and he did the same thing to them. But they did kick out the jams. He had a problem. I almost got into a fight with him after the show, I was like, "Shut up you fucking idiot,” and he tried to hit me.

What should everyone shut up about?
MySpace. It has its uses I guess, but it annoys me that we have to have a MySpace page as well as a regular website, and deal with messages from two different places.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I dislike that I can be irritable and grumpy. What do I like about myself? Well, I don’t like myself at all (laughs). Let’s just leave it at what I don’t like about myself.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
When someone comes along and offers money to sign with some new label, and it’s some guy who made a lot of money from the internet, it’s often not a good idea to say yes. I did not take that advice, and then wound up with a record company that decided to go bankrupt. There were a couple.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
My band? If you forgot your drumsticks. It happened, and it was the final straw, you see. It was the first drummer in Luna, before Stanley, and he didn’t even own a drum kit either. We went to play a gig in Boston and he didn’t bring any drumsticks. It just kind of said, "I’m not really a drummer and I don’t give a shit.” And my bed? Singing a really horrible song in my ear.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
We get customs officials giving us the hose. We’ve actually never had the hose, but always joked that we’d get the hose. They say, "Bend over, we’re going to stick a hose up there,” which has never happened, but they do sometimes make us wait. It’s like, Canada is where drugs come from, why would we bring drugs to Canada? No, I really think of sanity. It’s always nice crossing over to Toronto, where we’re in a country that’s really sane.

What is your vital daily ritual?
I have a cup of tea in the afternoon. It’s pretty dull, but there it is.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
My feelings are conflicted on that. I get kind of annoyed when people tell me they’re into file sharing, sending out songs from a record two months before its released, and they’re like, "What? It’s only file sharing.” Yeah, but what you’re doing is making it impossible for people to recoup their investment and release records. On the other hand, I don’t really believe in record companies either. So I’m conflicted.

What was your most memorable day job?
I worked in a hospital for a while, in the pulmonary division. One day I found liquid ketamine, because they used it for experiments on hamsters. So I took it home, but it had that little poison symbol on it. Everyone tells me ketamine is supposed to be amazing but I had to throw it out. I didn’t know what I was doing.

How do you spoil yourself?
Taking pills sometimes. That’s spoiling yourself, isn’t it? Like Advil, sleeping pills, you know.

If I wasn’t playing music I would be…
Anthropologist. I took some courses in my senior year of college, and I really enjoyed them. And I thought about becoming an academic, but I didn’t. This rock’n’roll thing took off and I’ve done okay.

What do you fear most?
Sickness. A fatal sickness, something coming to take me 20 years too early.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
What did Neil Diamond say? Grandchildren? Whoa, that’s wrong! What did he think, they’d take off his toupee? Well, I’m gonna say Neil Diamond makes me want to take it off and get it on. "Sweet Caroline” does.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
We were shooting a Luna video one time when we were on Elektra, which is the only time it seemed we would get treated like rock stars. Like they would send limos for us, put us up in a nice hotel, and say, "Eat and drink whatever you want.” Anyways, I stepped into the elevator and the porn star Heather Hunter was in there with two big guys. It was kind of a strange moment. They were scary looking. This was ten years ago. I knew who she was, and this was the pre-internet days.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Cary Grant, I’d love to meet him. And I’d serve him LSD, because that’s what he liked. Apparently he got into acid, and did it 100 times quite late in his life. He’s one of those people they never gave an Academy Award to. They fucked up!

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think my mom’s quite happy with what I’m doing.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
That’s an evil question, isn’t it? It’s indecent really, because what if it happens to me tomorrow? In my sleep. Wait, taking LSD with Cary Grant, so let’s say OD. No, that’s terrible too. Don’t say that, because then people will think I’m promoting. Let’s go with the first one, in my sleep.

With the rise of band reunions over the past few years, it’d be foolish not to ask Dean Wareham if he will ever raise seminal ’80s band Galaxie 500 from the dead. So, will he reunite with Damon and Naomi one day? "The only real sensible reason is to make lots of money. But there are no plans right now,” he says without any desire in his tone. Fair enough, but does he know that another Galaxie 500 is actually alive and kicking in Montreal? "We’re aware of that. They have been sent a letter from a lawyer telling them to stop,” Wareham says with a touch of humorous disbelief. "It’s incredible to me that they haven’t changed their name yet. All you’ve got to do these days is Google a band name and see that the name is taken.” Instead of waiting for some francophone alt-rockers to get a clue though, Wareham and his partner Britta Phillips are trucking on with their Dean & Britta project following the 2005 demise of their band Luna. On their second full-length, Back Numbers, the pair’s lush, space pop has been enhanced by the company of producer extraordinaire Tony Visconti and Spacemen 3 visionary Pete "Sonic Boom” Kember. Though its Wareham’s strongest work since Luna’s Romantica from 2002, a new Dean & Britta album doesn’t feel that different from his previous band. "We’re not a rock band, so much,” he casually responds. "I am nervous about going back on the road again though. Playing live with Luna was easy, because we’d been together for years and we knew how the songs would sound. We’ve only done five shows before, and they were terrifying.”

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