"We became a pretty popular band with that name, but we were kind of a different band at the time," bassist Robert Mercurio recalled of the New Orleans-based outfit's younger days. Yearning for a different direction, the group parted ways with its singer and trimmed its horn section.
"When the band took a change of sound and personnel, we decided to drop the name and move on," Mercurio told POLLSTAR. "But at the same time, we wanted the people that knew us before to still associate with us and we thought Galactic was the best way."
Since the group's Prophylactic days, Galactic has become a major touring force in the world of eclectic jam bands, delivering a jazzy mix of Crescent City funk and soul influences blended with a heavy groove and a touch of the blues.
On the group's major-label debut, Capricorn Records' Crazyhorse Mongoose, Galactic demonstrates its ability to interweave rich playing from guitarist Jeff Raines, keyboardist Rich Vogel and saxophonist Ben Ellman with tight rhythms by Mercurio and drummer Stanton Moore. The Galactic sound is completed with the soulful, soothing vocals of Theryl "HouseMan" de Clouet, who graces a handful of tunes on the album and gives "South Park's" Chef a run for his money.
As the band headed toward Southern California on a recent tour, Mercurio chatted with POLLSTAR about the group's steady rise to nationwide success and this season's jam fest extravaganza, the Summer Session tour, which launches this week.
"The New Orleans scene is really one of the richest music communities in that it's not a very competitive city; it's more of everyone kind of praises the other and works together," he said.
The group hit the fertile scene during the mid-‘90s and built a loyal fan base playing weekend gigs at "a lot of little 200-person clubs, $5 ticket prices." In addition to playing a weekly midnight-to-dawn slot at the now-defunct Benny's, Galactic alternated weekend gigs at various clubs, including the Mermaid Lounge and Cafe Brasil.
"We picked those rooms for their vibe as opposed to, ‘Is it the hippest club?,' or whatever," he said.
After mastering the New Orleans scene, which included performances at the city's renowned Jazz and Heritage Festival, the members of Galactic were ready to take their show on the road. Without a manager or agent, Mercurio booked the band on tours of both coasts.
"There's a really strong word-of-mouth type of thing going on between New Orleans and a lot of other cities," he said. "There always seems to be a little New Orleans niche in every city."
Yet, taking the group to the national level was never about "cruising around, trying to get the most money," Mercurio said. "And that's one thing we learned in New Orleans was take that (idea) nationally of pick the right room and the right vibe."
The group gained a firm grasp of being a traveling band during its first two outings. "When we first started touring, I wanted us to be on the floor, no stage, just going at it with the crowd, kind of like a house-party type of attitude. But then as you grow, you start liking the lights and the monitors and all that stuff," he said.
"We definitely excel in a more party-atmosphere type of room, something that's a little looser than a concert type of atmosphere."
During its East Coast trip, the group met Madison House's Mike Luba, who, along with Nadia Prescher, soon became Galactic's agent. "We kind of learned with each other what works on the road," said Mercurio, explaining that the young agency was inexperienced. "They never had a band at either our level or String Cheese Incident's before."
At a sold-out Great American Music Hall show in San Francisco, Galactic hooked up with Primus manager David Lefkowitz, who, at the time, also managed Charlie Hunter. "He was working with two pretty eclectic acts," Mercurio said. "Those acts became popular on the touring circuit and that's where we knew we'd be."
The group then signed to Capricorn Records because "their whole stronghold seems to be in touring bands." "We just thought that we wouldn't fall through the cracks like we would at some other bigger label," he said.
Galactic continued its climb to recognition with subsequent stints on the H.O.R.D.E. tour and dates with label mate Widespread Panic. The group quickly learned on those outings not only how to handle a festival-sized crowd, but also a condensed set – a change from the usual three-hour-plus gigs.
"That's one thing we learned on the Widespread tour is that we can actually kind of get it across in an hour," he said. "It kind of makes you get to the point a little quicker."
The band will test the festival waters once again with Summer Session, booked by Monterey Peninsula Artists and featuring a rotating lineup of Gov't Mule and moe., with select appearances by String Cheese as well as Phil Lesh. The tour hits sheds nationwide and kicks off July 29th in Pelham, Ala.
"It's nice to be in a band and actually be in the sun as opposed to your normal life of 10 til 2 in the morning in a dark, smokey club."