By Christopher Hollow
Does Dean Wareham have commitment issues? Or does he just know when to move? He left Galaxie 500 at the height of their success. He exited Luna just as they released their second best record. Now he’s ducked out from the duo he was in with his wife, Britta Phillips.
“I understand in a band this announcement, going solo, would be reason for someone to panic,” he says, by way of explanation. “But Britta and I are not jealous of each other that way that bandmates can be. We’re both invested in each other’s successes. Britta is still there helping me out both in recording studio and on stage.”
Thank goodness for that.
So, twenty-five years into his career, Wareham has just released his first solo mini LP, Emancipated Hearts. Over the seven songs he pulls together the various voices he’s employed with Galaxie 500 [high], Luna [wry] and Dean & Britta [close mic’d]. He’s also been transparent about his inspirations for the songs – picking out lines from various books and films – and employing the Jean-Luc Godard theory of: ‘It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.’
His last release was 2010’s multi-media extravaganza 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Last Saturday night Wareham was playing his Warhol show in Las Vegas. Playing music along to Warhol’s famous Factory screen tests of people like Dennis Hopper, Nico, Edie Sedgwick and a young Lou Reed drinking a Coke. For Lou’s film, Dean and Britta play a version of an unreleased Velvet Underground track, ‘I’m Not A Young Man Anymore’. Sunday morning and the news came through that Lou was dead, aged 71.
Lou Reed passed away last night. You must have all kinds of feelings…
I was checking out of a Las Vegas hotel when my phone started buzzing and I have a feeling I was always remember this moment. At first I was unfazed; I think I’ve been half-expecting this news – considering his recent health issues. But as Britta and I drove back home I started playing a mix of some favorite songs, ‘Love Makes You Feel’, ‘Coney Island Baby’, ‘Ecstasy’, ‘Satellite of Love’, ‘Street Hassle’ — and of course music is a quick path to your emotions.
You’ve long been seen in a similar light, if not an extension of Lou’s work. Are you comfortable with this idea?
So many of us singers and musicians are extensions of Lou Reed in a roundabout way. You could start with his influence on David Bowie and Iggy Pop, or Roxy Music, Can, Jonathan Richman, and these were influential artists too. And then the Only Ones, Suicide, Joy Division, the Feelies, Patti Smith, Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, the Strokes, Go-Betweens. . . we could go on and on. Certainly he was an influence on my guitar playing, and I took to heart his suggestion that the movement from one simple chord to another, when done right, could be a very powerful thing. As a vocalist and lyricist and singer I think I am pretty different; he was a much darker presence. And I have other heroes too: Joe Strummer, Lee Hazlewood, David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, Robespierre.
So why go solo now after all this time?
I look at the careers of other singing couples, your Serge & Jane, Peaches & Herb, Captain & Teneille; there is only so far you can take it. After three consecutive Dean & Britta albums, it was time for us to do something different.
What song did Britta want you to hold onto for a Dean & Britta record?
Well she is working on the Britta Phillips solo album, slowed by the recent, tragic death of our friend and producer Scott Hardkiss, who was producing it. But she has also created her own special instrumental version of ‘Love is Colder Than Death’.
What’s better – your “Love is Colder than Death” or Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1969 film, Love is Colder Than Death?
Fassbinder wins for originality of idea. I had read a biography of the man, also titled Love Is Colder than Death. And I think there is a German band with that name — it’s very German, isn’t it? I wrote my song without ever seeing the film but I watched it recently. It’s not a great film, it’s kind of like a strange, amateurish Breathless. Though it does feature the amazing Hannah Schygulla. Let me say that his film is more important but I like my song better.
Recently you toured the world for a year or so revisiting the songs of Galaxie 500 – how did that influence this set of songs?
It was interesting singing the Galaxie 500 songs, I realised I could still hit those high notes. For years sound engineers and bandmates have told me that I am a quiet singer — but on songs like ‘Strange’ and ‘Blue Thunder’ and ‘Ceremony’ I am actually belting it out — high and loud. So I did try to bring that voice onto this record.
What’s the emotional push behind ‘Emancipated Hearts’?
The song may not be particularly well thought-out, but I imagined I was singing about the arrest of Julian Assange: “He’s gone, he’s gone, beyond recall, free for one and all.” I even had another verse written, something about a Pale Prince. But let us be careful — now the NSA is going to be reading our interview.
The highlight, for me, is a song called ‘The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began’. Is this an anti-war statement?
It’s about watching the Iraq War on TV, those weeks and months when every day was “the deadliest day since the invasion began,” mutilated bodies being collected every morning. This is an observation I took from a novel by Ben Lerner. Anyway of course this war was a crime against the millions of innocent Iraqis whose lives were destroyed and disrupted. And then of course just in terms of American goals it was a military disaster and an incredible drain. The night this war started Luna were on stage singing ‘Kill for Peace’ and ‘Season Of The Witch’. I opposed it right from the beginning, it was patently obvious at the time that all this talk of weapons of mass destruction, or an imminent threat to U.S. security, was a collection of lies. What is it they say, in the rush to war the first casualty is the truth.
What is your favourite anti-war statement?
My favorite anti-war song is ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ as performed by the Bushwackers Band. This one can will make you cry. Pete Seeger also says it’s the greatest anti-war song ever written. What a cruel hoax that was — the British persuading Australians and New Zealanders to travel half way round the world to fight for what exactly? The song asks that question.
You’re on Facebook and Twitter – do you ever censor your opinions for fear of alienating fans?
I don’t really use Facebook and Twitter to express my political opinions, I use them more to let people know where my next gig is.
You do a cover of the Incredible String Band’s ‘Air’. Are you intrigued by Scientology?
I find them pretty creepy. But perhaps that’s unfair, when you get down to it are their tales of aliens populating the earth really any harder to believe than stories of a man walking on the water or returning from the Dead, or another old guy parting the Red Sea? But this ‘Air’ song, I believe the ISB wrote that song shortly before they became Scientologists.
Their producer and manager Joe Boyd tells a story about one night in 1968, following a show at the Fillmore East in New York City, when he took the band out to dinner, and ran into an old friend from Cambridge days, David Simons. Wow, he tells the band, Simons used to be a complete mess, but he has really turned his life around. Then Boyd goes back to his hotel, leaving the band at the restaurant. Simons then sits down and talks to the band, convinces them to visit the Church of Scientology’s New York Celebrity Centre. A week later Boyd meets the band back at the Chelsea Hotel, where they request that he hand over all the money earned on their East Coast tour; they are Scientologists now and would like to give this money to the Church.
Are you a better songwriter or interpreter?
I know what’s easier and more fun — interpreting someone else’s song. Though this too is tricky, it has to be the right song — at least for me. Johnny Cash could sing anything and improve it.
What, in your opinion, has been your most successful cover?
‘Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste’ by Jonathan Richman. Or maybe ‘Indian Summer’ by Beat Happening, which we did in Luna. Both of these songs I think in the original versions are skeletal, but the covers are more majestic.
Who’s been the most enticing offer of collaboration that you haven’t taken up?
Hopefully if an offer is enticing I will take it up. Lately there are emails back and forth with my friend Cheval Sombre — we want to do an album of cowboy songs. We have a list going.
You recently worked on the soundtrack for the film Frances Ha. What’s been your favourite film music project?
Well we’ve worked with two really great directors — Noah Baumbach and Andy Warhol. If you are scoring film you are just glad if you get offered a great film like The Squid & the Whale. I think an actor would say the same thing. The Andy Warhol Screen Tests we worked on were very different, it was like making music videos but making them backwards, where the 4-minute film is already shot, but then you have to fit music to it. But these are great films too, in a very different way, there is no narrative, it’s more like a moving portrait, a visual poem.
You’ve been working closely with the Andy Warhol Museum. What other unearthed treasures can we expect?
I am working with them on another project for late 2014, it will involve a collection of different performers this time, probably five different people writing music for three short films each. And most of these films have never been seen by the public, there are home movies, colour Screen Tests, some unexpected subjects. I can’t say too much right now, it’ssecret.
You’re one of Australasia’s great, long-lost sons. In your time in New York, when did you feel most like an Australian/New Zealander?
It’s probably sporting events that get me. I witnessed Australia II taking the America’s Cup in 1983; I had taken a train down from Boston to Newport and managed to get on a little boat and I tell you there were some Americans on that boat actually crying in their scotch when Australia II crossed the finish line. This was the greatest moment in the history of that sport, a sport that no longer has the same meaning, because its not really one country’s sailors against another’s, it’s just another collection of professionals sailing for Oracle or Prada. This recent cup we saw an Australian winning it for an American millionaire, and then saying how great it feels to beat the Kiwis. I understand it should good to beat the Kiwis if you are Australian, but not this way.
But honestly it’s when I fly into Wellington or Sydney, having spent seven years in each of those cities as a child that I feel almost at home, like I am going back to the old house. I love it.
What song are you trying to get your friends to listening to right now?
‘Love Makes You Feel’ by Lou Reed. And ‘No Destruction’ by Foxygen.
What question should I have asked?
This is the kind of difficult question that I am afraid might get you in to trouble.
ORIGNAL ARTICLE HERE: https://rhythms.com.au/dean-wareham-emancipated-heart
BY DEAN WAREHAM
On Saturday night my wife, Britta, and I performed our multimedia show, “13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,” at a festival in Las Vegas; this show pairs short, silent film portraits by Andy Warhol with a score and songs we have created for his subjects. At approximately 9 p.m. I was singing “Not a Young Man Anymore,” a song Lou Reed wrote at the age of 24, while his 24-year-old self (frozen in time on the screen behind us) drank Coca-Cola and stared at the audience.
When Britta and I sat down to score Warhol’s “Lou Reed,” we first watched two very different films, shot a few months apart. In the first, he is wearing a jacket and turtleneck, smoking, looking nervously from side to side, the picture of a sweet yet mischievous college graduate. We considered this, but ultimately went with a film shot a few months later, where Lou is clad in a black leather jacket and wraparound shades, drinking Coke. Reed himself later claimed that the look of the Velvet Underground, dressed in black, and wearing shades, originated with Warhol’s request that they wear dark clothing onstage while he projected films and bright lights on them.
These two films suggest the two sides of Lou Reed, a musician capable of writing and performing sweet songs like “Perfect Day,” “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Love Makes You Feel,” but also the rock ‘n’ roll animal who brought us “Sister Ray” and “Metal Machine Music.”
Driving out of Vegas Sunday morning, my phone started to buzz with text messages about Lou Reed’s passing. The first was from my friend Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom, a member of the great English band Spacemen 3, who once reworked Reed’s “Street Hassle” into their own “Walkin’ with Jesus.” It is quite obvious that without Reed we cannot imagine David Bowie, Roxy Music, the Stooges, Joy Division, Big Star, Sonic Youth, the Only Ones, Mazzy Star or Stereolab existing in quite the same way. Reed inspired and influenced on many levels; some look to his bold and inventive guitar playing, others to the poetry of his lyrics, still others his vocal delivery, his own attitude. He is one of those singers who in some respects is hardly a singer at all, closer to Marlene Dietrich than to the doo-wop singers that he loved — and yet he became one of the great voices in rock, a singer who at times will simply talk his way through a song.
Lou Reed is responsible for at least a half dozen albums that surely count among the greats in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Unlike Bob Dylan, or the Rolling Stones and Beatles, whose influences are tattooed all over their early recordings, the Velvet Underground seemed to appear fully formed, beyond influence; they dropped a debut, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” (also known simply as “the banana album”), onto a world that was perhaps not ready for it, to a resounding thud in terms of sales. This was not a band copying blues musicians, nor electrifying old folk songs, but playing music that fused rock ‘n’ roll structures with new subject matter, strange avant-tunings and dark, discordant sounds. Their second LP, “White Light, White Heat,” took the noise even further and again has to be considered a landmark album, as is their third and perhaps most beautiful record, “Velvet Underground,” a much quieter affair (after the departure of John Cale).
Their fourth album, “Loaded,” might be considered a lesser masterpiece by comparison but still it contains some of their best moments. Songs like “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll” should have proved that the V.U. could write radio hits — and yet no hit was forthcoming. My own favorite Velvets album (and for my money the best live rock album, period) is “1969: The Velvet Underground Live,” released in 1974. When I was a high school student in the late ‘70s, “1969″ was, incredibly, the only Velvets album available in stores, so that was where I started. At any rate the live album captured them at their hypnotic and thumping best, with very different arrangements of “Sweet Jane” and “Lisa Says” and “What Goes On,” recorded not in a cavernous arena where sound bounces all over the place and singers try to connect with fans in the nosebleed sections, but in an intimate rock club on a Sunday night in Dallas, and it is the dry intimacy of these recordings that make them so special.
After the Velvets came a long solo career, with perfect albums, and the occasional head-scratcher. But it is not possible to make records for 48 years without missteps; I can’t think of a single artist who was perfect through the musical trends of the ‘70s and ‘80s. His debut solo album, “Lou Reed,” was loaded with good songs but was underwhelming — considering what came before it — and I think some of this can be attributed to studio musicians who didn’t quite get what he was about, but this album gave us “Love Makes You Feel,” and “Ride Into the Sun” (this latter already recorded several times by the Velvets but not released).
I have heard Lou refer to himself jokingly as a one-hit wonder, and this is on account of his second solo album, “Transformer,” a perfect LP that yielded three of his greatest sides, “Perfect Day,” “Satellite of Love” and the one hit he refers to — “Walk on the Wild Side.”
People have their own opinions about his ‘70s output; is “Metal Machine Music” genius or unlistenable (or both)? “Coney Island Baby” features the sublime title track where Lou ruminates on his desire to “play football for the coach” and the equally great “A Gift” where he declares “I’m just a gift to the women of this world.” “The Bells” (1979) is generally overlooked but this strange, dense album delivers “I Wanna Boogie With You.” Even his lesser albums contain memorable and unique vocal performances.
For some the pinnacle is “Berlin”; my own favorite Lou Reed solo album is 1978’s ”Street Hassle,” a timeless album that still sounds weird, that sounds like it could have been released yesterday. The highlight is the 11-minute title track (in three parts) that was used to great effect (according to Reed, this was the favorite use of one of his songs in film) in a crucial powerful moment of Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid & The Whale.”
Through the ‘70s Reed stepped away from the guitar, perhaps tired of the instrument or searching for new ways to make records (after all, his biggest success to date had come on albums where he did not play) or possibly intimidated by the virtuosic guitarists he invited to record with him. The prime example is 1974’s live album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which features Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter on guitar, playing dazzling über-rock reworkings of Velvets songs. Many V.U. purists hate this album — it appeals more to stoners and Deadheads — and yet was also a Saturday night staple for many partying teenagers and aspiring punks in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Personally I have a soft spot for it. But for live ‘70s Lou Reed, singing at his best, singing with the vocal attitude that he owns, I prefer the bootleg (now an official release) “American Poet,” recorded in Long Island late in 1972, and featuring backing band the Tots, or “The Phantom of Rock” (still a bootleg) live at Alice Tully Hall in January 1973.
1982’s “The Blue Mask” is the first of several albums featuring Robert Quine on guitar, and apparently it was Quine who requested that if he joined the band, he wanted Lou playing guitar also, so maybe we have him to thank for the return of Lou Reed as guitarist.
With the inspiring “New York” (1989) Lou made his best album in years, writing “Romeo & Juliet,” “Halloween Parade” and “Dirty Boulevard.” His ‘90s albums are a mixed bag, but still each album contains gems: “Sword of Damocles” from “Magic and Loss,” the jazzy “NYC Man” from “Set the Twilight Reeling” and the moving “Ecstasy” from the album of the same name.
I was lucky enough to tour with Lou Reed, first when the Velvet Underground re-formed to tour Europe in 1993; he picked Luna as the opening act for this tour and again for the 1996 tour, where Lou was playing “Set the Twilight Reeling” and we were performing “Penthouse.” I had been told that Lou could be prickly; he certainly had a reputation for being surly with journalists (especially English journalists, whom he seemed to enjoy antagonizing), but I have learned that a lot of people say a lot of things about people they have never met. One thing I know for sure is that Lou was generous and attentive to us; he would always stop his own sound check in time for Luna to play a few songs (and I’ve been on plenty of tours where the headlining band does not bother with that nicety).
I watched Lou’s band night after night. Sometimes his unwillingness to sing his melodies as he wrote them would frustrate me, and yet every night there were moments where he would slip into an older voice (and he had several to choose from, but all were facets of Lou Reed) and deliver vocal phrasing that was genius.
One afternoon in Toronto Luna started playing “Ride Into the Sun” at sound check and Lou instantly proposed that he and I sing it together that night. So for the last song of our set on the rest of the tour, Lou would wander out onstage and sing with us. We liked to think our guitar sounds were pretty cool but Lou’s steely guitar was beautiful too, in a harder way. You can check it out here, recorded live at the Beacon Theater on the last night of our tour.
“Love Is Colder Than Death” VIDEO
Saturday night, The Shine a Light Music Festival will pair up-and-comersThe War on Drugs with the great Dean and Britta at Mulcahy’s as a fundraiser. To make things even more special, guitarist Sean Eden is expected to join Dean and Britta onstage for a rare Luna reunion.
On Record Store Day (April 21, 2012) Double Feature Records will release limited edition (1,000 copies)
180-gram vinyl LPs of Luna’s Romantica and Rendezvous albums. Mastered by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, NYC, we just got test pressings in; they sound great and the images by Chas Ray Krider and Steve Ellis look beautiful too. These albums were originally on compact disc only; this is the first time they’ve been on vinyl. Each LP will come with a card for a free download of the entire album plus the new bonus material we released digitally a few months ago.
As this is a record-store-day exclusive, we will not be selling the LPs online, they are only available in stores. Click here to find a participating store where you can get your Luna vinyl:
There is more Luna vinyl to come later in 2012 — Bewitched will get its first-ever vinyl release on the Gotta Groove label. Release date not yet confirmed but it will be early this summer. Also in the pipeline though likely not till 2013 — vinyl for Penthouse.