Dean Wareham of Luna
t’s the first night of the last tour, and Dean Wareham’s got a glamour deficit. When I catch up with him before Luna’s Nov. 5th show in Cambridge, MA, he’s squinting against the cold and hustling battered amp crates down the back stairs with his band mates. I offer to help. He says to wait a minute while they figure out where to park ticketlessly.
Luna’s music doesn’t lend itself to parking tickets. On their albums, hassles don’t exist so much. Listen with virgin ears and the songs sound like relaxing sex. Listen, ideally without the past and circumstance—unaware of Wareham’s endlessly influential previous band, Galaxie 500; unaware of that band’s acrimonious break-up; unaware of Luna’s beginnings in 1992; unaware of their late ’90’s label troubles; unaware they’ve spent a total of twelve years touring and recording. To marginal success.
Wareham announced the group’s retirement on October 5th. Luna are now promoting their new album, Rendezvous, as a farewell tour, in what could ironically be called a victory lap.
At least the show’s sold out. Before Dean and I sit down, someone from the venue approaches and confirms the band’s guest list, saying, “It’s gonna be cozy down here”. Luna never had trouble maintaining a strong live following. They worked in the tradition of their forebears, never letting the restraint of their studio work tether their crackling performances. The band opened for the Velvet Underground reunion tour in 1993. Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison went on to guest on Luna’s sophomore album, Bewitched. Television legend Tom Verlaine was featured on their third, Penthouse—a record Rolling Stone called one of the “Essential Albums of the ’90’s.”
Since then, however, most reviews have included a mention of Luna’s reprehensible consistency. Not so much damning with faint praise as praising with faint damnation—the critics are nicer when they grew up adoring your previous band. In that sense, from Wareham’s perspective, Luna’s entire twelve years could be called a victory lap. Having secured a place in the indie-rock canon with Galaxie 500, he didn’t have much to prove with Luna.
So, if you wished, you could fault Dean Wareham for Luna’s seven similar albums of gleaming, post-coital lit-pop.
But it’s like having raised seven calm, well-adjusted children. Not climactic, by any means—but then, who says it has to be?
You have a bizarre accent.
I was born in New Zealand. I moved to New York when I was fourteen. It’s strange. If I had moved when I was sixteen, I would have totally retained the New Zealand accent.
Did you know going into the recording of Rendezvous that it would be the last Luna album?
Well, we hadn’t discussed it. But I sort of knew in the back of my mind. You never completely know, with a big decision like that. You never know until you actually do it. I mean, there’ve been times in the past when we’ve thought about leaving.
What were the main motivations at that time?
Well, when Justin left in 1999, he was our first bass player, and he’d been in since the beginning. And we thought, do we want to continue without him? But I don’t know the ‘why.’ I think the basic answer is that it’s part of what bands do. It doesn’t last forever. There doesn’t have to be a ‘why’. It becomes increasingly complicated as it goes along. Anyone who’s been in a band understands how difficult it is to sustain over a long period of time. You’re friends, and then [you do] business together, and you collaborate together, and travel together.
Judging from this tour that you’re on now -
This is the first night.
Oh. Well there goes that question, then.
We were in Japan. We went to Japan! That was fun. It was great.
Okay. On the whole, then, has touring been more or less stressful this time round, now that you know you’re in the final stretch?
It’s weird. It’s actually kinda nice. It makes it all more intense. More poignant, I think. We were all a little afraid of doing a ‘last tour’ and announcing it. But it’s good.
Was the obligation to tour a large factor in the decision to disband Luna?
We don’t have an obligation. We don’t have to tour. But you know, we like touring—somewhat. I don’t like touring all the time. Some days are good; some days are bad. You put out a record, you feel like you have to promote it. Or no one will know about it, if you don’t get out there. In some ways it’s the cheapest way to promote your record. It’s cheaper for the label. They’d rather give the band tour support than take out advertisements. And it’s just part of what you do as a band.
What would you say was your worst Luna tour experience?
Usually the worst things are the really scummy hotels. It kind of depends. In certain countries we’re more popular, and then you get treated better when you’re selling more tickets. And it’s like, we go to Switzerland, where hardly anyone knows who we are. Of course we get stuck in, you know, a brothel.
What would you say was the best Luna tour experience?
It’s a silly thing, when you’re in a band, you like the places where the people like you. So, San Francisco, Chicago, Spain—we’re popular in Spain, so we like going there. Basically, touring the US is always good for us; we haven’t had any disastrous times. And despite things that have happened over the years, changes in record label, etc., we’ve always maintained a good live following. Because, you know, some bands come along and they have one huge hit, but then they have no live following, and they go out a year later to tour, and nobody comes to see them.
What is your reaction to the media reaction to Luna’s break-up?
The reaction is, I think, part of the reason we decided we might as well announce it. It generates some press for you, something to write about. Your publicist, you know they’ll be like, “Well, what’s the angle?” “Well, we just made out sixth album.” “Well that’s not an angle. That’s not very interesting. Give us something to write about.” So now they have something to write about. The next album will be the reunion album.
How do you fill a normal Luna-less day?
Well, I have a five-year-old son. The ex-wife and I divorced, so there are my days with him, which are pretty full. A Luna-less day… Well, there haven’t been too many Luna-less days, but there are a lot to come, I suppose. There’s always things to do. I don’t go to an office to go to work. Post office, send e-mails, organize things. Some days are like a day of interviews. I go through periods: sometimes I work really hard for five months, and then there’ll be a couple months where I don’t have very much to do at all, which is nice. But when I am work-working… I don’t know. There’s not very much separating work from pleasure in my life, I suppose. The flipside of it is you don’t know when to stop, and there’s this pressure. You’re under a deadline to write, that’s always hanging over your head.
There are worse occupations. Bank teller, postman…
My dad used to be a bank teller. He quit, after about a year.
You went to Harvard. What were your horrible jobs, throughout college and high school?
In college I worked in the library for a little while.
Well that’s not very interesting.
Then I just had temp jobs, here in Boston. You know I worked at the hospital for a while, Brigham Women’s hospital.
What was your first instinct upon disbanding Galaxie 500?
I remember I felt good. I felt kind of free. Yeah… No, I felt good. I think I’ll feel good when Luna disbands, too.
Do you plan to go on a celebratory honeymoon-style thing when Luna disbands?
I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll be depressed. But I’m not depressed now. I just feel like it’s time. What did I do when Galaxie 500 disbanded… I started playing golf. Because my parents had just moved into a house that was next to a run-down golf course. I’m not very good at it. It’s actually extremely difficult.
Do you retain contact at all with Damon & Naomi?
We haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. But we were in pretty frequent email contact around the time that they were collecting the stuff for the DVD, which was nice. Even though we’re still not actually speaking to each other, it doesn’t feel like that. It’s a nice email relationship. I think it’s hard to stay angry at people for, how long has it been, like 12 years.
What was the actual spark that caused that break-up?
I mean, again, like with Luna, whenever you make a big decision like that, it’s never just one thing. It’s not like it was an incident. It’s just, things sort of build up inside your head, you start making a case as to why this is intolerable for you. And you do it. I mean, I guess on some level I felt a lack of control over my own life. I think being in a band can do that, because, being in a band, you make all the decisions in your life based on a committee—in that case a committee of three, this time a committee of four—and you vote on everything. There are great things about being in a band too, but that can get kind of bad.
You like being the dictator? Any solo albums in the works?
No, I don’t like being the dictator. Well, yeah, I would do that. I want to keep making records, just not in the band format.
The Dean & Britta record was relatively successful, wasn’t it?
I enjoyed it too. Making it was great. Making that was certainly easier than making this Luna record. But then when we came to play it live it was extremely difficult. It was musicians who hadn’t played on the record. That’s the great thing about playing in a band: all of you know exactly what you’re doing.
The new album sounds so focused.
That comes from six months of rehearsals. You know, meeting once or twice a week to play the songs and go over every part, so that by the time you go into the studio, you all know what you’re doing, and you can set up microphones, and capture it in a few takes.
Lyrically, you seem to have a fascination with toddler words. “Fuzzy Wuzzy,” “Weird and Woozy,” etc. Is that a Seuss influence?
Where did I get “Fuzzy Wuzzy”? I read that phrase in a Don Delillo book. Somebody says, “Can you show me your fuzzy wuzzy” to a woman. Not Fuzzy Wuzzy was a worm. Also, I have these books by Kenneth Koch, about teaching poetry to children, that sometimes I turn to for inspiration, and read poems by seven-year-olds. I guess some of the words may be a little bit cutesy or whatever… I read another review of our record and the guy was saying something about my lyrics and how the best parts of them are usually found in a phrase or two, rather than in some narrative, some story. Which I agree with Because that’s sort of how they’re assembled, from little phrases that catch my eye. I think it’s very difficult, some people think they can write a song by going into a room with a piece of paper and pencil, and sit down and write about how they feel at that moment. How they feel deep inside. And that’s not my approach at all. I feel that stuff comes out in details and stories and such.
Speaking of stories, some of your song titles borrow notably from Paul Auster and Don Delillo. Do you have any literary aspirations?
I’ve been thinking about collecting my tour diaries and trying to write a book. But it’s hard work. I can see that. I have a lot of respect for people who can do that. Because you have to get up every morning and do that. Maybe that’s the best time to work, without distractions. I started to collect some things. But I think there’s some resistance to people jumping genres, you know. I would never read an Ethan Hawke novel, because why would I read that when I could read a novel by Philip Roth? So that’s why I wouldn’t read my own novel. But if Ethan Hawke wrote some memoir about his stories from Hollywood? That might be interesting.
What did you study while at Harvard?
Social Studies. It was a combined major they have there. At Harvard they like to bring out fancy names for things. Instead of Political Science, it’s Governmental Science. Fine Arts is Visual and Environmental Studies. It makes them feel better.
Did you end up using that background?
I don’t think so. No.
Would you consider it now?
I don’t know. Does it really matter what you study when you go to college in America?
Does it really matter what you study when you go to Harvard?
I had a friend who studied Classics there, and then the year he graduated he got a job with Merrill Lynch. Just going there is a ticket for entry into the bourgeoisie, if you know how to use it. Obviously, I didn’t.
By: Aaron Ayscough
Published on: 2004-11-29