Galactic keyboard player Rich Vogel admits it’s pretty satisfying to consider how the band has gone from an upstart on a legendary early ’90s New Orleans music scene to arguably the leading band in the Crescent City.
“We talk about it a lot. It’s a nice place to be, and it’s an honor,” Vogel says. “We became the band we used to see on Mardi Gras and Halloween. We would be at Tipitina’s, and Dr. John would be playing. We were checking out everything, all the brass bands and stuff.
“The Neville Brothers were still playing in town — the more funky version of the Neville Brothers. And Cyril Neville had his side project Uptown,” he says. “That’s what got us going.”
These days, Galactic is likely to be the group playing at Tipitina’s during Mardi Gras — or a main stage during the famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival held in May.
Look for Galactic in an all-star lineup of New Orleans musicians during Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 S. Fir St., Jacksonville. Also featured will be Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New Breed Brass Band, Cyril Neville and Walter Wolfman Washington. Tickets are $59 for reserved seating, $236 for premium lawn seating for four, $118 for premium lawn seating for two, $42 for lawn seating, and $32 for ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488. No outside alcohol will be permitted at this performance.
Along with nine studio albums to its credit, Galactic has gone from small clubs to touring worldwide, survived the upheaval of Hurricane Katrina, and the loss of original singer Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet.
After health issues forced DeClouet off of the road in 2004, Galactic used a variety of vocalists on its tours.
Now Erica Falls has the vocalist slot, and Vogel says she’s put her own stamp on every tune the group asks her to sing. He sees her staying on board as Galactic moves forward.
Galactic’s newest album, “Into the Deep,” released in 2016 and follows three albums that showcased distinct themes.
The 2007 “From the Corner to the Block” brought a hip-hop flavor into Galactic’s funky R&B-rooted sound, and 2010’s “Ya-Ka-May” revolved around the concept of New Orleans. Then 2012’s “Carnivale Electricos” used Mardi Gras as its theme, and found the band exploring how Brazilian music intersects with the sounds of New Orleans and Louisiana.
Creating music to fit those concepts was impetus for the band to expand its stylistic range, and Galactic became known for having a progressive attitude.
“Into the Deep” represents a step back toward early Galactic sound. More of the classic R&B and funk that defined early Galactic emerges on new songs such as the edgy rocker “Higher and Higher” (featuring J.J. Grey on vocals), the gritty “Dolla Diva” (with David Shaw of the Revivalists and Maggie Koerner trading vocals) and the sassy and rousing “Right On” (with Charm Taylor singing lead).
Vogel definitely hears the roots of Galactic shining through on “Into the Deep.”
“Overall it has a throwback vibe, a little bit of old school R&B kind of groove,” Vogel says. “We were more instrumentally driven back then.”
It isn’t just the sound that has an old-school element on “Into the Deep.” Some of the songs took Galactic back to how the group made music in its early years, as band members Vogel, drummer Stanton Moore, sax player Ben Ellman, bassist Robert Mercurio and guitarist Jeff Raines got together in the band’s studio in New Orleans to write, arrange and record live.
On newer albums, the band moved toward writing and recording individually and building recordings by adding their parts one at a time.
“We kind of did harken back a little bit to our early approach,” Vogel says. “Now we have a hybrid approach to writing and recording. It seems like the more we do together, the better it gets.”