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The Weekly interview: Galactic organist Rich Vogel

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Rich Vogel (second from right) says Galactic will “stretch out” in Las Vegas.
Chris Bitonti

You guys are one of the inaugural acts for Las Vegas’ Brooklyn Bowl. What does that mean to you? I’m intrigued by this whole thing—seeing the new Brooklyn Bowl, another Brooklyn Bowl from the one in Brooklyn, which we know and love—just kind of seeing what it’s all about. It’ll be fun for us to do a little residency there.

Having played the original Brooklyn Bowl many times, how do you think it will translate to Las Vegas? That is a great question, which I am not qualified to answer, but I think it is a really interesting idea and I can see it flying, because I think it’s gonna offer something different to Vegas. It is a great establishment in Brooklyn, really fun. What you’re talking about is a really nice environment for music and bowling, and the place serves really good comfort food, down home stuff: fried chicken and brisket and collared greens, done really well.

There aren’t too many places where you can go eat that well, drink that well and listen to national touring bands … and bowl (laughs). It is kind of awesome to put all of those things together in one evening. It’s a great hang there in Williamsburg, so I would guess it would be a success but it’s not my area of expertise really, especially when it comes to Vegas and what will and will not work. In that town there are many things competing for your attention and entertainment.

Have you guys done a residency of this length before? We’ve done it at the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, but not actually this many nights. We’ve never done 12 nights anywhere that I can recall. We’ve done four nights in Brooklyn, maybe five.

It’s always nice to stay in one place for more than a day. It’s not our normal mode of operation, but it’ll be fun, give us a chance to relax, and musically it gives us an incentive to stretch out and do some variations with the set, invite some guests out and things like that.

Do you have any guests planned at this point? We have two sort of permanent special guests that will definitely be with us: Corey Henry—Boe Money, we call him—an outstanding trombone player from New Orleans; and we have an amazing young singer with us named Maggie Koener, who has been doing our vocal duties for well this whole tour. They’ll both be with us, and then we’ll see what else is possible based on who is in Vegas during that window.

How do you plan on keeping it interesting for 12 shows? I think we’ll dig deeper into our catalog, both for originals and covers that we know and things that we used to know and all of that. A little bit of this is going to be play it by ear and see what the vibe is like and what the crowd is like and if you’re getting a lot of the same people on multiple nights or if it’s a completely different audience every night. We kind of don’t entirely know what we’re getting into, but I think that’s part of what’s intriguing about it.

What is a Galactic writing session like? Because one thing about your recordings that I’m really drawn to is that even though you could be considered a jam band, your songs are very focused. Your last album [Carnivale Electricos] didn’t have a song over four minutes long. It’s something we’ve consciously developed over the years. We kind of became known on the jam scene, especially when we started touring in the ’90s, as the scene was really blossoming. And of course opening up for bands like Widespread Panic early on really put us on the jam map, if there is such a thing. But we’re a band from New Orleans, and the music that we were really inspired by and drawing from and learning from was all of the history and tradition of funky music in New Orleans and other old-school funk and R&B and stuff like that.

As things progressed over the years and we started making records, we knew that we wanted to try and make our records listenable—what you can do in a club at 3 in the morning when everyone is already feeling good and is deep into it is different than what you can do on a 50-minute album. And a lot of our inspirations were studio bands, who also played live and also could jam, quote unquote. The Meters weren’t known as a jam band in the ’70s, and neither was Booker T. & The M.G.s or the James Brown rhythm section or any of those bands, but they were certainly jamming, weren’t they? And yet, they owned the craft of the studio—how you arrange and craft songs that are concise and may have a solo that’s not six minutes long. So I think it kind of came naturally to us, especially once we kind of had our own studio, our own place to work on music and produce tracks. It’s kind of second nature at this point.

When you say you took traditional elements of New Orleans’ sound and added modern elements to it, did you encounter much backlash from that when Galactic was starting out? Not a lot. I guess when we were getting going originally it wasn’t quite as modern. We were really trying to play authentic, old-school funk and R&B. We had learned all The Meters’ instrumentals, all of Look-Ka Py Py and all of that. We were really inspired by those tones from the ’70s. So we were just playing through Fender Twins and playing vintage instruments. Rob [Mercurio’s] P-Bass is from 1963, and I wanted to play a Hammond Organ and a Fender Rhodes and all that. And this was an era too, especially in the early ’90s, when everybody wasn’t playing those instruments. We were kind of in the hangover from the ’80s and the digital stuff, and grunge was a big thing.

We were still in that, but there were some of us at that time kind of developing something with those old instruments and drawing our inspiration from all of those records made in the ’60s and ’70s. We started discovering each other. I remember running into The Greyboy Allstars and Medeski, Martin and Wood coming through town in the early ’90s, right around the time that we were getting going and about to hit the road. They were using all of that stuff too, but it wasn’t everywhere like it is now and has been in the last 10 years.

The most interesting thing about it was, sometimes we’d get to go play a show or open up for one of our heroes. I remember we opened up for War one time and The Neville Brothers, and we were using more vintage gear than they were (laughs). It would be this strange dichotomy—we love all of this stuff because of your records, so I’m schlepping a real Leslie to this gig and you have some simulator in your digital rack. It was really kind of funny. I remember one of the guys in War looking at my real Wurlitzer and saying, “Oh man! I used have one of those.” (laughs)

Galactic March 27 & 28, 10 p.m. & midnight, $10; March 29, midnight, $10; April 2-5, 9-12, midnight, $25. Brooklyn Bowl, 862-2695.

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