Luna - The Full Interviews with Dean Wareham and Sean Eden

Did You Miss Them?

Jan 22, 2018 Issue #62 - Julien Baker
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To most of our readers, Luna hopefully need no introduction. The band were a '90s indie rock fixture until their public breakup in 2005, documented in the 2006 documentary film Tell Me Do You Miss Me. It's not like they rested on their laurels during the decade they were gone, though. Songwriter/singer/guitarist Dean Wareham (formerly of late '80s/early '90s indie legends Galaxie 500) and his wife Britta Phillips (once the singing voice of Jem on the cult '80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms and also a veteran of the '90s bands Ultrababyfat and The Belltower) formed the duo Dean and Britta, releasing several albums of original material while also scoring the film 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests and doing a tour of only Galaxie 500 material. In 2008 Wareham released a memoir, Black Postcards, and put out a self-titled solo album in 2014. Phillips finally released her first solo album, Luck and Magic, in 2016 as well.

Now after almost a decade apart, Wareham and Phillips have reunited with Sean Eden and Lee WallLuna are back with not one but two new records, the lovely all-covers LP A Sentimental Education and the equally delightful instrumental EP A Place of Greater Safety. Read on as Wareham discusses both releases, how he doesn't like reunion albums, and why he no longer lives in New York. We then separately chatted with guitarist Eden about a wide variety of topics, culminating in asking him about his favorite and least favorite shows that he's ever played and what music inspires him during troubled times.

The Q&A with Wareham originally appeared in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue, this is its debut online. The interview with Eden is previously unpublished. 

Dean Wareham Q&A

Matthew Berlyant (Under the Radar): Whose idea was it to get the band back together?

Dean Wareham: We did a couple of shows where Sean [Eden] joined Britta [Phillips] and I onstage and we played some Luna songs. We did a show out on Long Island, a benefit with The War on Drugs before they got ginormous. We played maybe five songs there and that was likely a year before the reunion. The 10-year anniversary came up on the breakup and it made us think about it a little. We're all after 10 years not being in a band together for a while, we've just become friends again without the additional stress of being in a band. And we got a nice offer to go to Spain. Maybe it was the Spanish promoter. He said, "I hear a rumor that Luna's getting back together. I could book you a tour." "It's not true, but it could be true."

You've released a covers LP [A Sentimental Education] and an instrumental EP that accompanies it [A Place of Greater Safety]. Why did you do those instead of an album full of original songs?

I thought it would easy, frankly. I thought we could see what it's like to knock out some covers and see what it's like to record again. That said, it probably wasn't that quick. The longer you've been in a band, the longer you take to work on things, tweak them. We did four songs, did four more. Also, we don't all live in Los Angeles. It's kind of a nice way to record, a few songs at a time, instead of going into the studio for two solid months and working on 15 songs all at once. We got towards the end of this and Sean said that we should do something else. I liked the idea of the LP being all covers and so we decided to add an EP as well and it came about pretty quickly. We're releasing two things we've never done before. It's more of an interesting concept than, "Oh we're back and we're making another album." When bands reform, something in me resists listening to their comeback albums. I don't know if you feel that way. I love the Buzzcocks, but I haven't listened to any of the stuff they've done since they got back together. I think it's especially weird when punk bands come back 20 years later because the milieu has changed so much. With Luna, it doesn't feel like we particularly sounded like the '90s anyway.

 For me, Luna doing a covers LP makes sense given all of the covers you've done over the years. The choices aren't obvious, such as "Fire in Cairo" by The Cure.

We also covered "Friday I'm in Love" for a compilation on American Laundromat. That was hard to sing and this was hard to sing as well.

Did you just not want to do more well-known songs?

I guess for me, I don't usually want to do songs that are big songs. Discovering a really obscure track, my thought is, "I bet that hardly anyone knows about this song."

Tell me about the Fleetwood Mac cover ["One Together"].

I guess I'd gone into a bit of a phase of listening to early Fleetwood Mac. A friend of mine from Australia had urged me to go listen to Peter Green and some of the post-Peter Green stuff and there are so many great songs. Here's another interesting thing. We did a video for "Fire in Cairo" and Rose McGowan is going to be in the video. She grew up in the same cult that Jeremy Spencer joined. The Dylan song ["Most of the Time"] was Sean's idea. I love the song, but I was hesitant because I thought it would be so hard to sing. The thing about covers is that I think, "Can I pull off this attitude?"

How have the shows been received so far?

The shows went great. The band's playing great. I'd say that we're playing better than we were in 2004/2005 when we broke up. You get kind of get set in your ways in terms of playing songs and after 10 years away, you have to relearn them. You get the tempos better and I think we're enjoying it and people can tell if you're enjoying yourself on stage. It makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone. If you go to a show and someone's really miserable on stage, you can tell. There are always nights when you're tired on tour and when you're in that cycle of constantly touring and making records, it's easy to get tired of being there no matter what "there" was. We haven't played much this year [2017]. We're going to Spain in two weeks and then North America in the fall.

Do you agree with what James Murphy said about LCD Soundsystem reuniting, something like they had to be three times as good just to validate their right to reunite?

For them, there's a sense of shame about doing a reunion at all.... We do change the setlist every night. 

Are there plans to reissue the live album on Arena Rock?

It's on Spotify, right? 

I meant a vinyl reissue.

I don't think so, but it's up to Greg at Arena Rock. I know it's hard to find. I'll suggest it to him. It may not be too expensive if he has the plates. We have some other live recordings from our farewell tour, which turned out to be a lie, and from some recent shows in San Francisco. Maybe we're gonna do a cassette. They're cheap, but we'd release one with a download code.

Frankly, I think that with vinyl, they use the download code and that's how they listen to it.

Now with streaming, most people don't even do that.

When we reissued Romantica and Rendezvous on vinyl in 2012, we put download codes in each one. It's a limited edition of 1,000 and I looked it up and roughly 10% used the download codes. Why do I need to put extra things on my hard drive when it's on Spotify. I have to say that the compact disc is an excellent format as much as people don't like them now. A lot of vinyl reissues sound cheap and people do shitty mastering jobs. When we did the Penthouse reissue, we could have gone to the master tape, but we just felt that so much work could done in the studio by our producer [Greg Calbi, the mastering engineer]. He did some aggressive stuff to it and going to a 24-bit instead of a 16-bit transfer, it's not worth undoing all of the great work that this great mastering engineer did. With that said, we did have Scott Hull take that master and make a special vinyl master from that which is much louder than the previous cut. It is by far the best-sounding Penthouse LP there's been.

How do you feel about how New York has changed since 2005?

It's just so expensive. I love it, but Los Angeles is a little more artist-friendly at this point and an easier place to be in a band. The idea was that we'd come out here and move back to Brooklyn in four years, but I kind of like it here and the thought of moving back into a shoebox in Manhattan or even Brooklyn and paying all that rent. When you live in New York, you can't imagine how anyone can live anywhere else. But when you leave, you're like, "This is actually kind of nice. It's a little more relaxed." And you get the sense when you go back there, as I do, that Manhattan is for the rich. The level of noise is incredible. There's construction all over. It's not the same. The East Village is nothing like it was when I lived there. You could just go out drinking and it was quiet at night. There are a lot of New Yorkers here. There's a lot to like here. The weather's pretty nice.

Sean Eden Q&A

Matthew Berlyant (Under the Radar): What made you decide to want to reunite the band?

Sean Eden: When Dean and I first started talking about it was two-and-a-half years ago now. We started talking about late in 2014 and we realized that it had been 10 years and so he called me and he said "let's talk about it." We're all kind of on the same page about it for two reasons. We stayed really good friends over the years. We didn't stay in touch all that much, but there was never a great deal of animosity during the breakup. We all had our different feelings about it, but as for getting together, it could be fun and as far as the practical aspects, we'd been gone for 10 years. We can definitely do some touring and make some money and travel around the world and stuff. All of us were like, "That stuff sounds great to me." There were other bands like us who started in the early '90s who have gotten back together. Our most well-known record was coming up on its 20th anniversary (1995's Penthouse), so all those reasons. "It's time, let's do it!" 

So why did you decide to record a covers album and an instrumental EP instead of an album of all originals? Was it easier to record new material that way?

That was really it. Dean basically proposed doing a covers record. Obviously, we've done quite a few cover songs. And Britta was pretty into that idea as well. It's not as much of a commitment as making a brand new record with brand new songs. For me personally, I probably would've been like "I'm ready to do that" but Dean and Britta were more comfortable just doing this covers record. I like the record very much, I like the choices we made and I think it's very interesting record and it's fun to do. And even with instrumental stuff, that was my instigation. "Let's at least try some stoner jams. Can we please just mess around in the studio? Let's just do something pretty quick and do these instrumentals, not put pressure on ourselves and have fun with it."

Did you purposely not want to do more well-known songs?

Most of the suggestions were Dean's things. We did a few songs that weren't on the record. We may put out a cover of "Something in the Air" by Thunderclap Newman with me singing. That was a hit song in 1971. But I guess that Dean tends to want to do more stuff that's more obscure. 

How have the shows been received up to this point?

We haven't done many this year [2017]. We did a series of shows in San Francisco earlier this year and a few others, but the first set of shows in 2015 where we toured in the U.S. and then went to Spain were all great and we're doing the same thing again this fall. It was amazing and it was amazing to get that kind of response. "People are so happy that we're doing this show and I'm so happy." It was great to be on stage again and to feel that energy.

Are there plans to reissue the live record?

There was a limited edition vinyl release of that record, but we have a lot of live stuff in our archive that's never been released. I've been going through some stuff from the so-called "final" tour in 2004/2005 and some of it's already been mixed because it was mixed for the Luna documentary (Tell Me Do You Miss Me). I've been listening to some other mixes. We did four Bowery Ballroom shows around that time. So we actually have stuff that's just as good if not better than that live record. I've spent literally five hours a day going through stuff and we could totally do a new live record from back then. We'll see. We'll do some type of release, but we likely won't reissue that live record. The only stuff we can reissue is the later stuff that we own ourselves whereas the earlier stuff is owned by Rhino, which is part of Warner Music Group. Me and Dean consulted with them about the recent Record Store Day release of Penthouse on the mixes and mastering and stuff like that, but we're not making a dime off that stuff. 

I feel strongly that if Elektra was a label more like Matador or Merge, your band would've been considered a massive success. 

We were part of that record industry paradigm in the '90s where everyone was buying CDs and there was so much money in it, so we were getting so much money to make records. So their philosophy was that they didn't care if we sold 100,000 records. We'd have had to sold 10 times that for them to take us seriously. 

Maybe the way that some of those records were made couldn't have made without the large budgets.

Certainly that's true for back then. You had to have a proper studio with proper equipment. There wasn't any other way to do it. Penthouse is a perfect example of that. In terms of sonic character and the fact that it's a very well-recorded and well-mixed record. But you had to spend some money. There was no way around it.

You could either do that or make Bee Thousand.

That's one of my favorite records ever. Not everything has to be hi-fi, but what I love about Penthouse is that there's a lot of sonic depth. You can really immerse yourself in it.

I remember seeing that you were randomly attacked when I watched the extra footage in the documentary.

It happened a week before the tour started. I was in the hospital for four days. I had to get this weird operation to repair my eye-socket. When I was in the ambulance, they maybe thought that I was gonna lose my left eye. It was a really serious, traumatic thing that took me a long time to get through. There was surgery, post-surgery stuff...and I had to deal with it on the tour on a daily basis and take medication. The filmmaker wanted the film to focus on other stuff, so we kept it separate in the film and put it in the extra footage. It was totally random violence. I don't know if it was a gang initiation or what, but someone snuck up on me, smashed me in the head and they had some kind of object in their hand and just left me on the street. They ran away and I never even saw who the person was. I didn't even know if I wanted to go out and walk around. I was totally traumatized. 

Do you still feel repercussions from that now?

Not really psychologically, but I do have to take a certain kind of eye drop for the rest of my life because of what happened. I have to get checkups twice a year by a specialist and they have to make sure that nothing bad is happening. 

www.lunamusic.com

 

 

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