Corner to the Block comes to the ‘Burgh


It’s impossible to listen to Galactic’s new album From the Corner to the Block and not find… It’s impossible to listen to Galactic’s new album From the Corner to the Block and not find yourself wanting to break into all-out dance mode. Or, at the very least, tap your toes and bob your head.

For veteran fans of the group, this is no surprise. The self-described “future funk” band has been fiercely grooving for over a decade, opening for such acts as Dave Matthews Band and remaining headline staples at summer festivals like Bonnaroo and South By Southwest.

But what may take Galactic fans by surprise is the distinct new flavor of the band’s most recent album – that flavor being a heavy helping of hip-hop.

The disc holds 12 tracks that feature an array of MCs, from the underground heavyweight Juvenile to Chali 2na, the distinctive bass from Jurassic 5, and even female lyricist, Ladybug Mecca. While still featuring the band’s signature funk-based sound – catchy trumpet hooks, groovy bass lines and funky drum beats – the album distinguishes itself from previous Galactic releases with the tight rhymes of its vocalists.

This Saturday, Galactic is bringing its experiment in hip-hop-infused funk to Mr. Small’s with Mr. Lif and Boots Riley plus special guest Lifesavas.

The Pitt News recently had a chance to talk with the band’s bassist, Robert Mercurio, in a telephone interview about touring, the collaboration process and recording in a post-Katrina world.

The Pitt News: So you guys are coming to Pittsburgh on Saturday. At what point will you be in the current tour when you stop by Mr. Small’s?

Robert Mercurio: Five weeks . . . well, 12 years and five weeks.

TPN: Yeah, really. You guys tour constantly. Don’t you ever get tired?

RM: [Laughs]. Yeah, definitely sometimes, for sure. The most we’ve ever done is about 175 gigs a year. That was a long time ago. We probably play more like 110 now. We’ve toned it down a lot. But this tour hasn’t received any burnout yet. It’s different having the guest MCs. In that way, it hasn’t reached any lull. Every night is so exciting.

TPN: You played some pretty infamous sets this year at Bonnaroo and South By Southwest, but you have a lot of smaller venues like Mr. Small’s on this tour. Do you guys have a preference as to where you like to play?

RM: No stadium shows this year. In Austin we played a 220-seat small amphitheater, and that’s usually our normal size. But I kinda like it all. I really like a tour that’s all over the place. Like playing really tiny crappy bars is really fun, but I wouldn’t want to do a whole tour like that. I love opening up for people, I love playing festivals, but I don’t like doing too much of one thing.

TPN: So far, how do you think your new album has been received by fans?

RM: It’s tough [to tell]. I think that we have a lot of different kind of people in our fanbase. There are the fans that want us to make our first album over and over again. There are some that appreciate us doing new stuff. I think the general public likes it more than our fanbase. TPN: Well, considering that this album is markedly different from anything you’ve done in the past, would you say you keep your fans in mind when writing or do you write more for yourselves?

RM: I kinda don’t [keep fans in mind while writing]. I think that once you start doing that, you’re kinda screwed. When you’re writing for your fans, you’re not doing what you wanna do – you’re not gonna be happy in your heart in the long run. You hope they come a year from now to see you, but if they don’t, maybe you need some new fans.

TPN: About the album itself: Did you intentionally start out to make a Galactic-meets-hip-hop or did it just fall into place that way?

RM: We didn’t really set out like we were gonna make a hip-hop album. When we first started making the album, we said “Let’s make an album and collaborate but still do what we do.” We didn’t want just an instrumental album, we wanted it to have some guests.

TPN: The theme of the album is about corners, hence the title. You told the MCs to write about a corner – any corner, in any way, it didn’t matter. So, how did this conceptual part of the album originate?

RM: The ‘concept’ came up because we thought “How can we do it with a specific theme, not just guests?” You see that too much, those kinds of [collaboration] albums are too all over the place. People have lost the idea of an album being an album, but that’s why I got into music. We really wanted for it to have a cohesive feel. We didn’t want the theme of their songs to be all over the place. At the same time, we wanted it to be specific but not make every song about the same thing. We went back and forth, had a bunch of ideas. Eventually, we came across a book by a New Orleans author about different corners in New Orleans. It’s really cool.

TPN: Did you have specific MCs you absolutely wanted to include on the album? How did the collaborative process work out?

RM: We built this strong relationship with [a lot] of these guys over the years through touring, doing dates, whatnot. We would have a pre-existing drum and bass sample, something they could get started with and get the feel of the song. They would write some verses, then we would write a little more [music], write around what they had written. Sometimes they were done, and we had to curtail the song around their lyrics.

TPN: You guys started working on the album before Hurricane Katrina but didn’t start recording it until after the storm. As a result, you had to record in a different studio than usual [Red Rock Recording in the Poconos Mountains]. How did this change of scenery affect the album?

RM: It made us hunker down. Right after the storm, we had all these feelings we were going through. It brought the band closer, brought the feeling like ‘we really need to accomplish something right now.’ Since we didn’t write any of the lyrics, there was no way we were getting across how we were feeling vocally. It made us feel like we had to produce something good.

TPN: It’s almost impossible to talk about music coming from New Orleans today and not consider there to be a pre-Katrina and post-Katrina world. How would you say the storm has affected your music?

RM: Again, probably it brought everyone closer. In a way, any sort of disaster brings neighbors closer. Initially, we did a bunch of New-Orleans-themed tours. We all kinda fell back in love with the New Orleans sound. Once you see what you might’ve lost, you appreciate it a little more. It reinvigorated everyone’s love of New Orleans.

TPN: Some bands say they can never stay in one place creatively for too long. Looking ahead, have you started working on a new project or are you simply enjoying the fruits of “From the Corner” at this point?

RM: Yeah, we’re already working on a new album. We’re not sure [exactly what it will be] – it could very well not be a hip-hop album at all. It could be something totally new, different. We’ve started the writing process. Whatever it is, it’s still gonna be Galactic.