Dean Wareham: A bite from the Apple

By Russell Baillie

Wellington-born Dean Wareham is bringing his quintessential New York rock back home. He talks to Russell Baillie.

Dean Wareham and his wife-bassist Britta Phillips. Photo / Supplied
Dean Wareham and his wife-bassist Britta Phillips. Photo / Supplied

Last night, Dean Wareham played Wellington for the second time. Which might not seem that remarkable for a guy who has spent much of his life as a New Yorker and an exponent in a certain line of quintessentially New York rock - the one which began with the Velvet Undergound and ran through Wareham's past bands Galaxie 500 and Luna.

But Wareham was born in Wellington, before his family's globe-trotting took him to the Big Apple as a teenager via some school years in Sydney.

The last time Wareham was in his old hometown was last year's New Zealand Festival of the Arts. He and wife and musical partner Britta Phillips - as Dean & Britta they have been the most recent third chapter in Wareham's musical life - played the show 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests.

The Warhol Museum had commissioned the pair to soundtrack the silent black and white clips Warhol made during his Factory years.

"It was a great way to come way back," says Wareham "because it was the town hall in Wellington and I could remember being there when I was about five years old and it was some benefit concert raising money for the homeless and I remember The Chicks were singing. That was a long time ago. So it was a nice place to have the first show in."

This time, though, on a tour which brings him to Auckland this week, he's revisiting his own past. The show, entitled Dean Wareham Presents Galaxie 500 has him, with Phillips and drummer, playing the dreamy songs of the band that lasted four years and three albums having formed in 1987 with his Harvard classmates, drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang.

They broke up as grunge arrived. There's been too much acrimony between Warehan and his old rhythm section - who went to record as Damon and Naomi - to consider a band reunion.

"I don't think they like it," he says of his live Galaxie reprise, "but they didn't have to like it."

And like Nirvana et al, the trio's albums have been re-released, which is one reason for Wareham to dust off the songs he wrote as a twenty-something and sang in a high keening voice. "And not only is it high, it's very loud. It's not really a falsetto. I've had to step back and belt them out. It's been fun. It's been nice to see that I can do it."

Why did Galaxie 500 sound so delicate? By accident or design?

"I just think we didn't know what we were doing. I didn't know about guitar sounds. I had a fragile guitar sound and I wasn't sure how close to stand to the microphone. I probably stood a little too far away ...".

Wareham told the story of the band, the subsequent Luna (in which former Chills bassist Justin Harwood was a founding member before he left to be replaced by Phillips), and his professional and personal life in his engagingly frank 2008 memoir Black Postcards.

But with his musical career still cracking along, if occasionally veering into nostalgia, at 48, does he think he might have told his story too early?

"Well my editor at Penguin wants me to write another one but I am not sure. I think I've spilt all the beans. I need to write about something other than myself. But what I loved writing the book was it took a certain kind of bravery to write a book as opposed to poems or lyrics. You can hide behind that and reveal nothing of yourself."

LOWDOWN

Who: Dean Wareham
What: Dean Wareham Presents Galaxie 500, with wife-bassist Britta Phillips
When and where: Thursday 20 October at the Kings Arms, Auckland.

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