Indietracks interview #11: Dean Wareham

Interview by Gareth Ware.

Dean Wareham is an American musician who has released an influential catalogue of melodic and psychedelic indie rock and pop songs via Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean & Britta.  Dean has also worked as a film composer, notably on The Squid And The Whale, and has written a memoir, Black Postcards, about his years in Galaxie 500 and Luna. His debut solo EP,Emancipated Hearts, was released in 2013, and was followed by his debut solo album, Dean Wareham, in March 2014.

So, Indietracks then. What are you most looking forward to, either on a general level or band-wise?

I love this kind of festival — the kind you can wander around without getting lost. I heard a rumour that Dean Wareham might get on stage with Joanna Gruesome; that could be interesting.

Your latest record – and first solo record – seems to have an airy brightness to it. Is this something you’d agree with and how would you describe it in your own words?

That is not inaccurate. Last year’s mini-LP (Emancipated Hearts) was more of a rainy day record, this one does feel sunnier, and there is a lot more energy in it. . . surely a result of Jim James pushing  me and the band to play harder and faster.

Has having your name on the masthead for this release created any added pressure at all? Have you found any yourself making any changes to your existing working methods as a result?

Whether it says Luna or Galaxie 500 or Dean Wareham, well these are all my names, so seeing the name on the marquee isn’t so different. It does mean perhaps that I feel more responsibility for whatever happens out on the road. But as the singer and principal songwriter you feel that pressure anyway.

How do you feel you’ve developed as a songwriter in recent years and how do you feel that compares with the rate of development at various stages earlier in your musical career?

I hope that I’ve gotten better lyrically. I know I work harder at it these days, and you learn a few things as you get older. On the other hand, there are things you express in your youth that you cannot repeat.

A (positive, it must be said) review of your new record described your career-wide style as “asserting his platonic ideal of pop music…and distilling the songs down to the intimate, personal connection and details that made him an enthusiast in the first place.” It’s as great a quote as it is an attribute to possess, but is that how you view your output to date?

I don’t know if I have a platonic ideal of pop music — I enjoy all kinds of pop music, from the Bartlebees to the Seekers to the occasional Britney Spears song. But yes I don’t jump around stylistically, I do try to remember what it was that first got me excited about music. And I still gravitate to simple structures – and to guitar solos, whether short or long. This is something that today’s indie bands seem to shun (the guitar solo), with some justification.

Something that I imagine a number of Indietracks attendees might not know but will want to find out about once they do is the fact that a few years ago you collaborated with Stephin Merrit on his 6ths side project – what was that like from your perspective? Likewise, what was it like having the song in question feature on the soundtrack of Nickelodeon’s ‘The Adventures Of Pete & Pete’?

Wow I was not aware of this TV placement till just now. But I’m sure the royalties will come flooding in soon. Stephen Merritt is an entertaining lyricist. What can I remember? He dropped off an ADAT, I recorded my vocal, returned it to him. I love the song – “Falling Out of Love With You” and a couple more from that album — “San Diego Zoo” and “In the City in the Rain.”

What does the rest of 2014 hold for you and what are you most looking forward to?

Just a few more dates on the Dean Wareham tour, and then I am working on a film/music project with the Andy Warhol Museum, as a guest music curator. I have pulled together five performers — Tom Verlaine, Martin Rev, Bradford Cox, Eleanor Friedberger and myself to each score 3 short Warhol films. This show will take place this fall in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

Let’s talk hypothetically for a moment: Indietracks suddenly gains 7 stages, and they all have things clashing with you – why should everyone watch Dean Wareham?

Because he will play the hits, and who knows if he’ll be back again.

Lastly, you’re probably going to get asked this by the assembled masses on site all day so we might as well ask/answer it here and save you some trouble: what does becoming someone’s tugboat captain entail? Can you provide some basic essential attributes and a brief role profile?

Back in 1987, I happened to hear that Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground had retired from rock and roll, and was working on a tugboat. I found this a romantic idea — a guy who starts a brand new life.