This much is clear: Since the release of its latest album, 2003's Ruckus, Galactic has become one of the nation's top jam bands, a funk-rock-jazz machine that uses the stage as its creative playground. Ruckus is the band's fourth album and certainly its most enjoyable. It was produced by Gorillaz and Handsome Boy Modeling School mastermind Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, who wove a discernible hip-hop flavor into the band's multilayered sound.
Ruckus not only updates the jam band sound for the new millennium, it also lifts New Orleans music out of the rut it's been in for a quarter-century. "We've always been into that kind of stuff," says Mercurio. "Even before we started working with [Nakamura], we were working with hip-hop [musicians]."
After DeClouet left Galactic late last year, the band followed its instinct and decided to do without a singer, says Mercurio. "We were always leaning toward being an instrumental band," he acknowledges. "It definitely allows everyone to stretch out more. There was always a happy ratio before. Theryl's leaving pushed us over."
When they relocated to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., at the top of the '90s and recast themselves as a supertight and superwhite spicy funk combo, Mercurio and guitarist Jeff Raines already had the chops. "Moving down here put us in a more funky mood," says Mercurio. "New Orleans is oozing in that stuff. We get to play with a bunch of other people, and it's a real healthy scene like that. We're influenced by all the players around town."
Ruckus is the band's first album to explore the groove with as much freedom as the live shows. But the albums aren't designed as mere vehicles that drive the group into concert halls, insists Mercurio. "I guess they end up like that, though," he laughs. "But we do see the albums as pieces of work and snapshots of what we're about that year."
This year, Galactic is back on the road after taking it relatively easy in 2004 (the band typically spends half the year touring; only about 80 shows are scheduled for 2005). Several new songs are in the set, and an album is planned for fall. "It's going to be a little less loopy than the last record," promises Mercurio. "It's going to be more interactive.
"But it's still going to be sort of dark and mysterious, which seems what we've been about for the past few years. It's going to be muscular darkness," he continues, sliding into Nigel Tufnel territory. "It's heavy, heavy dark funk, with a New Orleans gris-gris vibe."