Luna’s Dean Wareham has reached a peaceful space about the incessant Velvet Underground comparisons (many justified) his band has endured since their 1992 debut, Lunapark.
And his band’s latest album may have a lot to do with it, he said.
“I don’t really buy the comparison, personally,” said the former Galaxie 500 leader and frontman for Luna, when asked about the slight shift away from the Velvety sound on the band’s upcoming fourth album, Pup Tent (July 29).
Wareham, who said, if anything, the new album is a conscious attempt to get away from the sound of the last few Luna records, considers the VU comparison a “lazy” one. “Having toured with them, I don’t think anybody sounds like them,” he said. “Not Yo La Tengo, not The Jesus and Mary Chain either.” (Luna opened for a reunited Velvet Underground on a 1993 European tour.)
Wareham has a point, based on a listen of the debauched ’70s disco-coke-party groove of “City Kitty” and the Brit-pop sound of “Beautiful View,” both from the new album, and both the result of Luna working with a producer proper for the first time in their career. Pat McCarthy (R.E.M., Butthole Surfers, Elvis Costello), who also produced Luna’s last album, 1995’s Penthouse, increased his presence this time around, Wareham said, by putting the band through their paces and making them play the new songs over and over before recording them.
“In the past we were more bass, guitar and drums, a stripped-down rock band,” Wareham said. “And if we’d done this album ourselves, it would have sounded like that again. But Pat pushed it in other sonic directions. Every song is radically different from the demos because we would come in each day and he would have us spend a lot of time experimenting, trying 25 different ideas before he would let us play with the tape rolling.”
Wareham said this regimen was a nice change for the band (which also includes bassist Justin Harwood of Tuatara, guitarist Sean Eden and new drummer Lee Wall), who had never really worked with a producer dedicated to making them find their sound. The results of the increased production vary from the narcotic, loopy sound of the album-closer “Fuzzy Wuzzy” to the Moog and Jupiter synthesizer sleaze of “Tracy I Love You” and the heavily-treated vocals of the title track, which Wareham said he recorded through a toy robot while lounging on a couch in the studio.
“Pat was less interested in what a rock band sounds like,” said Wareham of the genesis of offbeat songs such as the first single, the dark and loop-layered “IHOP,” for which he learned how to play trumpet. “In fact, he told us, ’you’re not a rock band, you’re a quirky, strange-sounding pop band.'”
To that end, McCarthy saw to it that the oddly affecting, almost New Orderish “Bobby Peru,” with its brassy horns, had Luna slipping into the guise he saw most fitting for that particular tune. “He asked us if we’d ever heard Welsh mining bands,” said Wareham, still not sure if he knows exactly what McCarthy meant. “There’s a lot of stuff like that on the album. Lots of stoner headphone level material.”
The stoner vibe comes out of Wareham’s experimentation with a number of offbeat keyboards, which he taught himself how to play over the course of the four-month recording process, which began in New York and shifted to the frozen environs of Cannon Falls, Minn. last December. Among his new arsenal is an Optigan, a Beach Boys-sounding classic studio toy that Wareham said actually is a toy, made by the Mattel company in the mid-1960s as competition for the home organ. “I used it on ’Pup Tent’ and ’Beggars Bliss’ for a sort of Neil Youngy sound,” said Wareham.
He described the device as somewhere between a home stereo and recording deck, which uses 12″ vinyl optical discs that play a number of pre-recorded, sometimes cheesy, stock sounds such as “Polynesian drum fill.”
Other songs on the album include “Whispers” and “Creeps.”