It's a Friday afternoon in New Orleans and Jeff Raines is taking it easy. Well, kind of. He's playing with some musicians that night somewhere downtown, but compared to earlier that week, things are pretty tame. You see, Raines is only two days removed from Ash Wednesday - three days from Mardi Gras - and given that he plays guitar in Galactic, one of the city's most hard-charging bands, it's OK that he's taking a little down time.
But there is no vacation on the horizon for Raines and his band. Within a week, Raines and the four other members of Galactic will be back on the bus for a month-long tour, doing what they've been doing for nearly 20 years - playing some of the funkiest instrumental jams in the business while also accompanying an eclectic array of performers, from rappers to soul legends. Then this summer, like most summers before in the band's history, the group hits the festival circuit, where Galactic's distinctively New Orleans roots mix well with the party atmosphere found at such mass gatherings.
For the moment though, Raines is focused on Mardi Gras where the band played the same show its been doing for more than a decade on the Monday before Fat Tuesday.
"We usually start at around 1 a.m. and play until the sun comes up. Then our inebriated crowd wanders out into the daylight," says Raines.
Mardi Gras, as it is for so many other New Orleans artists, is an integral part of what Galactic does, so much, in fact, that the band's next album (due out in 2012) is a tribute to the festival. Raines and company have been checking out Brazilian and Caribbean sounds in the hopes of creating a pan-cultural record that captures the vibe of Mardi Gras, not just in New Orleans, but around the world. But he says the New Orleans vibe will be heard clearly on the record, which is why Galactic recently decided to record with a local high school marching band to add the thick layer of horns that is key to the Crescent City sound.
"We all got really excited when we started working on it," says Raines of the project. "It fits well because kids are brought up with a horn in their hand here."
This forthcoming record, to be released in time for next year's festivities, is another chapter for a band that never seems to tire of pushing the outer wall of its creative boundaries. That's refreshing, given that a band like this could easily make a career out of touring the country, jamming mindlessly to throngs of dedicated fans.
"We all love making records. We call it art by democracy and hopefully the best concepts and pieces of music rise to the top," says Raines.
While Galactic has built its reputation on festival appearances and dedicated jam band fans, the band got a big push from the 2007 album From the Corner to the Block, which melded Galactic's funky and jazzy sounds with vocals from some of the best indie hip-hop artists in the business. The disc featured Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab, Chali 2na, Ohmega Watts and plenty others. Although the disc and some of the live collaborations that followed were well received, Raines says he'd be surprised if the band got heavy into hip-hop again. But he does go on to confirm that the band will be collaborating with Lyrics Born at the band's Mardi Gras in the Mountains show in Denver this weekend.
But for the most part, Galactic will continue on the path it started upon when Raines and his bandmates formed the group as college students in the early '90s down in New Orleans.
"Our intention of playing was to be a funk band," says Raines, "We've done a lot of stuff around that, but we've always wanted to play funk."
Galactic, DJ Smoke
9pm Thursday, March 24. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $22/advance, $25/door. Tickets at Bendticket.com, Ranch Records and Ticketswest.com.