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Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham: L'avventura
By alexander laurence

Dean Wareham was the leader of the Boston band Galaxie 500 from 1987-1991. Dean then moved back to New York City to start Luna in 1992. Luna has made six full-length studio albums since then.

Britta Phillips from Philadelphia joined Luna in 2000. She also acted alongside Julia Roberts, Liam Neeson, Justine Bateman, and Debbie Harry in the film, Satisfaction, before moving to England and making records with Belltower.

L'Avventura was recorded in 2002. Britta and Dean played guitar and bass and keyboards, with drummer Matt Johnson. Producer Tony Visconti made many of the greatest rock records ever, and he is known for his work with David Bowie and T-Rex, as well as the Stranglers. Tony plays additional guitar and keyboard on this record, and contributed a number of string arrangements, performed by the Scorchio String Quartet. The record was produced at Tony's studio in New York City.

The album contains 11 songs, half of them covers, some of them duets in the tradition of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Now Sonic Boom has released a remix record called Sonic Souvenirs. I spoke to Dean Wareham recently on their first tour. He was also in town for the screening of a film he acted in, Piggie. Alison Bagnall who co-wrote Buffalo '66 directs this movie.


AL: How many shows have you played as Britta and Dean?

Dean: Tonight is going to be our first gig. We played about seventy shows as Luna last year. We did two American tours and one European tour.

AL: When I first moved to New York you used to do shows on New Year's Eve?

Dean: We still do that if we can get it. We played Maxwell's last time. We have done New Year's Eve shows at Mercury Lounge and The Knitting Factory. Most of them are sellouts. There are a lot of New York bands now. Not all of them play on New Year's Eve though. Maybe Patti Smith. We have that sewn up.

AL: Have you worked with Tony Visconti before?

Dean: No. This is the first time. It was our manager's idea. Our manager works with David Bowie. He set it up. Only recently I was aware that Tony Visconti lived in upstate New York.

AL: Did you think he had died?

Dean: I knew he was still alive. I think he had done a D Generation record. He did the last Bowie record. People started waking up to him again. Most people think he was from England. He's not. He's from Brooklyn. He had moved to London in the late 1960s.

AL: What was it like working with him?

Dean: It was great. We were co-producers on the record. I have always been in the background co-producing most of the Luna records. Some people are really anal about that. I don't need a credit. I usually give the credit to an engineer or a producer because they need it more. Everyone knows that I sing on the record. Obviously I have a lot of input on the record.

AL: What was different about working with Tony Visconti?

Dean: Tony was very quick. I appreciate that. We spent about three weeks doing this record. We did the drums in about three days, without Tony. We did some recording at home. Maybe it took a month altogether?

AL: Was it all on tape?

Dean: No. We did the drums on tape. Then we dumped everything on pro tools. That's the one thing that you think about in the back of your head: Tony made all these great records thirty years ago, and maybe he doesn't know about the new technology. Tony really knows what he is doing. He has made so many records. He knows exactly how to solve problems. He would carve out sections of songs. He does a great job with the arrangement of the strings.

AL: He did that on "Nightnurse?"

Dean: He did nice things on that. We can't afford to bring the string section with us on tour. Tony did the backwards space in the middle section. There was a 12-string picking part: he played that on the record.

AL: Who wrote the songs?

Dean: I only wrote three songs. Six songs are covers. Britta wrote two songs. One song "Knives From Bavaria" I wrote for a movie called "Piggie." I am the male lead in the film. I don't know why. I went to the opening last week. I about an ex-junkie play it. He a credit card thief who is running away from New York City. His former best friend, played by John C. Reilly, is out to kill him. He goes upstate to this small town. A teenage farm girl falls in love with him and he is really mean to her. That is the story.

AL: Will it play at Angelika or Film Forum?

Dean: No, it's so hard to get a film to play there because it's so competitive. There are too many films. Just like records. There are ten times as many records coming out now than in the 1990s. There are too many records and films coming out now. What are you going to do about it? You can't kill them all. Everyone wants to be a film director.

AL: You have been here in LA all week? What have you been doing?

Dean: I went to that screening. I also saw The Italian Job. I have a lot of friends here in LA.

AL: What do you think of all these New York bands now? You have played with a few bands from Brooklyn like Calla.

Dean: We did a tour with Calla. They are okay. I like Interpol. They remind me of ten bands from Boston in the mid-1980s and the 1970s. They sounded like Echo and The Bunnymen too. People think that they sound like Joy Division, but they are more like Echo and The Bunnymen. Most of those bands are bigger in London than they are in New York.

AL: What about Luna?

Dean: We are bigger in New York. Galaxie 500 was more like that. We had a reputation in London all the time. Some things break over there first rather than here. They have a weekly music press. They take themselves too seriously over there. It's funny. It's all hyperbole. There's this fanzine called Bangs, from London, and they were talking about Interpol. They called them the darkest and coolest band ever to come out of New York. I like them, but I don't know if they are the greatest New York band….

AL: Who do you like?

Dean: I actually The Strokes. I like that record.

AL: What bands inspired you when you were growing up?

Dean: Music from the late 1970s when I first came to New York. I came there in 1977. I liked The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, and Television. Those were my favorites. Then I like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and Joy Division.

AL: Did you make demos of a few of these songs?

Dean: Yeah a few of them. Since they are cover versions you don't have to demo them because you know how they sound.

AL: How did you pick the songs you did like the one by Madonna?

Dean: I just loved that song when I heard it. I like that album Music that she did. Sometimes you have to close your ears to the lyrics. I don't like her new record.

AL: Then you did a song by Opal called "Hear The Wind Blow." Did you know them back then?

Dean: I met David Roback, but I have never done any shows with Opal or Mazzy Star. Maybe we did one special show with Galaxie 500 and Opal in New York a long time ago. Opal only did one tour with Jesus and Mary Chain and they broke up. We did a show in Boston the same night. I think that Damon and Naomi went to that show. There was a terrible snowstorm I remember.

AL: How do you choose songs to do?

Dean: Mostly they are songs by bands that we like. The only band we did a song by who I didn't like was when we did a Guns and Roses song. I heard that they didn't write "Sweet Child O' Mine." That was a rumor. I met this guy. He told me he knew someone who had written the song and sold it to Guns and Roses.

AL: What about Buffy St. Marie?

Dean: Someone pointed out that she is Canadian that I didn't know. It is a protest song about wasting time and money putting people on the moon.

AL: Don't you think it's ironic that you are in a band called Luna and you are working with Tony Visconti, while doing that song? Did he play on "Space Oddity" with Bowie? Many people thought Bowie was opportunistic.

Dean: Originally he was in Bowie's band, but was he playing on "Space Oddity?" He played on our record too. Everyone who ever heard "Moonshot" by Buffy St. Marie thinks it's a beautiful song. I don't think it was a hit. We did that song in Galaxie 500 but we never released it.

AL: "Indian Summer" is a song by The Doors.

Dean: That is my favorite song. The first Doors album is great. The rest is like lazy blues. Some of their songs are great.

AL: With the songs by Opal and Madonna you are taking songs originally sung by women and doing a male vocal. Why did you do that?

Dean: It's a tradition. The Flaming Lips did a song recently by Kylie Minogue. When we started doing "Moonshot" it started out as a duet, but it sounded better with just me singing it. Many of these songs just sound more interesting when a man sings it. If we do another record, maybe there will be more duets.

AL: Will there be another Britta and Dean record?

Dean: I don't know. Maybe we will do another one. But first we are going to do another Luna record.

AL: What are the rest of Luna doing now?

Dean: They are doing their side project. I don't know if they have broken up. Maybe they will release the secret tapes.

AL: You did a song by Calvin Johnson before?

Dean: That was also called "Indian Summer." It was a different song. For this record we actually did a song by the Halo Benders.

AL: I saw a movie with Sonic Boom talking about that song by Beat Happening. He said that he didn't like the original version.

Dean: He thought I wrote "Indian Summer." I like the Calvin Johnson song. We just worked with Sonic Boom recently. We are doing a remix record with him called Sonic Souvenirs.

AL: Have you done a lot of videos?

Dean: We did one for Luna for the last record. We did one for the song "Nightnurse." Now that we are on a real indie label, they don't spend ridiculous amounts on videos. It's very sickening. When we were on Elektra, the first video cost seventy thousand dollars. I am still asking why? Our manager at the time wanted a big budget video. They just charge you for half of it anyway.

AL: Do you read a lot?

Dean: Not a lot. I am reading Operation Shylock by Philip Roth. I am a big Philip Roth fan. I read the last Paul Auster book. That was good.

AL: Do you have any advice for new bands?

Dean: I can barely give advice to myself. It's a risky business.

AL: What's the hardest thing about doing music?

Dean: You don't have a steady paycheck. It's a struggle to make money. You have anxiety not knowing where the money is coming from. I am lucky that I have never had a day job since 1990.

Website: www.deanandbritta.com




--Alexander Laurence



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