Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham:
By alexander laurence
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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