New Orleans-based jam band Galactic will perform in State College for the first time since 2009 with a blend of rhythm and blues, funk and jazz fusion. The March 19 show will be at the State Theatre.
Galactic has developed a unique sound as a result of its influences, which include hip hop, electronic, world music, rock, blues and jazz. Over the years, the band’s sound has evolved from New Orleans funk to a more modern style, incorporating elements of electronica and fusion, and has mostly been characterized by the increased use of electronic effects on guitar, bass, saxophone and drums. The band’s current lineup consists of Ben Ellman on harps and horns, Stanton Moore on drums and percussion, Rich Vogel on keyboards, guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio.
Galactic was started when childhood friends Raines and Mercurio moved to New Orleans from Chevy Chase, Md., to attend college at Tulane and Loyola universities. It wasn’t long until both became immersed in the New Orleans music scene.
“New Orleans has a very vibrant jazz, funk and R&B scene, and I sort of continued in that path,” Mercurio said. “New Orleans music became one of my biggest influences, with groups like the Meters and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. So that was really the formative music that sculpted who I am.”
Mercurio and Raines grew up together in Washington, D.C., and performed in bands together in high school.
“We both had the same metamorphosis and appreciated funk and jazz at the same time,” Mercurio said. “We just slowly pieced the band together with different people and it took about a year to find the current lineup.
After a number of jam sessions, Galactic became an official band in 1995 and started performing regularly in New Orleans. The musicians recorded their first album “Coolin’ Off” in 1995 and it was released on Fog City Records in 1996.
“We started hitting the road right away, and we haven’t really stopped ever since,” Mercurio said.
After parting with their former lead vocalist, soul and R&B singer Theryl DeClouet in 2004, Galactic became primarily an instrumental group. Though they no longer have a permanent lead singer, Galactic now uses a rotating cast of guest vocalists.
“We’ve kind of seen our group as more like a collaborative effort with different singers,” Mercurio said. “Our first album we made after parting with our original singer was a hip hop album. We had a number of different guests like Jurassic 5 and Juvenile, plus a number of different rappers on that album. So we’ve done albums like that ever since.”
Over the years, Galactic has invited numerous guest musicians from New Orleans to perform on stage with them, including Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, B.B. King, Counting Crows and the Allman Brothers Band.
In recent years, Galactic’s main guest vocalist has been Corey Glover from the band Living Colour, and the band often features vocalists from up-and-coming bands like David Shaw from the New Orleans rock and soul band The Revivalists. In 2012, Galactic released “Carnivale Electricos,” an album that celebrates the sounds of the biggest party in America that is Mardi Gras.
Despite their appeal to a wide demographic, Mercurio said he believes the band has become increasingly popular with the younger college-age crowd.
“It always amazes me — we get older but they keep on staying the same age,” he said. “We do have a broad audience, but I think most of our audiences are younger. When we produce albums, we’re not really trying to stay current but I think in some ways we do, because we appreciate what’s going on in music now.”
At the State Theatre show, Galactic will be joined by special guests The Record Company, a modern roots rock and blues trio out of Los Angeles, and singer-songwriter Erica Falls, who’s been touring with Galactic for a couple months.
“She’s just amazing,” Mercurio said. “She’s kind of an unknown vocalist from New Orleans on a national level, but she’s very quickly making waves. Then in the summer we’re touring with Macy Gray, so we’re always switching it up.”
Mercurio says there are three parts to being a musician — performing live, recording, and songwriting, and he believes it’s essential and fulfilling to have all three of them.
“If you’re only doing one of them, it’s not as healthy an environment,” he said. “It’s good to have all three because once you write a song, to record it and then perform it live, and get the reaction, it’s an awesome thing to see it all go through.”
Galactic has been putting their work out there for 20 years, a rarity in the music business, and is now putting the final touches on their current album, which is set to be released in July.
“We’re all such great friends and we all have a great common musical direction,” Mercurio said. “To me, keeping on this path, gaining new fans, and creating music is all I can ever really ask for.”