The San Francisco Chronicle (3.25.90)
Harvard Grads Get High Grades In Rock World
GINA ARNOLD, SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
MOST MUSICIANS considered darlings of the college radio set have never seen the inside of an institute of higher learning. The members of Galaxie 500, however, don't fall into that category. Three of them have degrees from Harvard University.
It's been with some irony then that in recent months the band has turned down offers to open for the top three college radio acts of the '80s -- the Creatures (which features Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie of the Banshees), Ian McCollouch, and Jesus and Mary Chain.
''Who else, Naomi?'' drummer Damon Krukowski shouts to Naomi Yang from the home he shares with the bassist in Boston.
Yang laughs. ''What, isn't that enough?''
Krukowski, speaking via phone, says he isn't too impressed by his group's popularity with its peers. ''We're too old to care about Siouxsie and the Banshees,'' he explains. ''We're into things like the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, the Feelies and the Beatles.''
Though Galaxie 500 may not be as well-known as the Creatures, the group is on its way. The band's 1989 release ''On Fire'' did phenomenally well in Europe (where it topped British and German charts) and on college radio in the United States. Rolling Stone magazine recently gave it 3 stars.
The band's music is a unique blend of simple rhythms and gentle melodies, topped by a soaring electric guitar and guitarist/singer Dean Wareham's aching vocals. Such songs as ''Blue Thunder'' and ''Decomposing Trees'' are full of psychedelic imagery. The band also covers such songs as George Harrison's ''Isn't It a Pity'' and Joy Division's ''Victory Garden.''
Galaxie 500's three members met at Dalton High School in Manhattan, but didn't get together seriously for music until 1987 when Krukowski and Yang were Harvard graduate students in English literature and architecture, respectively.
''We'd played together, just goofing around before, and one summer we were all back in New York City and we made a little demo tape on a friend's four track, thinking we could use it to get club dates. When we got back to Boston, we gave it to a friend (Bill Whalen of Bullet LaVolta), and he said, 'Hey, I can play this on the radio!' ''
At the time, Krukowski recalls, he and Yang were flabbergasted. ''We didn't even know there was a college station that could play it. We weren't rock kids at all. Our favorite records were all 15 years old. We'd never heard Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth.''
Krukowski must have been more startled when a Boston teenager offered to put up the money for them to record an album. That record, ''Today,'' with its soft, slow melodies and Velvet Underground-inspired vocals, received widespread critical raves and major labels bid for their work.
The three, however, were wary. ''They (record companies) thrust lots of money at you,'' Krukowski says. ''But in the end, you just owe it all back to them.''
Instead, the band signed with Rough Trade, an international independent, which released ''On Fire'' in the fall of last year. Galaxie 500 has spent the last six months on the road in Europe. In the United States, the group plans to return to the studio after brief stops on the West Coast. By choice, the group will headline small clubs rather than open for big bands.
It may not be the path to quick success, but Galaxie 500 members seem to know what they are doing. ''It's a lot like having started a small business with your two best friends,'' Krukowski says pragmatically, ''which is the kind of thing lots of people our age do right out of college.''
ADDITIONALLY, unlike most struggling rock artists, all three have backup careers to turn to if their rock band doesn't make it. Krukowski, for one, is currently a doctorate candidate at Harvard.
''It's very odd,'' he says of his two careers, ''being in one business where they only respect age, and another where they only respect youth. I'm kind of neither betwixt nor between right now.''
Contributed by Jerry Burch.