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Members include Dean Wareham (born in New Zealand), vocals; Stanley Demeski, drums; Sean Eden (born in Canada), guitar; and Justin Harwood (born in New Zealand), bass. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Luna has suffered over much of its career from comparisons to other bands, initially to founding member Dean Wareham's previous group, Galaxie 500, but more regularly to the Velvet Underground. Yet far from being shamelessly derivative of legendary avant-noise relics, the four-member, New York City-based Luna instead appropriates the detached musical mood set by the Velvets and expands on it through a variety of modern devices. Luna has even managed to attract a former member, Sterling Morrison, as a guest musician on one of their releases, and Morrison's famed colleague, singer Lou Reed, liked Luna's sound so much he chose them as an opening act for one of his concert tours.
Luna was formed in the wake of the break-up of Galaxie 500, a much- vaunted but little-heard indie rock band whose ethereal songs often lacked any discernible thread of rhythmic consistency. Rob Sheffield, writing for the Spin Alternative Record Guide, called their music "breezy and content-free even at its most stately," with some songs "luxuriating in melodies and textures for the sake of sweet sonic sensationalism." Wareham, a New Zealand native, had fronted Galaxie 500 through three releases during the late 1980s to little success, yet still received mail from devastated fans when the group disbanded. A chance meeting between he and fellow New Zealander Justin Harwood, the former bass player for the Chills, was the genesis. Before the Chills, "I used to play bass in several bands back home," Harwood admitted in a 1992 interview with Everett True of Melody Maker. "Wedding bands, bar bands, bands with 'Pineapple' in their name." Like Galaxie 500, the Chills made several records but achieved little success.
The final member of Luna would be drummer and New Jersey resident Stanley Demeski, a veteran of the Feelies. Like Galaxie 500, the Feelies were another vaunted eighties group that evoked comparisons to the Velvet Underground; director Susa Seidelman even made an early film, Smithereens, around one of their albums, Crazy Rhythms. With the three members, Luna coalesced in 1992 in New York, but then discovered there was already a singer in the area using that name; legal reasons forced them into putting a "2" in superscript after their name for a time. The numeral was silent, but served as a rebuke to legal restrictions, as in "we're Luna too," Wareham told Melody Maker's True.
Luna's debut was released the same year on Elektra Records. The band titled it Lunapark after an amusement park located near Coney Island, and enlisted Fred Maher to produce it. Maher had previously produced the hit album Girlfriend for Matthew Sweet in 1991. Together the band and Maher mined the ethereal mood of Wareham's Galaxie 500 and added more of a cohesive rhythm thread inside the new songs. "Wareham came up with the last thing anybody expected," wrote Sheffield in the Spin book: "discrete songs with a brisk beat and a surprising new sense of humor." Upon its release, Wareham admitted to Guitar Player's Mike Mettler "this is the slickest- sounding record I've done, but it's really warm and crisp--and it doesn't feel processed. Hey, I like it." Charles Aaron of the Village Voice described as "lucid, hypnotic pop-rock." Later, Voice colleague RJ Smith termed Lunapark "resentful and crunchy, a set of panoptic views of boho guilt."
When it came time to tour in support of the record, Luna was forced to hire a fourth member as second guitarist, which they did through an ad in the Village Voice. Canadian Sean Eden signed on, and things clicked so well he became a full-fledged member. In 1993 they released the EP Slide, and for their next effort they were able to recruit former Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison to sit in on the track for their third record, 1994's Bewitched; a Hammond organ and trumpet make appearances elsewhere. Critics continued to laud Wareham's songwriting talents as demonstrated in the arch, meandering lyrics, but Bewitched would be their least successful record.
Nevertheless, the Village Voice's Smith asserted its "words isolate fractional moments that go on forever, and the music even more so." More comparisons to the Velvet Underground sound were inevitable, but Steve Simels of Stereo Review explained the relationship in more specific terms, asserting that Luna's "angelic harmonies, chiming guitars, and delicate, almost folkish songs" are reminiscent of the albums the Velvet Underground did after dark visionary John Cale left the group. Musician's Roy Trakin echoed this sentiment in his review of Bewitched: "The emphasis here is on melodies, always an underrated aspect of the Velvets' legacy," Trakin wrote.
Luna's live performances have been as lauded as their mastery of dream-world evocations through studio technology, and they've even played as support for a brief reunion tour the Velvet Underground embarked upon. "Wareham is one of the most casually virtuosic guitarists around," noted Rolling Stone's David Sprague, in a review of a live Luna show, further asserting they've "staked out a strip of terrain bordered by the Velvet Underground's intense desolation and Television's studied indifference."
Sprague was referring to legendary late-seventies New York scenesters Television, fronted by Tom Verlaine, and once again, the very acts that Luna pays homage would return the admiration: Verlaine played guitar for two songs, "23 Minutes in Brussels" and "Moon Palace," on Penthouse, the group' 1995 release. Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier sings a duet with Wareham in "Bonnie and Clyde." The track is a cover of a song originally done by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg, sung entirely in French. "The recording is pristine," enthused Dev Sherlock of Musician, "a warm, natural-sounding envelope." The critic also praised the group's mastery of unusual technologies, including the Theremin and Mellotron, two early types of electronic instruments. Such unusual production techniques "give Penthouse a rich, hypnotic texture," Sherlock asserted.
Luna is forthright about their fascination with the Velvet Underground. "I just love their mix of noise and melody," Wareham told Guitar Player's Mettler. Yet Wareham's talents go far from unappreciated. Wareham, wrote Stereo Review's Simels, has "also got a Velvets-like fondness for inserting the most homicidally atonal guitar outbursts imaginable into otherwise conventional (and attractive) melodic structures."
by Carol Brennan
Group formed in 1992 as Luna2; became "Luna" with 1993 release Slide.
- Selective Works
- Lunapark, Elektra, 1992.
- Slide, (EP), Elektra, 1993.
- Bewitched, Elektra, 1994.
- Penthouse, Elektra, 1995.
- Spin Alternative Record Guide, edited by Eric Weisbard with Craig Marks, Vintage Books, 1995, pp. 83, 162.
- Periodicals Billboard, March 12, 1994, p. 52D.
- Guitar Player, January 1993, p. 13.
- Melody Maker, September 26, 1992, p. 37.
- Musician, April 1994, pp. 90-91; October 1995, p. 81.
- Rolling Stone, February 22, 1996, p. 64.
- Stereo Review, November 1992, p. 118.
- Village Voice, September 22, 1992, p. 84; June 1, 1993, p. 68; April 26, 1994, p. 74; November 14, 1995, p. 82.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Epic Records publicity materials, 1995.
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