A New York teenager in the ’70s and a self-taught musician, musician Dean Wareham has carried a few punk rock lessons forward throughout his life: namely, a do-it-yourself attitude and the idea that quick creativity sometimes yields the best results.
Now based in Los Angeles, Wareham’s longest-running band, Luna, performs Monday, Jan. 16, at WOW Hall in Eugene.
Alongside soundtrack work, solo records and other projects, Wareham was also one-third of Galaxie 500. A now mythic trio, in the late ’80s and early ’90s Galaxie 500 bridged post-punk college rock with the lo-fi indie and alternative music of the next decade.
Punk rock rules aside, if at least one person in a band is a formally trained musician, then all the better, Wareham says. That’s most often the drummer — in Luna’s case, Lee Wall.
To that point, Wareham says, “One really good musician can make everyone else play better.”
This follows the arc of Wareham’s career from the simple, childlike music of Galaxie 500 to the sophisticated rock quartet sound of Luna inspired by the Velvet Underground and fellow cult-classic bands like The Feelies.
These days, Wareham and his Luna bandmates seem to be in semi-retirement, embarking on short concert tours periodically with no plans to record new material, Wareham says. Luna’s last full-length record, A Sentimental Education, all cover songs, came out in 2017. A Wareham solo record, I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A., came out in 2021.
Looking back, with a naïve quality and spacious song arrangements, Galaxie 500 offered an organic alternative to the often-synthesized pop music from that same time period, Wareham says.
In the leap from Galaxie 500 to Luna, Wareham sought to explore the interplay of two guitars with musician Sean Eden. The music took on new, fuller textures and complex songwriting, all the while maintaining the cool, downtown New York vibe of Wareham’s hero, Lou Reed.
“Sideshow by the Seashore,” off Luna’s 1995 release Penthouse, is built around Tom Verlaine-Richard Lloyd style guitar work from the ’70s New York band Television. The song showcases Wareham’s Neil Young-like singing voice and free-associative, observational lyrics, like watching life pass by on a Manhattan city street.
Though Wareham says Galaxie 500, in its time, had a following in Europe and on college radio stations in the U.S., the band these days is bigger than ever, perennially rediscovered by the next generations of music listeners.
In an eclectic career, Luna remains without a doubt Wareham’s most commercially successful project. That said, he never felt much kinship with other ’90s alt-rock bands with which Luna gets associated. Though contemporaries, his band never followed the loud-quiet-loud formula of the Pixies, either, a sound popularized later on by Nirvana.
“We didn’t have much in common with most of what was called alternative rock” in the 1990s, Wareham says, calling that movement mostly music marketing. “We didn’t have much luck there.” He points toward another punk rock dictum: “The most important thing is to make music for yourself. You are the audience.”
Performing an overview of music from throughout Luna’s catalog, Luna plays with Candy Cigarettes, supporting their 2022 release “Horse Lungs,” 8 pm Monday, Jan. 16, at WOW Hall; $20 advance, $25 door, all-ages.