Sunny Side Up
Cleverness can have its perils. When Dean Wareham wrote "IHOP," the first single to Luna's fourth album, Pup Tent (Elektra), little did he know that a label representative would turn the amusing song into a promotional gimmick that would lead to a series of bothersome ramifications."The record company thought it would be good to have contestants win dinner with Luna at an IHOP," Wareham recalls during a recent phone interview. "We went to this IHOP in Atlanta, and I had a really dreadful omelette. It was like an airplane omelette. So the waitress came to our show, and I made some crack about how horrible my omelette was, and she walked up front and gave me this look. She didn't make it!"As a songwriter, first for Galaxie 500 and then for Luna, Wareham has always focused on the odd detail or observation rather than the big picture. He opened the New York quartet's 1992 debut, Lunapark, with the line, "You can never give the finger to the blind." For Pup Tent, he drew inspiration from a cavalcade of bizarre sources, which he says include Wheel of Fortune, a New York Times Magazine article about the Khmer Rouge, David Lynch's Wild at Heart and Columbo.The latter two references emerge in the same song, "Bobby Peru," which takes its title from the Willem Dafoe character in Lynch's movie. Despite the song's romantic bent, it lifts a line from an episode of the sometimes morose detective show Columbo. Wareham quotes from the song with a laugh: "'Murder is bad, suicide is sad. Why would a girl like that put her head in the oven?' -- Right out of Peter Falk's mouth!"Though he's animated when discussing food, film and song lyrics, Wareham, who speaks with the tics and untraceable accent of a young Marlon Brando, grows sensitive when talking about Luna's music. Though he cops to a Velvet Underground influence, a charge that has often been levied against both Luna and Galaxie 500, he insists that he and his current bandmates, bassist Justin Harwood, guitarist Sean Eden and drummer Lee Wall, have "carved out their own world of sound."With Pup Tent, Luna not only expands its sonic realm, it plants a flag in the neo-psychedelic terrain it laid claim to with the 1994 tour de force, Bewitched. Guitars drip with reverb, bass rumbles around the low-end and keyboard parts grow fuzzy beyond recognition. There are new experiments with instrumentation as well: a warped mandolin hitches itself to the meandering melody in "Beggar's Bliss"; Barrett Martin (of Screaming Trees, and Harwood's bandmate in Tuatara) adds entrancing vibes and marimba to the title track; and a menacing accordion and swooping cello create urban juxtapositions for the mope-groove of "City Kitty."Wareham credits producer Pat McCarthy, who dragged out recording sessions for four months, with being precisely the dictatorial presence Luna needed. "He was slow, painstaking, demanding," Wareham says. "Usually, we just go about things pretty quickly, but Pat had to pull the songs apart. The basic tracks took a long time, and we always had to redo things. We would come in to play our guitar parts and he wouldn't let us. He would say, 'Ah, that's boring,' and then he'd have us go on a musical detour and spend half a day playing with some new toy."So how does Wareham feel about the outcome?"It got a bit nutty at times," he says, "but I'm very happy with the results."He's also excited to report on his blossoming career as a cinematic musician and songwriter. Besides Luna's cover of Donovan's "Season of the Witch" for the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack, the band contributed a song to the current film Myth of Fingerprints and scored the forthcoming Mr. Jealousy, from director Noel Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming).But bring him back to the subject of the music biz and Wareham grows weary anew. When it's pointed out that Pup Tent shot to No. 1 on the college radio charts shortly after its release, he interrupts: "It went to No. 1 for a week anyway. But you ain't going to get huge off being No. 1 at CMJ. To have a hit record, you have to get played on modern-rock radio. So you've got to go in there and fight for air space with Jewel and the Cranberries, the Wallflowers and Bush. It's pretty tough. And it's tougher than it used to be, because it's become such a big business."Wareham sounds less impassioned about Luna's positions on the playlists, however, than he does about topics that are more relevant to his lyrics. Like airplane food, a reference that surfaces in the song "Tracy, I Love You.""They have really good food on Air France! Why is that? Americans will put up with shit. I mean, it's not hard to give a little something. On Air France, my dessert was a little chocolate mousse. There was a piece of salmon. It doesn't even have to be hot; I don't care if it's cold. It really makes me mad," he says, before returning to the even touchier subject of omelettes. "They shouldn't serve omelettes. If eggs aren't cooked fresh, they're no good."